Standing Rock: violence and evacuation orders raise spectre of showdown – Julia Carrie Wong and Sam Levin Tuesday 29 November 2016 07.46 EST


Apprehension and distrust pervade North Dakota protest site as promises from state that there are no plans to forcibly remove people does little to assuage fears

Current Time 0:00 / Duration Time 1:34 Loaded: 0% Progress: 0% Mute Police blast Standing Rock protesters with water cannon and rubber bullets – video

Current Time 0:00
Police blast Standing Rock protesters with water cannon and rubber bullets – video

Police violence against Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota has risen to extraordinary levels, and activists and observers fear that, with two evacuation orders looming, the worst is yet to come.

A litany of munitions, including water cannons, combined with ambiguous government leadership and misleading police statements, have resulted in mass arrests, serious injuries and a deeply sown atmosphere of fear and distrust on the banks of the Missouri river.

Statements by the US Army Corps of Engineers and North Dakota state government that, despite their orders of evacuation, there are no plans to forcibly remove protesters opposing the Dakota Access pipeline have done little to assuage fears.

As the first snows have fallen and more protesters arrive in support, apprehension at the encampments about the coming days is running high.

“We’re going to hope for the absolute best,” said Linda Black Elk, a member of the Catawba Nation who works with the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council. “If they do attempt to remove people forcibly, we are certainly preparing for mass casualties.”

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Judge Strikes Down Idaho ‘Ag-Gag’ Law, Raising Questions For Other States – LUKE RUNYON `AUGUST 04, 2015 5:26 PM ET


Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at Aug 5, 2015 2.17

Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and North Carolina have also made it illegal for activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations.

Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and North Carolina have also made it illegal for activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations.

iStockphoto

Idaho’s so-called “ag-gag” law, which outlawed undercover investigations of farming operations, is no more. A judge in the federal District Court for Idaho decided Monday that it was unconstitutional, citing First Amendment protections for free speech.

But what about the handful of other states with similar laws on the books?

Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa have also made it illegal for activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations. A new North Carolina law goes into effect in January 2016. But now those laws’ days could be numbered, according to the lead attorney for the coalition of animal welfare groups that sued the state of Idaho.

“This is a total victory on our two central constitutional claims,” says University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau, who represented the plaintiff, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in the case. “Ag-gag laws violate the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause. This means that these laws all over the country are in real danger.”

“Ag-gag” refers to a variety of laws meant to curb undercover investigations of agricultural operations, often large dairy, poultry and pork farms. The Idaho law criminalized video or audio recording of a farm without the owner’s consent and lying to a farm owner to gain employment there to do an undercover investigation.

Other “ag-gag” laws require that animal abuse be reported within a specific time frame, a tactic animal activists say is meant to prevent them from gathering evidence of an abuse pattern rather than just a singular event.

Utah’s “ag-gag” law is the subject of another federal lawsuit, filed by the ALDF and PETA. Other states’ laws go back to the early 1990s when Kansas passed criminal penalties for anyone found to damage or harm an agricultural research facility. Iowa’s statute is considered to be the first in a batch of more recent “ag-gag” laws. Signed into law in 2012, it was the first to criminalize secretly videotaping a farm without the owner’s permission.

Article continues:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/04/429345939/idaho-strikes-down-ag-gag-law-raising-questions-for-other-states1

A Regrettable Decision – By Dahlia Lithwick JULY 23 2015 5:28 PM


This astonishing, anti-science, states’-rights court decision begs for a ban on abortion.

The Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, July 2, 2013. It is the state’s only abortion clinic. Photo by Dan Koeck/Reuters

The Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, July 2, 2013. It is the state’s only abortion clinic.
Photo by Dan Koeck/Reuters

This week, a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked North Dakota’s so-called fetal heartbeat bill. At first glance, this appears to be a clear victory for abortion rights. The statute—one of the strictest abortion bans in the nation—prohibited, with narrow exceptions, abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often six weeks post-fertilization, sometimes before a woman knows she is pregnant. The law had been pushed through by a Republican state legislature in 2013 but was almost immediately blocked by a federal district court, which found that it clearly violated the constitutional protections afforded in Roe v. Wade.

Roe established that abortions were permissible pre-viability (currently at about 24 weeks into a pregnancy). As the district court originally determined two years ago, “[a] woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has consistently been upheld by the United States Supreme Court for more than forty years since Roe v. Wade.” The district court also determined that “H.B. 1456 clearly prohibits pre-viability abortions in a very significant percentage of cases in North Dakota, thereby imposing an undue burden on women seeking to obtain an abortion.”

