Boom and bust and murder

by Pete Talbot

Can sustainability reduce crime?

The Bakken oil boom is drawing some less-than-desirable elements to Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.  Of course, crime in boom towns is nothing new: think Henry Plummer, the vigilantes and Alder Gulch.

And apparently we haven’t evolved much from gold camps of the 1800s — environmentally or culturally.  One can still see the mountains of tailings from the dredges that plied Alder Creek over a hundred years ago.  Or visit the Virginia City Museum where Clubfoot George’s clubfoot, looking a bit like a standing rib roast, is on display (apparently he was dug up after being hanged by the vigilantes and his foot was removed for posterity).

And what have we learned, environmentally, since those days? Witness the Berkeley Pit, Colstrip, ASARCO, Basin, the Barker-Hughesville mining district … (and who really knows what all those chemicals pumped deep into the ground in the name of fracking will do to the water tables in the Bakken Play).

But it’s the cultural degradation that’s in the news these days: crime, infrastructure issues, housing shortages, Walmart parking lots filled to capacity with RVs, overcrowded schools and man camps.  And, according to Dennis Portra, the mayor of the metropolis of Bainville, Mont., on the North Dakota border, “Korean prostitutes parking their RV in Bainville for a summer.”

Now I’m pretty sure there’s no way you can sustainably drill for oil or gas but there has to be a more sensible approach.  A permit system that slows development comes to mind, more regulation of where, when and how.  A greater pay-to-play system so that the impacts on schools and neighborhoods and highways and, well, everything is at least somewhat mitigated.  Make sure that there is land, sacred land, that just isn’t touched.  And slow the development way down so that locals get first crack at the jobs to reduce the influx of alleged murderers like these two or this guy.

I realize that we aren’t going to go cold turkey on our oil addiction but really, this cyclical boom and bust is absurd.  How’s this helping to stabilize oil prices or getting us to look at alternatives to an ever dwindling supply of oil? What’s the Williston Basin going to look like when the boom plays out in 20 years?  This is one bad economic model.

And now they’re sinking test wells further west: Choteau, Lewistown, on the lands of the Blackfeet Nation:

“This entire region of the Rockies holds untapped potential that can contribute much needed supplies to help meet U.S. demand,” says Marathon spokesman Paul Weeditz.  The Rockies, apparently, were put here for oil, gas and mineral extraction to meet our never-ending needs.

We really need to get a handle on this, for the sake of a sustainable energy future, for our environment and for our way of life.  It could even put a dent in our homicide rate.

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  1. Pronghorn

    New Mexico had already boomed when I got there back in the ’90s. (I lived virtually IN the oil patch along US 550.) Meth & crime were already HUGE problems. I had a six mile running route on BLM land in gorgeous desert–pinyon/juniper forest. Unfortunately, I was never out of eyeshot or earshot of the next well, compressor station, or derrick. Since I left, the number of wells has DOUBLED. Today I saw “Surviving Progress” at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and am more convinced than ever that we’re a doomed species.

  2. Ingemar Johansson

    How much crime happens on an oil platform? How ’bout the North Slope?

    And yet when you limit/forbid production off shore and in ANWR what’s left?

    Private property in ND and MT.

    • petetalbot

      It doesn’t appear the leadership in either party is forbidding off shore oil production, but what I’m trying to get at, Ingy, is just slow down. In our race to suck every bit of oil out of the Earth’s crust, we create boom and bust cycles that foster dysfunctional communities, environmental degradation and economic uncertainty. Alternative energy and sustainability? Forget about it. We’ll let other nations advance clean energy and alternate fuels while we hang on to the past.

  3. Ingemar Johansson

    Throwing some blame at the Reps. there Pete?

    http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=42258

    This one’s all yours.

    • Steve W

      Inge, you can drown all the islands and the coasts, but at least cop to what you are doing. And to what it costs.

      • Pete Talbot

        Who am I blaming for what, Ingy? I think you’re missing the point of my post and comments. But in response to your link to the uber-right site Human Events, there’s this from the NY Times and this from National Geographic.

      • Ingemar Johansson

        Your argument is with that hot bright round thingey that comes up in the sky every morning.

