This weekend’s NY Times Magazine has a long piece on the oil boom happening right now in North Dakota.
It’s hard to think of what oil hasn’t done to life in the small communities of western North Dakota, good and bad. It has minted millionaires, paid off mortgages, created businesses; it has raised rents, stressed roads, vexed planners and overwhelmed schools; it has polluted streams, spoiled fields and boosted crime. It has confounded kids running lemonade stands: 50 cents a cup but your customer has only hundreds in his payday wallet. Oil has financed multimillion-dollar recreation centers and new hospital wings. It has fitted highways with passing lanes and rumble strips. It has forced McDonald’s to offer bonuses and brought job seekers from all over the country - truck drivers, frack hands, pipe fitters, teachers, manicurists, strippers.
The Times also sent photographer Alec Soth to photograph and talk to people in the area.
“Over and over again, almost every single conversation I had, I ended up talking about Walmart,” says Soth, the photographer. “It’s the center of the culture, in a lot of ways.”
The operations there are so extensive that they can be seen in nighttime satellite photos.
What we have here is an immense and startlingly new oil and gas field - nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, or fiery flares of natural gas. One hundred fifty oil companies, big ones, little ones, wildcatters, have flooded this region, drilling up to eight new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day — double the output two years ago — so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire … to a disturbing degree. Literally.