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North Dakota’s Bakken boom, and potential bust, are definitely in the news. Journalists, documentary filmmakers, landowners and community groups have given it a name and a face. Yet it’s still hard to understand until you put your boots on the ground and watch the oil being drilled, pumped and trucked to rail stations, 24-7, as it’s moved out of the region.
In Western Montana and Wyoming, we hear a steady drumbeat of stories about what the boom has brought—truck fatalities, worker deaths, pipeline spills, exploding trains, illegal dumping of radioactive waste, murders, gangs and human trafficking ... to name a few.
We also hear about the wealth. Shiny pick up trucks line our downtown streets with bumper stickers announcing hard working men and women are “Rockin’ the Bakken.” We’re also told that desperately needed jobs are being created to provide energy independence for Americans.
Corporate Takeover of Community
The boom/bust cycle is not a new phenomenon; our region has seen our share. What’s hard to understand about this particular boom is that oil industry executives and our government officials didn’t have the foresight to prepare for it. Ensuring basic public health safeguards, social services and workplace safety should be automatic in the 21st century. Communities who bear the brunt of producing this nonrenewable resource should have the same protection as the people who consume it.
But in the Bakken, public officials are watching North Dakota crumble into unmonitored ruin—ignoring environmental chaos and a public health crisis that promises to boom after the after the oil has gone bust.
Meanwhile, the Bakken’s local health and social service professionals, educators, and faith-based leaders have been overwhelmed by a stream of social issues including: a housing crisis, worker deaths, migration of national and international workers, childhood homelessness, crime, violence, a burgeoning drug and sex industry, and nearly insurmountable obstacles to the distribution of basic human services.
Thoughtful people are working to keep climate-damaging fuels in the ground. But in the Bakken, industry is flaring millions of cubic feet of methane gas into the air. While entire countries are trying to conserve water and look for a sustainable way of living, the people of North Dakota are sinking into a mire of mud, caused by oil and salt water spills. Feeding the planet is the goal of forward thinking people, but in North Dakota, thousands of acres of farmland has been sacrificed.
The Bakken is Rockin’. It’s Rockin’ from a 21st Century corporate takeover, where our environment, communities and basic human rights are going, going, gone.
For more information
Earthworks report on flaring in the Bakken and the Eagle Ford Shale plays: Up in Flames—U.S. Shale Oil Boom Comes at Expense of Wasted Natural Gas, Increased Carbon Dioxide
University of North Dakota: Black Gold and the dark underside of its development on human service delivery
Dakota Resource Council documentary: This Is Our Country - Living with the Wild West Oil Boom
Deborah Thomas is a northwest Wyoming resident who has been living with oil and gas development for years since before the fracking boom. In addition to collaborating with Earthworks she is the CEO of ShaleTest.org, a non-profit organization that collects environmental data and provides testing to lower income families and communities that are negatively impacted by shale oil and gas extraction.
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