BISMARCK, N.D. — For the first time and because of environmental issues in the Bakken oil fields, an office of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division will open in North Dakota.
The EPA’s detective division signed an agreement three weeks ago with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bismarck for an open-ended contract to rent space for EPA special agents working cases here, agency spokeswoman Lisa McClain-Vanderpool said.
No special agents will be assigned to the office, at least for now. The four agents split between the Denver and Helena. EPA criminal investigation offices will use the new office to work environmental crime cases, she said.
U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said he’s been pushing for years to get environmental crime investigators closer to the biggest oil play in the country.
“When the closest environmental detective is in Helena — a 10-hour drive — that is not a sustainable strategy for protecting the environment from the most egregious crimes,” Purdon said.
His office, along with the Department of Justice environmental crime section’s senior trial attorney, will handle prosecution.
Purdon said he’d like to see special agents assigned specifically to North Dakota, but said a dedicated office is a good start.
“I hope this is the first step for having permanent special agents. It is widely recognized that federal court is a bigger hammer for those who commit the worst of the worst environmental violations,” he said.
Purdon said the agents investigate violations of federal laws that protect drinking water, air and surface water quality, among others.
The state Health Department regulates those federal air and water quality programs for the EPA, but the feds can still move in to enforce violations, he said.
Purdon said a half-dozen environmental crimes in North Dakota are under investigation and two others are in process. In one, the criminal investigation division and prosecutors went to U.S. District Court in Bismarck and got a $50,000 fine ordered against Hurley Enterprises Inc. and Mon-Dakota Water and Septic Services for illegally dumping sewage waste out in the oil patch.
It also is investigating Halek Operating ND for dumping 800,000 gallons of saltwater oil brine into a former oil well and covering up the act.
The company was fined $1.5 million by state health officials two years ago, but the money has never been collected.