The Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota—- Yet Another Sacrifice Zone

While many are focused on the looming political struggle between the Trump Administration and Democrats who are about to take control of the House, many of the implications and real-world effects of Administration policy changes are being overlooked by most of the media.  However, the New York Times weighed in on December 26 with one of these real-world situations, namely the effects of Trump’s rollback of the Methane Rule.

This rule, formulated in the last days of the Obama Administration by the E.P.A., would have required recovery or at least control over excessive leaking of methane from oil and gas operations, including curbs on flaring, which pumps many pollutants into the air.

The Times reported that the E.P.A., in surveying activity at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota in June, found that plumes of methane were being improperly burned.  In one case, raw, unlighted methane was spewing into the atmosphere.  Other plumes included cancer-causing benzene being spewed into the air.  Moreover, alerts to these these hazards to health were not given to the local residents of the Reservation.  Again, think folks caught in a sacrifice zone, whose health is being sacrificed for the sake of energy company profits.

The Times described what it called “the flaming landscape” in the Berthold Reservation with “hundreds of controlled burns so bright in the cold night air that the sky turns a weird orange yellow, even as snow falls onto the frozen ground.”

 In terms of global warming, The Times reports that the chemicals that are being released in this flaring are 30 times as potent as CO2 in their greenhouse impact on the atmosphere.  There are no boundaries in the air, and of course, the atmosphere is world-wide, so this impacts all of us.

Here again we see that environmental justice is inseparable from social justice.  Our society can choose to sacrifice certain groups of people—the poor, Black folks, Native Americans, and relatively isolated rural communities; but inevitably, this license to do violence to some ends up doing violence to all.