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Low oil prices are good for 42 states — and bad for the other eight – Updated by Brad Plumer on December 23, 2014, 8:00 a.m. ET


How will the big plunge in oil prices affect the US economy? Stephen Brown, an economist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers a simple mapbreaking things down. On the whole, cheap oil will likely boost economic activity in 42 states (in green and yellow) while hurting it in the remaining 8 (in red):

(Resources for the Future)

(Resources for the Future)

Brown’s calculus is fairly simple. On the one hand, low oil prices mean lower gasoline prices. For people who consume a lot of gasoline — most of the United States, basically — the price plunge is a major boon. Estimates of the average household benefit range from $550 per year to $1,100 per year or more. Plus there are lower energy costs for airlines, shipping, and so on.

Alaska is now facing a $3.5 billion deficit as a result of lower oil prices

But the picture is different for eight states that rely heavily on oil production: namely, Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma Texas, Wyoming and West Virginia. Lower oil prices means less revenue — and, in places like North Dakota or Texas, could force shale producers to scale back their drilling. (Oil-producing states with diversified economies, like California, are much less vulnerable overall.)

On top of that, some of these oil-producing states could find themselves in a budget hole. Alaska, for one, is now facing a $3.5 billion deficit and may have to make it up by shelving infrastructure projects, increasing tuition fees, and so on. (The state has socked away a $13 billion rainy day fund for this eventuality, but that will run down if low prices persist for a long while.)

“These eight states,” Brown writes, “have economies that depend on energy production for export to other states. The extent of the [negative] effects depends the prominence of oil in the state’s energy mix and the lack of diversity in the state’s economy.” You can read more on these nuances here.

The overall economic impact in the US should be positive

So how does this all shake out? Assuming oil stays well below $80 per barrel, as futures markets currently predict, Brown offers some back-of-the-envelope calculations:

Taking into account the income losses for US oil companies, the net gain in US income will amount to $920 per year for each household. The average propensity to consume is around 90 percent, so the average US household could spend around an additional $825 per year.

Because low-income households spend a greater percentage of their income on energy consumption, and are less likely to own stocks in oil companies, such households will see larger gains and spend more. High-income households will spend less. The overall effect should amount to a one-time increase in US GDP of about 0.7-1.0 percent.

There’s a lot more in Brown’s policy brief, written for Resources for the Future, about the various implications of falling oil prices — it’s worth checking out.

http://www.vox.com/2014/12/23/7438379/effect-oil-prices-economy

Liberal Policies Win; Liberal Candidates Lose – By Annie Lowrey November 5, 2014 9:45 p.m.


Dissonance abounds! On Tuesday, Alaska voters likely elected to the Senate Republican Dan Sullivan, who opposes the marijuana legalization initiative they just approved. Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP/Corbis

On Tuesday, liberals lost at the polls. Republicans picked up at least seven seats in the Senate and more than a dozen in the House, along with a handful of governor’s mansions — including in the deep-blue states of Maryland and Massachusetts. All the intensity was with Republican voters and for Republican candidates. Democrats’ turnout collapsed, particularly among the young.

But on Tuesday, liberal policies won at the polls. Voters rejected fetal personhood ballot measures in North Dakota and Colorado. They approved marijuana legalization in two states and the District of Columbia. And voters in four states and three cities passed ballot initiatives hiking the minimum wage for an estimated 609,000 workers — with the potential for that number to swell to 1.7 million if states that adopted non-binding measures go ahead and lift their wage floors.

Many of those blue ballot initiatives happened in red states, no less. Alaska voted for pot. North Dakota turned down fetal personhood. Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota voted to give their lowest-wage workers a raise. Voters, in other words, found it easy to vote for liberal policies even as they rejected liberal politicians.

What explains the dissonance? Simple ignorance probably accounts for some of it: Americans are often unsure of which party controls what parts of government and who stands for what. For instance, one recent survey found that only 38 percent of Americans knew that Republicans have the majority in the House, and only 38 percent knew that Democrats have the majority in the Senate.

That lack of knowledge — combined with the fact that the parties change their opinions on individual policy measures all the time — means that Americans often hold profoundly muddled political views. The proportion of Americans with consistent political opinions has doubled in the past two decades, according to a major Pew study of political polarization released this year. But even so, just 21 percent of Americans are ideologically consistent.

