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Katherine Lymn, Forum News Service, Published October 24 2013

Oil spill expert to headline Dakota Resource Council meeting Saturday

DICKINSON, N.D. – Wilma Subra uses information to empower communities negatively affected by oil and gas development.

Some people don’t like that.

Subra’s office has been broken into many and her building was even shot at once.

But this hasn’t deterred her, and Subra will bring her chemistry and advocacy to western North Dakota communities Saturday as the keynote speaker at the Dakota Resource Council’s annual meeting, where she’ll educate landowners, farmers, small-business owners and others affected by the oil boom.

She’ll offer some “technical assistance” to those with questions about the health impacts of oil and gas development in the western part of the state.

Subra opened the Subra Company, an environmental consulting firm, in 1981 to help communities understand “what’s going on” when development hits them. She’s since done ongoing work monitoring health effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, among other events.

Last month’s 20,600-barrel Tioga pipeline spill happened after Subra was booked as the speaker, but only made her speech more relevant.

She said the state needs better regulation – and more importantly, enforcement – of pipelines.

“Some states have a fair amount of regulation, others don’t,” she said, “but even if you have a fair amount of regulation, if you don’t enforce it, it doesn’t exist.”

DRC Executive Director Don Morrison said the Tioga spill is just the most recent example of some of the problems the council tries to combat – “the most prominent example of why we need to work together.”

“Our current state government looks at their job as protecting the oil industry rather than involving the public in doing things better,” Morrison said.

Morrison said he hopes attendees of Subra’s speech walk away knowing there are solutions to the problems western North Dakota faces with oil development.

“There are solutions, there is hope that we can do much better,” he said.

DRC oil and gas task force chairwoman Theodora Birdbear said she thought Subra would be a good speaker after seeing a YouTube video of the chemist speaking.

“I was just struck by how much she uses her technical information, her knowledge as a chemist, to help small communities that are dealing with significant impacts from industrial development,” Birdbear said.

Despite repeated break-ins and the drive-by shooting, Subra perseveres.

“When the harassment occurs, I can usually associate it back to two or three issues I’m working on,” she said.

“They just harass me to try and get me to back off, but then if I back off the community is the one that loses because they don’t have the information.”