Not quite the North Dakota I know

Oil drilling threatens solitude of national park
The park in question is Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. You’ve possibly heard recently that the city with the highest rents in America is Williston, North Dakota, because of the huge oil boom requiring a whole lot of workers, and there isn’t enough housing for them all right now. (And they’re getting a new mall, too.) What all these workers are doing is not a new story, though. North Dakota is going through an oil boom that has placed it second behind Texas in oil production in a very few years. Reports started coming out about this a year or two ago. The boom is centered not far from the north unit of TRNP, an area up till now mostly devoted to cattle raising. Oil drilling inside the park itself is not allowed, but the derricks and other artifacts of oil production are increasingly visible from within the park itself. This is especially true at night, when flares from the rigs (burning off natural gas that the facilities can’t handle yet) ruin the view of the night sky.

I worked in Medora, ND, just south of the south unit of TRNP, in 1982, and in 1990 I went back on vacation with a camera. Inside the park, the wind and the silence enveloped me, pushing the desolate landscapes and wildness into my spirit. Evidence of the human world was relatively scarce and often historic, such as Roosevelt’s cabins. It’s the sort of thing the future president himself sought and absorbed in his dark night of the soul in the mid-1880s.

People need to make a living, I understand this. It’s still unfortunate, though. It seems humans can’t go anywhere without needing to spoil any wildness that survives. I guess the next time I go to TRNP, I’ll have to be careful where I direct my gaze if I’m looking for an unspoiled vista.

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About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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8 Responses to Not quite the North Dakota I know

  1. changeling72 says:

    Sadly, people will always put money, and oil, before the environment.

    • songdogmi says:

      Yeah. I’m all for what politicians call “energy independence,” or ending our reliance on imported oil. I just thought that meant using more renewable energy, not extracting more oil here. Silly me.

      • zenicurean says:

        Well, who said the difference would be made up with renewable energy? I don’t think anyone with any sort of power over this is really committed to that idea — seems to me that if you want to push out not only the 17,2% of US oil imports that came from Saudi Arabia last year, but also, say, the 44,3% that came from Canada and Mexico, you’re probably going to have to accept that in the short and medium term more and more people will be drilling at home.

        (Also: Sorry for the edit flood. Me am type good today!)

      • songdogmi says:

        You’re correct that the people who really have the ability to make us “energy independent” never committed themselves to a significant transfer to renewables. The desire to do so is supported by all us hippie freak progressives, and we’re guilty of both projecting and assuming that it’s already accepted, when in fact we’re delusional. (Cf: our disappointment with Barack Obama when he turned out to be a moderate Democrat, as he always had been.)

        Interesting side note (well, I hope interesting): Thirty-some years ago in my economics principles classes—maybe both micro and macro—a common illustration of an economic issue was that the cost of oil extraction in the U.S. was so high, we willingly imported oil despite the political issues. When the cost of importing went high enough that it equalled the cost of drilling here (or technology developed so that our costs were less), we would drill here. And lookee here, imported oil is over $100/barrel and we are drilling here. Gawsh, those econ profs were so smart.

  2. kishenehn says:

    Yep, it’s all terrifying. And though the chaos is still far away from me, it’s slowly moving in my direction.

    The worst part is that when it’s all over a generation from now … the companies will just leave, and both the economy and the environment will be in a shambles, left for future generations to endure.

    • songdogmi says:

      We don’t seem to learn. We spoiled much of the East, and then took the same mindset west. True, it’s the easiest viable economic alternative, but it’s so short-sighted.

      And yes, in 30 years or so, Williston will probably be like Detroit with a population of half what it’s built for. They have to build it up now, but there will be so much excess capacity later. Meanwhile the oilmen will be in Wolf Point or Wibaux or somewhere rubbing their hands in glee.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t made it to North Dakota, but have driven through South Dakota en route to Montana and points west. The vastness, the utter lack of sound other than the wind and the occasional hawk or eagle have stayed with me.

    I will never be able to comprehend the greed-fuled mindset that disrespects the planet to that extent. My first impulse is to do as much outdoors education with children to help them connect to Earth as deeply as possible. I harbor dark thoughts about whether that will preserve what’s left some nights, though.

    Fran

    • songdogmi says:

      The North Dakota Badlands have the vastness and silence without the tourist attractions of South Dakota. The landscape is slightly less monumental, but only slightly. Less people, too.

      It’s another one of those things that I shake my head about; I’ve been aware of the environmental movement for at least 40 years, and I thought some inroads had been made, but apparently a lot of other humans were in different social circles and learned that development was more important regardless of costs. It seems that their arguments are more persuasive: People get jobs, they get incomes, they buy stuff. That trumps the preservationists who argue for intangibles such as spiritual nurturing through wilderness and preserving wildlife. The costs of despoiled vistas and loss of biodiversity will be paid later, so who cares now?

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