In North Dakota, booms past and present

A photographer returns home to examine changes to the landscape.

  • Natural gas flare, White Earth River Valley, September 2013. Approximately 30% of the natural gas in North Dakota is being flared off. It is cheaper for companies to flare the gas than to build the infrastructure and pipelines necessary to capture and transport it.

    Sarah Christianson
  • “We’re on Our Way,” Glenburn, North Dakota.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Emmanual Lutheran Brethren Church, Turtle Mountains, September 2013.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Bottomlands at the confluence of Missouri & Yellowstone Rivers, May 2013. Captain Meriwether Lewis, April 26, 1805: “The bottom land on the lower side of the Yellowstone River near its mouth, for about one mile in width appears to be subject to inundation …” This well, the Gass 1-25H, is fracked beneath the Missouri River.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Carole Freed, fourth generation rancher, North Dakota, May 2013. “Nobody understands what this costs me as a landowner. We all wanted this oil development. We just didn’t know what we were in for. Even half of what we got would’ve been too much. Our way of life has changed."

    Sarah Christianson
  • The Skogens’ bedroom window, Cartwright, North Dakota. For oil wells drilled near homes, the current minimum setback distance is 500 feet. Many homeowners are fighting to have this setback distance increased to be at least 1,000 feet from homes.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Well stake in teepee ring, Mountrail County, September 2013. This stake marks the location of an incoming 8-well pad. The landowner was given very few options for the location of the site; Oil companies are rarely required to perform a cultural resources inventory on private lands before drilling.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Flax from saltwater-damaged field, Antler, North Dakota, September 2013. This farmer’s field saw seven saltwater spills over the course of two years.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Snow Bird Cemetery, New Town, North Dakota. This small cemetery is on the Fort Berthold Reservation, home of the Three Affiliated Tribes (the Mandan, Hidatsa and the Arikara Nation). Setback laws for oil wells and equipment apply only to occupied dwellings.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Well site carved out of bluffs near the Badlands, August 2013. No drilling is taking place in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but development can be seen and heard along its borders.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Vertical well abandoned in 1983, south of Williston. Western North Dakota is littered with abandoned wells from prior oil booms. Companies say they will eventually return them to production. North Dakota’s Administrative Code states that if a well isn’t productive for a year, it is classified as abandoned and must be plugged and reclaimed.

    Sarah Christianson
  • Tioga Natural Gas Plant, September 2013. Plant-owner Hess began selling natural gas processed at the Tioga plant this year.

    Sarah Christianson
 

We recommend you enjoy these photographs in our gallery view.

In 1973, during North Dakota’s second oil boom, then-Governor Art Link declared, “When we are through with that and the landscape is quiet again…let those who follow and repopulate the land be able to say our grandparents did their job well. The land is as good and, in some cases, better than before.” Forty years later, another oil boom is underway in the Williston Basin, this time fueled by new drilling techniques. Oil companies are working at breakneck speeds to drill thousands of new wells in my home state.

The oil fields are pumping out more than a million barrels per day – up from 124,000 in 1981. The activity has brought a stream of revenue, people and jobs to this historically economically depressed region.

This photography examines what remains on the land from previous booms and how the region is changing again today. Experts anticipate that extraction will continue for the next few decades, but no one knows for sure when the industry will pull out or how drilling will impact the landscape in the long term, when the landscape is quiet again.

Kirk Hohenberger
Kirk Hohenberger Subscriber
Jul 15, 2014 06:36 PM
unless you are the few benefiting from this development, it is a disaster.Just go there and visit the place. Virtually no rules or regulations, no proper planning ,extract the oil as fast as you can, sell it to the highest bidder, make as much money as you can ,as fast as you can, with Little regard to the damages and impacts you cause , because you have no connection to the land , and will leave as soon as the oil is gone.Oh free-market capitalism ,our true religion above all else, we really worship money, above all else, maybe Jesus on Sundays, despite the costs and impacts and long term costs.