Four in five are likely to believe, for instance, both that “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost” and “government regulation of business usually does more harm than good,” or that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days” and that “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”

There’s evidence for voters’ contradictory beliefs everywhere you look in the polls. Voters hate the Affordable Care Act, but like its major provisions. They disapprove of Barack Obama, but are onboard with most of his major policy proposals. They vote to hike the minimum wage at the same time that they vote in politicians opposed to hiking it. They tell their local representatives to“keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

Granted, active, invested political junkies tend to be more ideologically consistent than average Americans. But even among engaged Republicans, just 33 percent have consistent conservative views, up from 23 percent in 1994, in the midst of the “Republican Revolution,” Pew found. And it is those active, engaged Republicans who tended to show up at the polls on Tuesday — armed less with a clear ideological mandate than a deep distaste for Democrats, and especially Barack Obama.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/11/liberal-policies-win-liberal-candidates-lose.html

In shadow of oil boom, North Dakota farmers fight contamination | by Laura Gottesdiener Aljazeera – September 6, 2014 5:00AM ET


ANTLER, N.D. — Last summer, in a wet, remote section of farm country in Bottineau County, landowner Mike Artz and his two neighbors discovered that a ruptured pipeline was spewing contaminated wastewater into his crop fields.

“We saw all this oil on the low area, and all this salt water spread out beyond it,” said his neighbor Larry Peterson, who works as a farmer and an oil-shale contractor. “The water ran out into the wetland.”

It was August, and all across Artz’s farm the barley crop was just reaching maturity. But near the spill, the dead stalks had undeveloped kernels, which, the farmers knew, meant that the barley had been contaminated weeks earlier.

Soon after, state testing of the wetlands showed that chloride levels were so high, they exceeded the range of the test strips. The North Dakota Department of Health estimated that between 400 to 600 barrels of wastewater, the equivalent of 16,800 to 25,200 gallons, had seeped into the ground.

Wastewater, known as “saltwater” because of its high salinity, is a by-product of oil drilling, which has been a boom-and-bust industry in North Dakota since at least the 1930s. Far saltier than ocean water, this wastewater is toxic enough to sterilize land and poison animals that mistakenly drink it. “You never see a saltwater spill produce again,” Artz said, referring to the land affected by the contamination. “Maybe this will be the first, but I doubt it.”

Artz is far from being the only farmer in his area, or even in his family, to be forced to cope with the environmental and financial costs of wastewater. His brother Pete recently testified before the state legislature’s Energy Development and Transmission Committee that he lost five cattle after they drank contaminated water from a reserve pit left from two wells drilled on his property in 2009. His other brother, Bob, had a spill that sent wastewater pouring down the road and across his land in late July.

In fact, farmers and landowners all across Bottineau County are struggling with the compounding effects of both new and decades-old water contamination. The county lies in the northern outskirts of the Bakken Formation, which has transformed over the last few years into one of the top-producing oil fields in the world, generating more than 1 million barrels a day. While the boom has brought wealth, the rapid pace of extraction has sparked fears among the state’s farmers and ranchers about the long-term costs and consequences of land and water contamination, especially because hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, produces far more wastewater than past drilling techniques. (The process, which has exploded in North Dakota since 2008, requires injecting into each well millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals at high pressure in order to break up the shale underneath.) Recent spills, such as July’s massive, million-gallon wastewater spill on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, in western North Dakota, have further stoked fears of future contamination.

In this respect, Bottineau County offers an unusual, decades-long test case, since the region has a long history of contamination and a plethora of aging wells, tanks, pipelines, disposal sites and other infrastructure left from North Dakota’s earlier oil booms in the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s. And the experiment’s not over yet. At a recent meeting, Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division, announced that a new wave of production is headed to Bottineau in 2015.

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/9/6/north-dakota-wastewaterlegacy.html

The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail: Bomb Trains – Published on Jul 28, 2014


 

It’s estimated that 9 million barrels of crude oil are moving over the rail lines of North America at any given moment. Oil trains charging through Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, and Canada’s Quebec, New Brunswick, and Alberta provinces have derailed and exploded, resulting in severe environmental damage and, in the case of Quebec, considerable human casualties.

A continental oil boom and lack of pipeline infrastructure have forced unprecedented amounts of oil onto US and Canadian railroads. With 43 times more oil being hauled along US rail lines in 2013 than in 2005, communities across North America are bracing for another catastrophe.

VICE News traveled to the Pacific Northwest to investigate the rapid expansion of oil-by-rail transport and speak with residents on the frontline of the battle over bomb trains.

More on VICE News: Do You Live In A “Bomb Train” Blast Zone? –http://bit.ly/1rLpXDf

After oil, natural gas may be next on North American rails – BY EDWARD MCALLISTER NEW YORK Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:12am EDT


(Reuters) – As politicians debate the dangers of a massive increase in oil carried by rail in North America, railroads and energy producers are considering the same for natural gas.

