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Great Balls of Fire

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On December 30, several shocks rippled across Casselton, North Dakota. The small town of 2,400, which prides itself on producing five of North Dakota governors, including the current Republican governor, Jack Dalrymple, experienced the latest "accident" from the Bakken oil boom. Here is a link to the video of the train explosion.

But this was not the only railway accident carrying sweet crude from the Bakken. In July 2013, a train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people and leaked an estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil.

Oil that leaves by rail must be certified that it's safe for transport. That means, someone in North Dakota certified that the oil tankers traveling to Quebec and through Casselton were ready and safe for transportation. That was a lie. The DOT -- 111 tankers, the same tankers involved in the Casselton mishap, are not effective in preventing impact damage, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Ryan Troop, who lives about a half-mile away from where the accident occurred, said he could get within about two city blocks of the blaze and keep his hands warm. Hannah Linnard, 13, told the Seattle Times she was in the bedroom of her friend's house about half a mile from the derailment. "I looked out the window and all of a sudden the train car tipped over and the whole thing was engulfed in flames and it just exploded. The oil car tipped over onto the grain car." Hannah said she could feel the warmth even inside the house.

But transporting oil by pipeline does not appear to be any safer. In late September of 2013, Steve Jensen, a farmer, discovered an oil spill near in his fields near Tioga, North Dakota. It is confirmed that over 865,000 gallons of crude oil was leaked, making this the largest inland oil leak in the country's history.

The oil boom has not yet busted, but it has certainly left a path of destruction in its wake -- it spilled brine in a tributary of the Little Missouri River in December of 2013; is responsible for skyrocketing burglary, drug and human trafficking crimes; and has desecrated farmland, like Steve Jensen's.

North Dakotans, it would seem, should get out of their lay-z-boys and take matters into their own hands, demanding more of their elected officials, especially the passive Jack Dalrymple. North Dakotans might consider having more conversations with Lynn Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, telling him to slow down approving drilling permits.

These conversations would help us, as a country, better see that there is no such thing as energy independence when working with global players such as Rio Tinto, Halliburton, Tesoro, and Enbridge. The oil produced in the Bakken and spilled in Quebec was destined for an oil refinery in New Brunswick before competing on the global market. If we started paying closer attention to the facts, the reality that air, water, and soil quality in North Dakota are diminishing and then fueling global warming, we might better recognize that the Bakken is a sordid boom. We might change the conversations we have with our neighbors, encouraging each other to fill our gas tanks as infrequently as possible, walk to our convenience stores, and get out our old bikes. We might come to better understand that all along we have allowed the mega oil corporations to send this precious oil out on the global market, robbing us of basic human freedoms, such as clean air, water, and soil.

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