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Erik Burgess, Published February 20 2013

North Dakota oil boom again draws national media attention

FARGO – A national magazine criticized in 2008 for running a story about North Dakota’s abandoned farm houses is covering the state again.

This time, in an ironic twist, National Geographic sent a crew to cover the growth of the state, specifically in the Bakken region.

The story, titled “America strikes oil: The promise and risk of fracking,” graces the cover of the March 2013 edition. Its photos were shot by Eugene Richards, the same man who photographed abandoned farmhouses for the January 2008 edition that sparked widespread derision from North Dakotans.

In the cover story on newsstands now, Edwin Dobbs describes the “exotic, almost heroic” nature of oil workers, doing countless hours of intense manual labor in dangerous conditions.

“Thousands of people are converging on the area, looking for work, looking for redemption, looking for trouble. And jobs are plentiful,” Dobbs writes.

He also talks with city and county officials in the west, dissecting the rapid boom-and-bust atmosphere, the rewards and risks that go with it and what it means for the future of the state.

He delves deep into environmental concerns about fracking, writing that if the boom “is a classic Greek drama, the second act is starting now, and the prairie chorus is once again issuing a warning.”

The lengthy feature includes multiple photos as well as a large map showing the state’s more than 3,000 active wells. A two-page infographic explains how fracking works and its potential risks.

It’s the second time this month a national publication has prominently featured the boom in North Dakota. The cover story of the Feb. 3 edition of the New York Times Magazine was, “Luckiest Place on Earth: In the belly of the boom in North Dakota.”

It’s a far cry from the 2008 National Geographic article profiling North Dakota’s abandoned farmhouses and ghost towns, a piece called “The Emptied Prairie.”

That story prompted a furious response from many in North Dakota who thought it was unfair. For instance, Sen. John Hoeven, then the state’s governor, criticized the coverage as “way off the mark.”


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518