Sorry, Green Team: Bakken oil production hasn't inflicted environmental catastrophe in North Dakota

In North Dakota and parts of eastern Montana, oil and natural gas production from the Bakken shale has increased 1,450 percent, while air quality in those areas remain unchanged from their 2008 levels, according to a study from American Action Forum. At least 90 percent of the air quality days in those regions were classified as “good,” and carbon dioxide emissions declined as well:

As the data reveal, the Bakken region has increased output from 0.08 million barrels per day in January 2008, to 1.16 million by August 2015, a 14.5-fold uptick. During this time, the nation as a whole has also witnessed incredible growth in output. The graph below details U.S. oil production from 2008 to 2014, measured in thousands of barrels a day.


EPA labels air quality on a given day by the following: “good,” “moderate,” “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy,” and “hazardous.” As AAF examined earlier this year, air quality is generally improving across the U.S. and the Bakken has enjoyed cleaner air as well. EPA generally defines “good” air days as the following: “air pollution poses little or no risk.” In the Bakken region, despite the oil production boom, more than 90 percent of year is labeled “good” by EPA. See the graph below:


Although “good” air quality days are a general indicator that the levels of environmental pollution are well within acceptable limits, AAF also examined smog in the Bakken region. EPA data tracks days throughout the year when ground-level ozone (smog) is the dominant pollutant. Even by that metric, the Bakken region has made slight improvements. The chart below tracks days in which ozone is the dominant pollutant for the average jurisdiction in the Bakken (with linear trendline).


In addition to the positive news of energy independence and strong air quality, the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) released into atmosphere continues to decline. This, despite the renaissance in domestic energy production. The graph below track carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 to 2013.

So, there you have it–economic activity (and growth) doesn’t end with a ruined environment. Nevertheless, the Obama administration thought otherwise, which is one of the reasons why they officially killed the Keystone Pipeline earlier this month. In January of 2014, the State Department’s environmental assessment report noted that the project wouldn’t exacerbate the non-issue of global warming, though they made it clear that this wasn’t “a decision document.”

Regardless, with Keystone now dead, AAF concluded that it would cost us $175 billion in lost economic activity, 40,000 construction jobs (with $2.1 billion in wages), an avenue to energy independence, and the projected environmental benefits:

The State Department’s own data shows that not approving Keystone was actually more harmful to the environment. Due to the first five years of the delay, AAF’s research found that 7.4 million tons of CO2 would be released. This is the equivalent of 1.5 more million cars on the road. How? The oil will be transported through other means such as rail. This means a less direct and efficient route than a pipeline. It will take 415 rail cars (that’s 5 miles long!) driving between Montana and Texas every day to deliver the same amount of oil as the pipeline.

Oh, and labor unions supported the project. It was an archetypal bipartisan project–and this president killed it.

Editor’s Note: This was cross-posted over at

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