Where Republicans Start Worrying About Big Oil


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Skarda, described in the local newspaper as “known for her tickled pink nature,” walked around the oval table, giving some on the shoulder and patting others on the back. She asked a man when his family would brand their calves and an elderly woman if she had her flower garden planted.

Skarda grew up near Squaw Gap, west of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the wasteland reserve south of Watford City, in the 1970s. She and her siblings rode horses from the family farm to a one-room schoolhouse. After years of working at the local retired bank, Skarda still gets up early to feed the cattle and fix the fence at the ranch near Keene where she and her husband Gary raised three children.

Skarda is grateful for the economic benefits of the oil boom. But more than a decade ago, she began to worry about related illnesses, from increasing domestic violence to crime and traffic jams, in addition to salt water leakage and other pollution.

“Heartbreak over the oil field,” she said, leading her first for a seat on the McKenzie County Commission, which she had held since 2014, while she was still at the bank.

Since then, Skarda has won more votes than any other candidate in her two elections, and she is now vice-chair of the commission that manages local resources, from highways and roads to a county fairground that hosts an annual rodeo. At a recent meeting, she asked specific questions about the county’s balance sheets. And she was in a pivotal position in the middle of the session when the conversation turned to fences around freshwater ponds that some landowners were building to sell water for oil drilling. Skarda argued that no exceptions should be made to the existing requirements to surround ponds with chain link fences for safety reasons.

McKenzie County is not an overtly political place. In dozens of conversations during my two visits, I found that people don’t often preach one or the other particular doctrine. In part, I suspect, this is because so many share conservative views on key issues. And given the extent of the saltwater damage and other problems, there was relatively little public opposition. But in recent years Skarda, who is so well connected with her neighbors and their interests, has become a public watch who will speak out from her position on the District Commission against the Oil Industry if something goes wrong.

The district commission seats are technically impartial. Skarda, a Republican, said she was guided by doing what is right for voters, whether it be by spending her tax dollars wisely or protecting her country.

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