The Environmental Protection Agency's law enforcement arm has opened an office in Bismarck so that it will have a bigger presence in the North Dakota's booming oil patch.
Jeffry Martinez, the special agent in charge of the EPA's Denver-based Criminal Investigation Division, said the new office opened at the end of July but isn't permanently staffed yet.
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"This is a first step and I'm hopeful that it will lead over time to a fulltime presence," said U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon.
The Criminal Investigation Division is made up of 200 federal agents who are tasked with upholding environmental law.
"Environmental crimes involve lying, cheating and stealing like any other crime," said Maritnez. "We try to pick the worst of the worst."
In less than a decade, North Dakota's oil production has gone up tenfold, to over 1 million barrels of oil a day. The proliferation of oil infrastructure — more than 11,000 wells, along with pipelines, waste disposal sites and drilling rigs — has increased the potential for violations of environmental laws.
Martinez said the number of investigations his division has done in the state has gone up "exponentially" since the oil boom began.
Before the establishment of the Bismarck office, CID agents would work North Dakota cases from Denver or Helena, Montana.
"Having the closest environmental detective 10 hours away, it's not a sustainable strategy in enforcing environmental laws against the worst of the worst offenders in the biggest oil play in the lower 48 states," said Purdon.
Martinez said having more of a presence in North Dakota will help the division build the on the ground relationships necessary to better go after those perpetrating environmental crimes.
"It's hard to investigate from Denver or Helena and really have those relationships, or to know what's going on with our tribal partners on Native land," he said. "We need to be in the field as we're doing investigations, getting to know the citizens of North Dakota."