By many measures, North Dakota is one of America's less extraordinary states. Petroleum production is not one of those measures. Neither is the explosive popularity of hydraulic fracturing, a potentially dangerous and environmentally destructive extraction method more commonly known as "fracking".
A new report by Abe Sauer in The Awl pulls back the curtain on the oil industry's quiet but quick takeover of North Dakota. In explaining the apocalyptic sight of "Dakota candles" illuminating the Bakken oil shale formation just west of Bismark as seen from space, Sauer explains how companies like Halliburton are leading the charge:
The Bakken formation stretches from Montana through western North Dakota through Saskatchewan. The heart is near Williston, North Dakota, a town that has gone from a population of around 12,000 to 20,000 in just a few years. When a new Motel 6 opened last week, Hallibuton immediately offered to rent the entire thing. By the end of next year, North Dakota will be the nation's number two oil producer. Every month, the state sets a new record for output. The U.S. Energy Information Administration animated map of Bakken drilling activity between 1985 and 2010 is shocking.
Thanks to advances in a process called horizontal drilling, and the growth of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as an extraction process, the hard-to-reach oil of the Bakken is now affordable to extract.
Due to America's goal to become more energy independent and the evolving role of the Environmental Protection Agency, North Dakota's fast-growing oil industry is a complicated issue. However after Embridge Energy's announced plans this week to invest $145 million to expand their presence in North Dakota, we're probably going to hear more from the increasingly boisterous local opponents of fracking that The Awl profiles. In Sauers own words, "North Dakotans may be seen as rubes, and many may actually be, but even a rube knows injecting tons of poisonous chemicals into the earth is, at best, only moderately dangerous."