        “Over the last 10 years, literally dozens of very careful empirical studies have found a high degree of correlation, in the range of .5 to .8, between solar activity and various temperature proxies going back many thousands of years. That is, solar activity “explains,” in the statistical sense, about half of all past temperature change, yet this mountain of evidence only rates one oblique sentence in AR5, noting three papers (author and year) that found some kind of correlations between solar activity and climate, but they aren’t going to tell you what.”

  4. Chuck

    I do some stuff in the Bakken.
    I would again scream out to any young kids in western Montana to get their asses over there to work. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to set yourselves up for financial security. If you are not a trust fundy…go.

    • Pete Talbot

      Chuck, I appreciate your efforts at getting under-and-unemployed young people over to the Bakken Play. I’d add some caveats, though: good luck finding a place to live unless you have an RV/camper (with a good heater in it); if you can line up a job before you get there, all the better (unless you have a skill set like driving tankers, concrete work, welding, etc.); don’t go out jogging early in the morning and try to stay away from the meth.

      Again, what I’ve tried to point out over-and-over, is instead of an in-and-out, get-rich-quick, boom and bust scenario, some long-range planning for getting the oil out of the ground would lead to less chaos and a more sustainable economy. I’m sure the longtime residents in the Williston Basin would appreciate that, too.

      And I won’t even touch on the environmental ruin, crumbling infrastructure and cultural degradation that’s occurring.

      • lizard19

        careful Pete, that caveat sounds borderline prejudicial.

        • Pete Talbot

          I think you’re being facetious, liz, but to clarify, I’m sure most of the folks at Bakken Play are hard-working, law-abiding people trying to make a decent wage in a depressed economy. The ills of this boom and bust oil field are also quite apparent in the news stories I’ve been reading.

  5. I live in the Bakken play and can attest to some of these claims. Walmart in Williston no longer allows overnight parking of any motor vehicles, including RVs due to the drastic increase in crime and garbage. Many companies offer man camp style housing for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the winter was mild enough to prevent scaring away some lowlifes. In nearly all cases, employers prefer to hire locals, if possible. Generally, they have already have a place to live. Unemployment in ND is very low. There is no excuse for not having a job up here… but be prepared to WORK. It isn’t easy.

    McDonalds pays approximately $22/hr but 900 sq ft 3 bedroom apartments rent for $4500/month. There isn’t a decent place to eat in the entire town and a quick trip to the grocery store will require hours on the weekends. One night, a pizza and a pitcher of Bud Light set us back $45. The Walmart shelves are bare and the little merchandise that remains is often strewn into other aisles and covering the floor. I have a Facebook photo album titled “Williston Walmart Misadventures”. The roads in Williston are unbelievable. The tire impressions in the asphalt are sunk visibly several inches from the weight of the trucks. That is not the greatest way to describe it, you would really need to see what I’m talking about.

    Women are buying handguns like never before- in fact, most women I know have bought one recently or are seriously considering it. I signed up for a class in order to apply for a concealed carry permit and the classes are so booked up that I cannot take one until May. Pepper spray is a really big seller up here as well.

    The Korean prostitutes are no longer in Bainville, so this story has a happy ending, pun intended. I would imagine the town’s residents are thankful although I cannot imagine how many customers frequented the RV considering the ladies of the evening were rather elderly- one was 77 years old.

    I’m generally pro-oil and pro-business, but we do need to be prepared for this to some extent. It is already severely impacting housing in Montana. The small home in a tiny Montana town 30 miles from the ND border that I owned years ago when I was 20 now rents for $4,000/month. I don’t know a soul who is unemployed. On the other hand, Montana is likely on the shallow end of the Bakken pool (with the exception of Elm Coulee perhaps) and porosity is quite a lot lower here. There’s always the Central Montana Heath Shale to consider as well.

    This isn’t the basin’s first oil boom, nor its second. When drilling stops here, production will continue. Those who own minerals will likely have moved elsewhere by then, financed by high lease prices and healthy royalties.

    • Pete Talbot

      Thanks for comment, MTfesto. This sort of on-the-ground info gives a better perspective than anything I could add or link to. I do stand by my assertion that there has to be a more sustainable way of generating energy and extracting resources.




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