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Page 4 ■ Thursday, March 29, 2012


BAKKEN BREAKOUT WEEKLY Refl ections in the patch

‘Somewhere between a 200-rig circus and a war’

By LAUREN DONOVAN Bismarck Tribune

Two, sometimes three times a week, I pack up for a day trip to the oil patch. Camera, notebook and pens go into

my small black computer bag. An apple, two oranges and a Thermos of coffee get tossed on the passenger seat. Cellphone, Chapstick and an extra layer in case the weather goes south. I’m ready to go.

Lauren Donovan

if I’ll make it “there” and back without topping it off again, late at night at the end of a long road. Usually, I don’t, and every other withdrawal on my electronic debit card statement originates from gas stations somewhere in the West that have become as familiar to me as the ones down the street from where I live. It is not lost on me that some fraction

I top off my car with gas and wonder

the-run lifestyle often get tossed out of the truck or pickup window. More than ever before in my life, I fi nd myself cring- ing as I watch cups and paper wrappings fl ying from the truck in front of me on the busy highway. Deep in the oil patch, roadside ditches are so fi lled with trash I wonder if they can possibly be mowed for hay and what may happen to the live- stock that ingested that hay. Note: The North Dakota Petroleum

Council needs to start an anti-litter cam- paign and fl ood the region with garbage bags that say, “Don’t Trash the Patch.” This affront to the landscape is a per- sonal insult. These drivers don’t need to love this land, but at the very least, won’t they respect it? I’m not using litter as a clumsy meta- phor for the state of the oil patch. If I had to pin it down in those terms, I’d describe it as somewhere between a 200-rig circus and a war, complete with casualties to man and wildlife. It is one of the largest industrial building zones anywhere on Earth. It’s an entirely new resettlement of the

western third of the state. On any given day out there, I talk to people who have migrated to the patch from Washington, Idaho,

of the refi ned oil I cover in the stories I work on week in and week out goes into my own four-cylinder Malibu. This com- fortable sedan is a lightweight in the ring with the heavy industrial traffi c where I’m going, and if I could fi nd a Hummer that got 30 miles per gallon, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. I’ve tried to do the math whether the 500,000 barrels of oil a day produced from wells here is still only a break-even for the incredible amount of fuel it takes to develop an oil play of this scale. As an aside, these gas stops are all the same — dozens of semi trucks idling, their drivers lined up inside, waiting while harried cashiers clear diesel fi lls at the pump and ring up purchases of chips, Mountain Dew, pizza, cold Pugs- ley sandwiches and cigarettes carried to the counter by men who look like they slept in their trucks and probably did. For many, this oil boom is not fueled

by good nutrition or a sound night’s sleep.

The containers of this eat-junk-on-

Texas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Colorado ... a list that could be a third-grader’s “Name all the 50 states” quiz. A common and heartbreaking sight is the lone guy in an out-of-state car, back seat piled high with his possessions, pulled over at a gas station. He’s always studying a map as if his life depends on it and it probably does. He left people be- hind somewhere, and at the Highway 2 Cenex in Stanley, he looks like the loneli- est man in town. I want to tap on his window and reas-

sure him that everything will be just fi ne. I don’t not because I’m worried for my safety, but because I don’t really know if he will be fi ne. He could be sleeping in his car. He could be down to his last $20 bill.

a 160-acre homestead. They’re here to make money, not a life, and only some of them will stay on for a stretch of time. I believe that even many of those hired on for the more permanent jobs of oil production will go back home, or closer to it, as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

These resettlers aren’t looking for

Some will “stick,” but most won’t, and this oil-caused resettlement will actu- ally be a constantly shifting population nothing at all like the stability of the fi rst settlers, now in their fi fth generation of North Dakota citizenship. As a journalist, this is the transforma- tional story of a lifetime because it is the

transformational story of a state my state. This is new history being made while we watch, and worry, in wonder. I have seen the effects of living in the

guts of the oil patch that make grown men and women cry, and I have seen new McMansions pop up on the prai-

Continued on page 5 MIKE McCLEARY/Tribune

According to the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association, trucking companies in the state have swelled to almost 2,800 due to the increase in oil activity in western counties.

Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma,

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