I got a number of personal responses to my op ed in yesterday’s Gazette, many of them supportive, some not so much. Thanks to all who sent me supportive notes.
The not-so-supportive ones tended to fall into three general categories:
- If you don’t like oil why don’t you try walking out to the Beehive?
- Extraction pays for schools and other things you like. Why do you hate children?
- The geology of the Beartooths makes it impossible for anything like the Bakken to happen here.
The top two are pretty easy to think about. The first is a version of “America: love it or leave it.” If you love it, you try to make it better. The second would be easier to accept if Montana didn’t have an oil and gas tax holiday that starves local governments.
The third is scary to me. The notion that what’s happened in the Bakken is somehow a geological phenomenon misses the whole point of the argument. It’s clear that there will never be as much oil here as in the Bakken, but the issue isn’t just the geology. It’s the social ruination of the place as much as the environmental impact.
Today’s New York Times has a sobering first-person video, what they call an “op doc,” Running on Fumes in North Dakota. It depicts the experience of Jonnie Cassens, a 38-year old truck driver who was unemployed in California and has come to North Dakota to seek her fortune. She finds a job as a “hotshot” driver making $34,000 a year, which, with prices inflated to Manhattan levels, isn’t really enough to get by.
Her desolate existence, compounded by being a woman in a world full of men, describes exactly what we should fear about the expansion of drilling here.
In her words:
Those people that are making all the money, the suits, they don’t know what it’s like to be on the floor, they don’t know what it’s like to go to the truck stop and see a pregnant girl living in a car with her boyfriend, with a full size dog tied up outside as a guard dog, they don’t know the crazy stuff that you see people are doing for survival. I’m not even making as much as I was in California driving full time, I’m not getting any benefits, I’m not getting insurance….I’m in the land of hell….If you make a wrong move you’ll end up back living in your car.
What Jonnie understands is that the Bakken is all about money, and the “suits” — the corporations, the mineral rights holders, the government officials with bloated budgets — are doing it at the expense of land owners, residents in the community, and workers who come to the community to try to make a living.
In order to understand the impact of expanded drilling along the Beartooths, it’s critical we focus not just on the potential damage to the environment, but also on the destruction of community.