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Tony Bender, Published January 11 2014

Letter: The ND oil boom: a parody

Maybe you heard. One of the Everly Brothers is dead, as I understand it, a victim of the oil tanker explosion in Casselton, N.D.

Which Everly? Tito, I think. Possibly Jan, maybe Dean, but that’s really not the point. The point is, after a successful test explosion in Canada, oil companies have begun systematically blowing up North Dakota – although the next explosion is actually scheduled for South Dakota because people are always getting the two mixed up.

Whose fault was this? Some people immediately blamed billionaire Warren Buffett because he owns the railroad. Some even suggested the oil industry itself might share responsibility, but such critics were fed to hungry North Korean dogs for those treasonous remarks and then given a fair trial.

It didn’t take long for the blame to be aimed at President Barack Obama for holding up the Keystone pipeline. Then, critics got out their maps, compasses and GPS systems and began to realize the proposed pipeline would run north and south, while the explosion took place on tracks running west to east. Proponents of the pipeline say it would allow for communities farther south to take part in future, larger explosions, some possibly timed to coincide with the Fourth of July and other holidays.

Eventually, officials agreed it was the people of Casselton who were at fault for building so close to a railroad. “It’s like putting condos on the shoreline, when you know hurricanes are coming,” said one legislator – or maybe it was an oil lobbyist. It’s getting impossible to tell them apart. Now, the question before the Public Service Commission is how much to bill Casselton for heating the town on a cold day in December.

“We are pleased that the eastern part of the state can share in the benefits of the oil boom,” said head Bakken cheerleader Lynn Helms. “And when we mean boom, we mean BOOM!” Helms was applauded by oil company insiders for his swift inaction.

Helms has been instrumental in protecting citizens from proposed federal regulations that would make public the long list of chemicals pumped into the ground during the fracking process. Citing evidence that knowledge can be stressful, Helms said, “The frackers and even their mothers swear on a stack of 100-dollar bills that these chemicals are safe, and if you can’t trust those mother-frackers, well, who wants to live in an America like that?”

Helms was twice sought for an interview for this article, but the first time he was getting a foot massage from North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness, and the other time he was attending the erection of a 666-foot gold statue of oilman Harold Hamm in Watford City.

During a rambling seven-hour speech praising the “all powerful dark underlord,” which inexplicably included the full text of “The Cat in the Hat,” Helms referred to Hamm 14 times as “governor,” much to the chagrin of Jack Dalrymple, whose primary role in the ceremony was to hold Hamm’s ermine cape with the red velvet train off the ground when the oilman rose to accept the honor. Helms steadied Hamm’s crown. Bert Parks sang.

Surviving critics of the loosely administrated oil boom – otherwise known as whiners – say unregulated drilling has put market forces in play that are driving long-time residents from their rental properties, polluting the majestic landscape with the flaring of natural gas and toxic spills, including one in which drilling waste was intentionally poured into a well.

Locals say seedy outsiders have corrupted a once family-friendly environment and overrun infrastructure. “These people would screw anyone for a buck,” one mother of two, looking up from her Dumpster, said. “And then the prostitutes showed up.”

Commie, pinko, liberal, tree-hugging, socialist, godless environmentalists have concerns that the water used in the fracking process is unrecoverable, that fracking chemicals could leech into aquifers, devastating future generations. But Helms said he has a “pinky promise” from oil executives that that won’t happen. At least until after they are gone.

Meanwhile in Bismarck, emergency rooms have seen an influx of chapped hands from all the hand-wringing going on at the Capitol. “There’s really nothing we can do,” a spokesman said, “after all, we don’t make the laws ...” Others have quietly noted future explosions in the east could take out a significant number of Democrats, who are already on the cusp of being declared an endangered species – along with Planning, Responsibility and Common Sense.

Most public officials don’t want to stop devastating the land and the people out west until North Dakota eclipses Texas as the No. 1 oil producer. “And there is only one way that is going to happen,” said former Gov. Ed Schafer. “We need to give the oil industry tax breaks to keep them here. These poor people have suffered long enough.”

Bender is an award-winning columnist (“That’s Life”) and novelist. He and his wife own Redhead Publishing Co., which publishes weekly newspapers in Wishek, N.D., and Ashley, N.D.