Environment

NPR: Tribes battle energy pollution on Wind River Reservation





"The air reeks so strongly of rotten eggs that tribal leader Wes Martel hesitates to get out of the car at an oil field on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He already has a headache from the fumes he smelled at another oil field.

Martel is giving me a tour of one of a dozen oil and gas fields on the reservation. These operations have the federal government's permission to dump wastewater on the land — so much that it creates streams that flow into natural creeks and rivers. And this water contains toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens and radioactive material, according to documents obtained by NPR through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The fumes hitting Martel's nose are hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly. So Martel makes sure the wind is at his back before walking over to a pit the size of several tennis courts. Pipes are emptying dirty brown water that came up from oil wells into the pit, which is completely covered in goopy black oil.

The oil is supposed to float to the surface, and then a truck will vacuum it up. Any solid stuff should fall on the bottom of the pit, before the water rushes out and forms a stream. But there are still chemicals in the water — some from the earth, some from the oil, and some the companies add to make the oil flow faster."

Get the Story:
Loophole Lets Toxic Oil Water Flow Over Indian Land (NPR 11/15)