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By Mikkel Pates, Published January 20 2012

Will Oil Patch lead to weed patch?

Valley City, N.D. - The oil boom in western North Dakota is being watched for yet another negative impact for farmers and ranchers – weeds.

Jim McAllister, Barnes County weed-control officer at Valley City, said the dramatic influx of equipment and road construction in the western part of the state is a concern for all weed-control professionals in the state.

“It’s a big concern,” McAllister said. “Anytime you get equipment coming in from outside the state, it seems like it never is as clean as you’d like to see it. Laws require the equipment to be cleaned, but, as with custom combining equipment coming into the state, it’s not perfect.”

Derrill Fick has been weed-control officer in Ward County and the city of Minot for 14 years.

“It’s concerning us terribly, I guess, because of the quickness with which everybody is able to move into properties and build township roads into main roads,” Fick said.

The process involves a parade of road graders, bulldozers, gravel trucks and support trucks for hauling the water, crude and oil.

“With increased traffic, there are more weeds,” he says. “There is gravel coming out of uncertified pits or hauled from different states – scoria, different gravels – being hauled, uninspected.”

One telltale sign of the problem is when weed populations explode along certain roads where oil activity goes, but then stop beyond the oil sites. Primary species concerns include leafy spurge, Canada thistle and absinth wormwood, Fick said. There is concern about black henbane, coming out of the South and Southwest states. “Some spotted knapweed is showing up. It’s a variety of things here,” Fick said.

Fick said for the most part, when oil companies are approached by a local weed-control board, they respond quickly.

“Either they do the controls themselves, or they hire a contractor, or even the weed board,” he said.

He said it isn’t always clear whether they realize the cost of leaving the weeds unchecked. “They’re in the business of punching a hole in the ground,” he said.

In the past, weed-control officers have had more of a handle on noxious weed movement in their counties. “Usually, you can keep track of farmer hauling, but now you have thousands of (oil) sites popping up overnight. You can’t keep track of it.”

Some of the areas of greatest concern in North Dakota are in Mountrail County near Stanley; in Dunn County south of Lake Sakakawea and in the Killdeer area; and farther west near Watford City in McKenzie County and near Williston in Williams County.

There is no hard data on how much oil rig-related weed influx has already occurred.

McAllister said spotted knapweed, a weed that infested millions of acres in Montana, is gaining a bigger foothold in this area. Spotted knapweed is a short-lived biennial, meaning it comes from a seed.

“It isn’t a perennial, but once it reaches a certain population it’ll kill out everything else,” McAllister said. “Everybody in North Dakota realizes what a problem leafy spurge has been. Well, spotted knapweed, if it is uncontrolled, will actually choke out leafy spurge.”

Mikkel Pates writes for Agweek.