New rules, effective April 1, require drillers in North Dakota to divert liquid waste to tanks instead of pits. Until now, drillers could store the liquid in pits for up to a year before pumping it out in order to bury the solids on site. The rule would prevent a repeat of the spring of 2011, when record snowmelt and flooding caused dozens of pits to overflow their banks.
But Reuber worries that the industry and regulators are repeating past mistakes. Not long before he left the Fish and Wildlife Service, he found a set of old slides showing waste pits and spills from decades ago.
"They looked almost exactly like photos I had taken," he said. "There's a spill into a creek bottom in the Badlands and it was sitting there with no one cleaning it up and containing it. And yeah, I got a photo like that, too."
Keller has grown so dispirited by the changes brought by the boom that he is considering retiring after 30 years with the Army Corps and moving away from Williston. He runs a side business in scrap metal that would supplement his pension.
Still, determined to protect the area, he keeps alerting regulators whenever he spots evidence that oil companies have dumped or spilled waste.
Last July, when he saw signs of a spill near his home, Keller notified the Health Department and sent pictures showing a trail of dead grass to an acquaintance at the EPA regional office in Denver. The brown swath led from a well site into a creek.
If the spills continued, he warned the EPA in an email, they could "kill off the entire watershed."
EPA officials said they spoke with Keller, but did not follow up on the incident beyond that. The state never responded, Keller said. The site remained untested and was never cleaned up.
"There was no restoration work whatsoever," Keller said.
From ProPublica.org (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.