Charging ahead in the Bakken

The Bakken is certainly in the national and the world news.

Not long after satellite pictures on the Internet displayed the region’s natural gas flares lighting up the night sky like New York City, the March issues of two national magazines featured articles on the Bakken, with pictures of the gas-flaring on their covers.

National Geographic carried “America Strikes New Oil” by Edwin Dobb, with photos by Eugene Richards.

Harper’s ran “Bakken Business: The price of North Dakota’s fracking boom” by Richard Manning, with photos by Danny Wilcox Frazier.

Both are well-written, balanced, personalized, with somewhat different focuses. Dobb starts and ends with the person of one truck driver, tying together a panoramic view of the oilfield, its operation and its impact, positive and negative.

And, as usual for National Geographic, there are many pictures and a map and illustrations.

Manning starts and ends with the person of Teddy Roosevelt, his time in the state and his ranch, pulling together the report and putting it in historical perspective. There are also pictures including a composite of nighttime satellite images.

The upside and the downside of the oil boom are captured in the comments of Gene Veeder, McKenzie County director of economic development: “Now I meet more people in a week than I met (before) in twenty years.” He is very upbeat about the economic benefits, especially jobs.

But he also admits of the boom: “It did bring the world outside into the community, and that was an eye-opener. People are just overwhelmed with the drugs and prostitution and fights and all the things that come with oil fields.”

Manning points out the irony of the oil wells in Roosevelt country, a little over a century after President TR broke up John D. Rockefeller’s oil mega-monopoly and branded him and other monopolists as “the most dangerous members of the criminal class the criminals of great wealth.”

Teddy must be rolling over in his grave, maybe close to charging up out of it.

It does seem that things are going faster than they need to. There are many other places where natural gas flare-offs are at one to three percent, not 30 percent.

Statoil, from Norway, has said their operation in the Bakken will follow the European model of harvesting both oil and gas equally, instead of wasting one-third of the gas.

Something is wrong with the prevailing model in the Bakken: charging ahead unprepared to deal with a valuable commodity, natural gas, because more money can be made right now with oil, and the heck with the consequences, whether to the common good or to Mother Nature.

If this wasteful practice continues much longer, it might just be enough to rouse not only arch-conservationist Teddy from the grave but also his Rough Riders.

(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)