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the Rev. Carolyn Philstrom, Published January 18 2014

Letter: ‘Mistakes’threaten creation

When I attended the meeting between Lynn Helms, who is director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, and the Mountrail County commissioners to discuss how it came to be that an oil waste pit was built above a drinking water well for the city of Ross, I was inspired by our commissioners’ clear mission to protect creation, and disgusted by Helms’ seeming mission to protect profits for the oil industry. As a Lutheran pastor in Ross, I baptize babies with that water. My friends, neighbors and parishioners depend on that water.

In a gross understatement, Helms continually referred to his failure to provide his field inspectors with maps of wellhead protection zones as a “mistake.” In the meeting, he stated, “We strive for perfection, but since we’re human, we have to settle for excellence.”

His job performance is, tragically and dangerously, nowhere near excellent. His indifference toward landowners and residents puts my people and creation itself at risk. His failure to provide his field inspectors with maps of wellhead protection zones amounts to negligence, extreme incompetence and reckless endangerment. The audience at the meeting gasped when Helms admitted that 134 of these pits were constructed just last year – all with no regard to drinking water wellhead protection zones.

Perhaps Helms’ biggest “mistake” was his failure to listen to the Mountrail County commissioners years ago when they wrote him pleading for a slowdown in oil development. Commissioners stated that they felt overwhelmed a long time ago; and they deserve our thanks for the great job they are doing protecting our land in this overwhelming and corrupt situation.

Indeed, many of us in western North Dakota feel overwhelmed – small-business owners, social service personnel, emergency service personnel, medical staff, pastors and residents. We are infuriated by the reckless “mistakes,” such as illegal dumping, traffic accidents, water contamination, train crashes, firey mushroom clouds, and the largest oil rail spill ever recorded on American soil. Creation is groaning.

I fear that western North Dakota is turning into an industrial waste zone right before our eyes. When I baptize babies, I find myself silently saying extra prayers that I never used to: “God, please protect this water. Please let there be some safe land left for this baby when he grows up to farm the land that’s been in his family for generations. Please.”


The Rev. Philstrom, Stanley, N.D., serves Lutheran churches in Stanley, Ross, Palermo and Knife River Lutheran.