Jack Zaleski, Published March 10 2012
Zaleski: Time for candid talk about oil boom
Rather, various and conflicting interests at work in oil country are talking past each other. They are shouting from the extremes of “stop it now” to “full speed ahead.” They are reveling in new prosperity if they are part of it, or retreating into envy and anger because they are not sharing in the good times. Their views of community rifts caused by the boom are colored bleak or bright in direct proportion to the benefits they are deriving from oil.
State government is reacting, not formulating a vision. Local government officials are being influenced by oil money and buffeted into a kind of paralysis by the conflicting sentiments of their friends and neighbors.
Among the balancing act, questions that could be considered in a conversation are:
- Should the boom be managed or does the prevailing political mantra of “business-friendly” North Dakota mean the oil industry gets a free pass?
- Can legislators and other elected state officials see beyond oil revenues (and campaign contributions) in order to prevent permanent damage from oil development?
- What is the acceptable trade-off between extraordinary industrial development and the values of environment, farm/ranch land stewardship and small-town life?
- How do the public and private institutions charged with preserving and enhancing the state’s history, heritage and natural resources meet that challenge when their funding begins to come from oil and gas industries?
A few voices have tried to stimulate the conversation. Humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson has danced around the edges of his genuine concern in his Sunday column in the Bismarck Tribune. Bill Mitzel, publisher/editor of Dakota Country, the best hunting and fishing magazine in the Dakotas, has been the strongest voice in raising the alarm about the damage to wildlife and habitat he sees in oil country. This newspaper has written several cautionary editorials about the accelerating pace of development, and the real and potential loss of the farm and ranch culture of the west.
Let’s focus the conversation. Bring all interests to the table for a civil, respectful and candid discussion. Recognize that the oil boom is here to stay for a while, and the impacts are mixed. Try to meld public policy with industry priorities that will not kill the golden goose but will not allow the goose to foul its temporary nest.
Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.