Estimates indicate that Fort Berthold sits atop nearly 300 billion barrels of oil,1 4.3 billion of which are recoverable2 made possible through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Transporting this amount of water (clean and dirty), oil, and natural gas to and from drilling wells by trucks has had an important impact on Fort Berthold roads, communities, and the environment.

Pipeline Plan

What is a Pipeline Plan?

A pipeline plan assesses the current transportation systems being used for oil and natural gas extraction (including fresh and waste water transport), defines a community’s needs, and establishes recommendations for reducing impact on the community and the environment as well as improving efficiency, sustainability and economic benefits for transportation methods. As part of the pipeline planning component of the Comprehensive plan, we will be conducting a pipeline inventory, a pipeline needs assessment, and a feasibility study. Considering alternative methods for transporting clean water, waste water, natural gas, and oil on Fort Berthold may be important in order to reduce the current amount of truck traffic, thereby improving transportation safety, increasing economic competition (by reducing the cost of truck transport and increasing transport speed and efficiency), and reducing the amount of flaring that occurs from natural gas released at drilling sites.

The oil boom taking place across the Bakken formation in western North Dakota started on Fort Berthold in 2006, but was firmly established in 2010. The Bakken Formation spans almost 24,000 square miles of eastern Montana, northwestern North Dakota and southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.2 In order to understand what impacts oil, natural gas, and water transportation currently have on Fort Berthold, we must understand the methods of fuel extraction. Hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) is a process of extracting natural gas and oil from deep in the ground by injecting a high pressure solution of water, sand, and chemicals deep into shale formations below the earths surface. By fracturing the shale with “fissures” (vein like pathways that extend into the rock) deep underground, oil and natural gas can then drain into the main artery that was created through drilling. The oil and natural gas is then pumped back to the earth’s surface with the residual water/sand/chemical solution. While this solution is normally pumped back into the earth into underground saltwater storage facilities (a small portion can be reused to fracture another well), the high levels of salt in the Bakken’s groundwater clogs the fissures unless significant amounts of fresh water are used to keep the veins moving freely.4 This “maintenance water” must be freshwater (cannot be recycled as it contains too much salt to be effective) and it must be treated with biocide, a solution that kills bacteria harmful to oil. Using hydraulic fracturing techniques, each well requires 2 million gallons of water to begin the extraction process and an additional 600 gallons a day, equaling nearly 8-10 million gallons of water over a well’s lifetime; in 2012, the Bakken formation used nearly 5.5 billion gallons of water and estimates surpass 10.2 billion gallons a year when the total expected number of wells are developed (28 million gallons a day).4  The transportation required to move oil, water (clean and dirty), natural gas, chemical fracking solution and the equipment necessary to frack is significant. Nearly 2,300 semi trucks are required to service each well every year! With 11,042 wells in the Bakken in 2016, that equates to nearly 25,396,600 semi truckloads operating in the Bakken!6

When natural gas is extracted from the ground, a process known as “flaring” is used to burn off natural gas that is not captured efficiently enough to be returned to the system for further processing. Flaring is also used as a way to test the quality, flow and pressure of gas extracted at a new drill site temporarily (several days to several weeks until the flow is stable), as an outlet for natural gas being drilled during equipment repairs or maintenance, and as a safety mechanism at gas processing plants in order to release excess pressure. The height, color and intensity of the flame are dependent on the makeup of the natural gas and the pressure in the gas pipes. Because the Bakken Formation is a shale formation (oil and gas is located deep within the rock layers and requires horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to reach), flaring is an integral part of the exploration, extraction, and processing processes. According to the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration, nearly 1 percent of all natural gas in the US is flared, and although North Dakota is responsible for only 0.5 percent of all natural gas drawn from sites in the U.S. (from 2008-12), it has accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s flared gas.7 There are an estimated 10,000 wells in North Dakota alone accounting for nearly 300,000 cubic feet per day being flared.

Why is Pipeline Planning Important?

Road Safety.

The remote Fort Berthold roads were designed to rural agricultural standards; most roads are unpaved and the large number of semi-trucks carrying heavy loads not only deteriorates the road condition, but poses a significant safety concern for residents. Considering alternative methods for transporting clean water, waste water, oil, and natural gas on Fort Berthold can have an important impact on transportation safety.


With nearly 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil on Fort Berthold2, estimates show oil production continuing for at least the next 50 years, indicating a clear need for education and strategic long-term planning. Our decisions about future development should be informed with a solid understanding of the risks, benefits, and costs associated with our water, environment, communities and livelihoods.

Infastructure Development Impacts.

The oil boom has had an important impact on the Fort Berthold transportation infrastructure, safety, economy, communities, and environment. Understanding how and if current oil, water and natural gas transportation methods are meeting the communities’ needs as well as determining how we can improve the system for future generations.


Environmental Protection.

Transport truck traffic and excess flaring have had important impacts on the environment and on Climate Change. Considering the transportation methods for our resources can provide us with the opportunity to collect important data, identify needs, and implement strategies for maintaining a healthy environment while meeting our transportation, energy, and economic goals.

What is Fracking?

How many dollars does it cost an oil producer to move a barrel of oil via pipeline?

How many million barrels of oil does the US import EVERY DAY?

How many dollars does it cost an oil producer to move a barrel of oil via rail?

How many semi trucks are estimated to be operating in the Bakken due to the transport of oil and gas related services?

How many millions of dollars does it cost (on average) to drill a well in North Dakota's Bakken formation?

About how many gallons of water PER DAY did the Bakken oil field require to service oil and gas production in 2012?

Source: High Country News9, National Geographic4, and the Upper Great Plains Institute6

What would YOU like to see addressed in the Pipeline Plan?

Enter your full name, a valid email address, and a detailed message in the forms just below to tell us what YOU would like to see in the Pipeline Plan. What else would you like to know about it? We also want your stories and perspectives on the questions framing this project; How did we end up with the oil and pipeline infrastructure that we currently have? Where is it today? Where do we want it to be in 20 years?

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Show 11 Footnotes

  1. https://www.narf.org/nill/bulletins/lawreviews/articles/cross.pdf
  2. https://www.lighthawk.org/what-we-do/blog/north-dakota-flights-spark-discussion-oil-boom-impacts
  3. https://www.lighthawk.org/what-we-do/blog/north-dakota-flights-spark-discussion-oil-boom-impacts
  4. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/11/131111-north-dakota-wells-maintenance-water/
  5. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/11/131111-north-dakota-wells-maintenance-water/
  6. Upper  Great Plains Institute. Infrastructure Needs: North Dakota’s County, Township and Tribal Roads and Bridges: 2015-2034, Draft Final Report to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. 2014.
  7. http://bismarcktribune.com/bakken/stricter-rules-for-flaring/article_fa9e0d96-ca6d-11e3-8413-0019bb2963f4.html
  8. https://www.lighthawk.org/what-we-do/blog/north-dakota-flights-spark-discussion-oil-boom-impacts
  9. http://www.hcn.org/issues/48.21/the-twisted-economics-of-the-dakota-access-pipeline?utm_source=wcn1&utm_medium=email
  10. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/11/131111-north-dakota-wells-maintenance-water/
  11. Upper  Great Plains Institute. Infrastructure Needs: North Dakota’s County, Township and Tribal Roads and Bridges: 2015-2034, Draft Final Report to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. 2014.