What is going on in North Dakota?

North dakota

This is not Wisconsin news but I suspect will be of interest to many Wisconsinites both because we’re not all that far from North Dakota and because fracking is now creating jobs as far away from the oil sands as Marshfield, Wisconsin.

The New York Times Magazine story about North Dakota’s oil boom is good and worth reading even if it is a bit scattered and overlong. (This audio piece and photo gallery might even be better.)

It does puts its finger on one of the nation’s biggest unfolding stories in the total transformation of the northern plains and the near unbelievable boom fracking is bringing with it.

The story also identifies, honestly I think, the fact that there simply isn’t that much opposition to or even apparent qualms about all this from North Dakota residents, who are watching their whole state change.

That’s weird, right? How can something so big fail to inspire some sort of backlash? A few theories:

  • The vastness of the geography. I can’t claim to know it well, but I have been to western North Dakota and it to resembles nowhere so much as the surface of the moon. The argument about the mine in northern Wisconsin hinges on whether or how much such a project would despoil a pristine wilderness. North Dakota’s landscape is amazing in its own way but it is also kind of an expanse of dust and rock.
  • The economic scale of the boom. The size of the boom itself is something close to unprecedented. A city like Williston, N.D. has a 0 percent unemployment rate. There was an AP story a few weeks ago about Menard’s flying workers from Wisconsin to staff its North Dakota locations. Have you ever heard of such a thing? The sheer scale of the economic engine that this boom has been makes it feel so massive and unambiguous.
  • There is a backlash. It isn’t really true that no one is objecting. Just almost no one. There are anti-fracking environmentalists — exceedingly few of them based in North Dakota, but still. And there are voices like John Heiser, mentioned in the story. He is certainly the exception to the rule, though.

About Robert Mentzer

I am the opinion editor at Daily Herald Media.
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