Opinion: N.D. fracking: Boom or bust?

December 1, 2013


For the first time in some 40 years, I didn’t open the pheasant season in Kansas with the same group of friends. Such traditions are painful to break, but the dearth of birds in drought-stricken Kansas and divergent commitments trumped nostalgia. So I struck out for South Dakota, where pheasants are plentiful. Then on to North Dakota, where I met up with a friend who’s moved his contracting business there to take advantage of the fracking oil and gas boom.

After driving for hours through a desolate, featureless landscape, I was unprepared for the spectacle that greeted me when I reached the drilling fields. Cresting a hill, I encountered an endless convoy of tanker trucks, derricks nodding like giant birds, bulldozers and backhoes gouging and clawing at the earth, compounds of gleaming oil tanks, trailers and RVs of workers scattered everywhere. The boom has transformed this remote area into a Wild West, gold-rush frenzy.

Some hail the boom as a rousing example of America on the move. The discovery of vast reserves of oil and natural gas has given us the prospect of energy independence at a time when the Middle East seems plunging into chaos. Lower energy prices offer some relief for Americans stuck in an economic slough and an opportunity to develop a long-term strategy for the eventual depletion of fossil fuels.

But it’s also disfigured the landscape and brought on the ills that come with an invasion of workers with no permanent commitment to the area. At night, the countryside resembles an inferno. Garish flames leap up from gas that must be burned off for lack of storage or transmission lines. According to one report, they’re burning off $100 million in natural gas a month, an extravagant waste.

“We’ve had booms and busts before,” said one skeptical native. “And they always end in busts. There’s a lot of people just passing through to make a buck.” Tales abound of con men and carpetbaggers who’ve made promises and then vanished after getting some cash up front. Drug abuse has escalated. On the other hand, farmers whose families have braved the harsh and lonely Dakota winters for generations, have become millionaires overnight. Many have bought second homes in Florida.

Fracking is the bete noire of environmentalists, who see this windfall as a curse, prolonging dependency on fossil fuels, aggravating global warming and slowing the conversion to renewable energy. And fracking may turn out to have forbidding side effects. There’s a downside to every upside, no blessing without some attendant hitch. It’s worth noting that this revolution is taking place on private land and probably never would have happened if it hadn’t escaped the regulatory hand of a government that is hostile to fossil fuels.

Among the unforgettable people I met during my brief sojourn was a couple who’d come from Washington State. They’d lost their business in the recent economic downturn and had come to North Dakota to make a fresh start. They were living in a kind of mobile trailer-kitchen, serving sandwiches and pizzas to truckers and field workers from dawn to late at night. Word had gotten around of their outstanding bacon-and-cheese burgers and French dip sandwiches and they were doing a brisk business.

The boom scenario was appalling and exhilarating at the same time. While our government seems eager to create more incentives not to work, these modern pioneers exemplify the American appetite for opportunity, the knack for self-renewal and self-reliance, the energy and ingenuity that fuels economic progress, the attitude expressed by a sign in a nearby service station: “Life has no remote. Get up and change it yourself.”

— George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Fracking" is a highly toxic chemical process

Union of Concerned Scientists

Evidence Based Debate on Fracking http://www.ucsusa.org/center-for-science-and-democracy/toward-an-evidence-based-fracking-debate.html

Fracking discussion from The Equation, the UCS blog:

Fracking and My Community’s Socioeconomic Stability: Will My Boomtown Go Bust? by Deborah Bailin

Fracking and My Community’s Air Quality: Is There Something in the Air? by Gretchen Goldman and Daniel Tormey

Fracking and My Community’s Water: What Do We Know or When Will We Know It? by Andrew Rosenberg and Monika Freyman

Is Fracking Safe? What Science Can and Cannot Tell Us About Risk, by Gretchen Goldman


Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

What will happen to North Dakota when so many communities become ghost towns? Who will bail out these situations?

Will taxpayers be called upon to bail out the drillers when the party is over?

Will taxpayers be called upon when some home buyers can no longer afford the home they bought?

WE can bet that inflation on real estate values is out of control.

Why isn't the USA understanding the need to pull back from increased fossil fuel use?

Is air pollution = global warming = climate change and the associated negative health and economic impacts not quite enough?

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Saturday, November 30, 2013 By: Associated Press

BOSTON — A bill aimed at temporarily banning the natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is making its way through the Massachusetts Statehouse.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources has approved a bill that would create a 10-year moratorium on the technique in Massachusetts.

Environmental activists argue that fracking can lead to water contamination, illness, and damaged rural landscapes.

Supporters say the technique is safe and is a way to extract natural shale gas that would otherwise remain trapped underground, helping keep energy prices down.

There could be limited shale gas deposits in western Massachusetts.

The bill must still be approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick before becoming law.

Vermont last year became the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Will taxpayers be called upon when some home buyers can no longer afford the home they bought?

WE can bet that inflation on real estate values is out of control.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

Everyone can do their part. Sell your car to be crushed for recycling, and walk everywhere. Or, you could purchase an electric or NG powered car.

Mike Ford 4 years, 5 months ago

This writer sounds like a Dupont Flexel retiree from Tecumseh, Kansas, that attended the church my father preached at. That man resented Earth Day being spoken about at church every April and always stated " I don't smell pollution I smell money". Fracking brings up the same question.....money at what cost to the environment and people's health? I guess fracking and cellophane manufacturing with pollution dumped into the Kansas River are issues for the smart people to worry about. Rush Limbaugh can always supply low content information about pollution to the people who don't care about consequences and actions.

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