« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

In North Dakota, booms past and present

A photographer returns home to examine changes to the landscape.


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.