As I write this letter, we are celebrating a holiday season with family and friends on our little farm. This farm is a lifelong dream of ours. My husband and I bought this place about three years ago with the plan to retire here with our goats, sheep and chickens, to plant gardens and pick chokecherries, and teach our grandchildren to love the land and respect nature. A hobby farm compared to the serious agricultural endeavors of our neighbors, but we love it here and love the life we are building.
There are bitter ironies and double-edged swords to this tale. We were only able to buy this place because the inflated prices of real estate in Williston allowed us to sell our home in town for tremendous profit-thanks to the oil boom. But now this boom is threatening our dreams. Not more than a mile, as a crow flies, from our home there are plans to build an oil processing facility- a diesel refinery. Many of us have tried to object, but it appears they will be allowed to move forward. There are flares and burning pits at well sites even closer, and our highways are more dangerous than ever.
I find myself very conflicted about all the progress and change I see taking place all around me. I don’t like the tone of some of the rhetoric I hear in the news, in papers, on the web, and from some of my friends. There is a lot of anger out here, and some cruel things being said about those brave enough to migrate here for work. I like the fact that Williston has an opportunity for growth and new homes for new people, but the planning is two years behind the need. I like the fact that we have found a source of oil that could liberate our country from the need to fight wars over oil, but the price of gas keeps going up. It’s great that so many people have jobs and can contribute to our tax base, but the wear and tear on our roads and infrastructure is far more costly than anyone had bargained for.
We see neighbor pitted against neighbor in the pursuit of financial gain. We see our communities torn by the bitterness-hangover from the last boom we endured. We see families wounded over mineral rights and personal greed. We see reckless lack of planning that allows for a new-aged carpetbagger building things like diesel topping plants with no regard for local water and air, or wildlife and people.
We ask ourselves some of the same questions quite often: How can we slow things down enough to just catch up? How do we find out when projects like refineries are being planned? Who makes all the decisions that affect our children and grandchildren’s futures?
I want to start a network of answers and solutions, not an anti-oil hate speech blog. How about progress with conscience, and an energy policy that creates a viable economic engine for generations to come, not another boom and bust cycle? Or a place to find real answers to legal questions about land rights? How about…. “People for a Better Bakken” …. Anyone with me?