Irving Oil workers inspect rail cars carrying crude oil at the Irving Oil rail yard terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick in this March 9, 2014 file photo. REUTERS-Devaan Ingraham-Files
Irving Oil workers inspect rail cars carrying crude oil at the Irving Oil rail yard terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick in this March 9, 2014 file photo.

CREDIT: REUTERS/DEVAAN INGRAHAM/FILES

Buoyed by the unexpected success of crude by rail, companies are beginning to consider transporting natural gas as remote drilling frontiers emerge beyond the reach of pipelines, executives said.

Natural gas by rail is years away and likely to face strong public resistance after a series of explosive crude-by-rail accidents. But the potentially multibillion-dollar development could connect gas-rich regions like North Dakota with urban centers, presenting an opportunity for railroads, drillers and tank car makers already cashing in from hauling oil on trains.

It could also be a cure for environmentally unfriendly flaring, a growing problem in far-flung areas where more than $1 billion of natural gas produced alongside oil is burned off each year for lack of processing plants or pipelines that can take years to build.

“Everyone is talking about moving gas by rail,” said David Demers, chief executive officer of Westport Innovations, which is developing technology for natural gas-powered locomotives. “They see this as a large opportunity and have their pencils out to see how it could work.”

Demers said Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF was one railroad considering the move.

BNSF declined to comment on its plans, but a spokeswoman said it would take time for any development of gas by rail.

Transporting gas by rail, most likely as cryogenic liquefied natural gas (LNG), faces obstacles. The technology is in its infancy, and so far no tank car is permitted to carry the fuel on U.S. rails. Nor are there enough plants that convert natural gas to LNG to support a robust gas-by-rail market, experts said.

More-volatile liquids like ethylene and propane already travel on the rails in growing volumes. But as concerns about the safety of crude by rail intensify, regulators are exercising extreme caution with uncertified fuels like LNG, said executives involved in developing the technology.

Stressing that it is too early to say, many of the major Class 1 railroads that have embraced crude by rail declined to speak about specific plans for gas by rail. Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, for example, was just “monitoring any discussions in this area,” a spokesman said.

Breitling Energy Corp CEO Chris Faulkner said he and other gas producers were discussing the idea, but his company was not considering it.

“I can only imagine the amount of pushback we’re going to have on transporting gas by rail,” Faulkner said. “The discussion isn’t about safety and fact, it’s about fear.”

But as railroads team up with companies like General Electric Co and Caterpillar Inc to develop technology to run locomotives on LNG, many say that hauling the fuel as cargo is the next step as a drilling revolution transforms North American energy markets.

“A LOT OF MONEY”

LNG, natural gas cooled and shrunk to a liquid for shipping, already powers heavy-duty trucks and boats in the United States and Canada. A network of fueling stations is cropping up with backing from the likes of Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Clean Energy Fuels Corp.

Small-scale refrigeration plants that can turn gas to LNG are being built in drilling regions to reduce gas flaring. In remote North Dakota, one-third of the gas produced is flared.

Now, gas by rail is emerging as a possibility. Energy producers have approached Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX Corp about moving LNG by rail, said Louis Renjel, vice president of strategic infrastructure initiatives, but the company has no plans to do so.

Article continues:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/16/us-usa-railway-natgas-insight-idUSKBN0ER0D620140616

Little Sovereign Wealth Fund on the Prairie – By Daniel Gross MAY 29 2014 10:16 AM


Raven Drilling, works on an oil rig drilling into the Bakken shale formation on July 28, 2013 outside Watford City, North Dakota.
Ray Gerish, a floor hand for Raven Drilling, works on an oil rig drilling into the Bakken shale formation on July 28, 2013 outside Watford City, North Dakota.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

North Dakota is enjoying a flood of biblical proportions. Shale-drilling technology has liberated huge quantities of oil from the Bakken shale in the western part of the state. Production has surged from about 100,000 barrels per day in 2007 to nearly 1 million barrels per day this year—a tenfold increase.

But North Dakota, America’s latest petro-state, is handling its newfound wealth with the kind of modesty you might expect in a land where people live in giant open spaces and at the mercy of nature. Decades of boom and bust in agriculture have forged a culture of thrift, an abhorrence of debt, and a healthy mistrust of high finance. Alone among the 50 states, North Dakota has a state-owned bank. It never had much of a housing and credit boom, so it never had much of a housing bust.

So it’s not surprising the state is taking a conservative approach to its sovereign wealth fund, the North Dakota Legacy Fund.

