This week and next, I’m putting on my investigative journalist hat and talking to locals about the environmental effects and health concerns caused by the oil boom.
Fracking is a controversial topic, and I want to make it clear that I’m not taking an official position on it, and nor will the book. I will take a critical look at the process, however, and report both sides to the issue. The side I’m currently looking at is the environmental effects, but I’ll get into more details about the positives of fracking at a later date (it could be less bad than other mining or drilling processes, for example, and many people I’ve talked to are adamant about doing everything they can to limit the environmental damage).
Nevertheless, environmental damage is happening. One big concern is the illegal dumping and accidental spills of the chemical-infused saltwater used in the fracking process. There were over 1,000 documented spills in 2011 alone, and the liquid completely sterilizes the land, killing everything it touches. In 2006, when the oil boom was in its infancy, a pipeline leak caused one million gallons of it to spill into a creek in Alexander, ND, killing hundreds of fish, turtles and plants. Despite cleanup efforts, ranchers in the area are still finding tainted areas. I’ll be going to look at some more spill sites on Monday.
I’ll also be spending a few nights on a farm next week to understand the deep connection many local North Dakotans have to the land. Farmer Donny Nelson, who has spent nearly every day of his life on his farm, and can tell if rain is coming by the smell of the air, finds it difficult to watch thousands of people descend on his home land, knowing they’ll probably leave just as quickly if the price of oil drops. “I think it’s sad what’s happening,” he says. “My grandparents homesteaded here and we’ve seen how hard it was for them. The winters are brutal. They suffered so we could have it better, and this land is what did it for them. In the end we don’t own the land, it owns us.”
CORRECTION 1/25/14: A previous version of this post referred to Donny Nelson as Donny Wilson. His name has been corrected.