The image above shows a schematic of the Bakken Formation,, which lies along the U.S.-Canadian border, beneath the prairies of North Dakota and Montana. It is considered to be the largest reserve of oil in the lower 48 U.S. states.
North Dakota separates property ownership of land surface from ‘bottomland’, what lies beneath the surface. This has become a lucrative form of land ownership over the past few years as new fracking projects have turned vast tracts of prairie and farmland into a new oil heartland, sometimes over the vehement objections of farmers who bought land without realizing they didn’t really own more than a plow’s depth of dirt.
And now that heartland has its first major oil spill, which already counts as one of the largest onshore spills in U.S. history. 20,600 barrels – equivalent to 865,200 gallons (3.2 million liters) – were belatedly discovered bubbling up from a faulty ageing pipeline on an area the size of 7 football fields within a remote wheat farm.
The pipeline company, Tesoro Logistics, has thus far succeeded in cleaning up around 5% of the spill. The company claims that neither surface nor groundwater was affected in any way, nor will there be any adverse effect on the environment. In any case, according to the farmer who owns the land, the fields will be unusable as farmland for the foreseeable future.
Excellent National Geographic article on the development of North Dakota oil and its impact on the economy, people and land – The New Oil Landscape by Edwin Dobb