At about $2 billion, the fund is a minnow among the more established resource-fueled public funds in the world. For decades, Norway has channeled its North Sea oil wealth into a fund that now contains $840 billion. Sovereign wealth funds based in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere in the Persian Gulfhave become important fixtures in the global financial scene—buying companies, building skyscrapers, and financing massive projects. Several U.S. states have channeled resource revenues into common property. The Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund, which collects revenues from coal, oil, and gas extracted in the state, has about $6 billion in assets—about $10,000 for each of the state’s 576,000 residents. The interest and income it generates flows into Wyoming’s general fund, and helps the state get by without an income tax. The Alaska Permanent Fund created in the 1970s, has some $51 billion in assets. Each year, it pays out a dividend to citizens ($900 in 2013) to ease the sting and expense of residing in the state.

North Dakota, by contrast, has chosen to create a lockbox. The state had long imposed a 6.5 percent extraction tax and a 5 percent production tax assessed against the value of oil removed from its soil. The funds raised went into the general budget fund, or were channeled into trust funds to support schools or infrastructure.

But when fracking turned the Bakken Shale into Saudi Arabia on the high plains, the trickle of oil revenues turned into a gusher. Eager not to squander the state’s good fortune, North Dakota in 2010 created the state’s Legacy Fund through an amendment to the state constitution. The amendment stipulated that 30 percent of all extraction and production tax revenues collected should flow into the fund. Further, the money couldn’t be touched for seven years, until 2017—at which point the interest and income generated by the fund would be rolled into the state’s general budget. Money from the principal could only be spent if two-thirds of both houses of the state legislature approved. And no more than 15 percent of the principal could be spent in any two-year period.

The rainy day fund filled up much more quickly than anybody anticipated. From 2011–13, oil taxes produced nearly $4 billion for the state. By July 2013, the fund contained $1.23 billion.

House Hunting in the Nation’s Hottest Rental Market: Williston, North Dakota – By Adam Martin February 28 2014 at 7:12 AM


The story of Bessie Larmer, a part-time custodian at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota, will sound familiar to any New Yorker affected by gentrification. A dozen or so years ago, the 76-year-old said, she rented a one-bedroom apartment at the Century Apartments on Williston’s west side for $350. “I liked the way they sprayed for ants and kept it nice.” But last June, as the town that exemplifies North Dakota’s oil boom was becoming one of the hottest real-estate markets in the country, Larmer finally had to move out when her rent hit $1,250. By Williston standards, that’s still a bargain

.A John Deere Co. 750j crawler dozer sits on the construction site of a Best Western International Inc. hotel in Williston, North Dakota, U.S., on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. North Dakota will hold its Republican presidential caucus on March 6. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In North Dakota, a state that prohibits rent control, Larmer had little recourse as her rent steadily rose. After she moved in, she said, “it went up to $650 and then $750, then $850, and before I moved out, it was $1,250. I never knew what day I would open my door and find a note saying they would raise it 30 days later.” The increases hit with greater and greater frequency. “It seemed like toward the end it was just crazy. It got to be where once every 30 days they’d say the rent could change. I don’t know what to think,” Larmer, who previously worked as a school custodian for 26 years, said by phone during a coffee break from her job at the church.

When Apartment Guide announced earlier this month that it had found Williston to be the most expensive rental market in the country, surpassing New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, the news sealed the town’s newfound reputation. The ultimate boomtown of the current oil-fracking rush, Williston has turned from a sleepy settlement to a bustling city in just a few years. And there is simply not enough housing to go around.

Williston’s population has more than doubled since the 2010 census put it at 14,700. Its median household income is a whopping $79,265 – some $10,000 to $30,000 higher than the rest of the state. But it takes longer to build apartment buildings than it does to ride a Greyhound to North Dakota, so the city’s services and development can’t keep up with its population growth. The result: Company-sponsored “man camps,” instant RV parks, and a brand-new homeless population, something Williston has never had to deal with before.

 

Apartment Guide found that a one-bedroom, 700-square-foot apartment rented for an average of $2,394. One local realtor, Tate Cymbaluk — who also serves as a city commissioner and a county-planning commissioner — doubted the accuracy of that figure, which the guide apparently calculated from just 16 listings. “I’m not sure how they got to that. That’s not even realistic,” Cymbaluk said, estimating the cost at closer to $1,600 to $2,000 for a two-bedroom. But a quick scan of Craigslistand some of the new rental properties sprouting up around town showed prices for one- and two-bedroom places starting at or above $2,000.

Larmer wound up moving into her brother’s apartment while he dealt with an illness. It was supposed to be a temporary move. “But it doesn’t look like anything’s opening up. It’s kind of nice to have family right close by.”