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John Heiser, Grassy Butte, N.D., Published January 25 2014

Letter: Bakken hell destroying ‘Legendary’

If for no other reason, one can maybe admire the dogged insistence by the State Tourism Department that western North Dakota remains “Legendary”– despite evidence to the contrary, thanks to the uncontrolled oil boom that is ravaging my home landscape. It is clear that communication between Tourism and the Department of Mineral Resources is nonexistent, which is no surprise, considering that the latter agency is apparently out to wreak maximum havoc with all the things the former agency raves about. At the least, a stalemate between the two would be a definite win for those of us who reside in “Bakken hell,” and those who might want to visit here.

Unfortunately, Big Oil and its champions in Mineral Resources are running roughshod over all the cherished values that, in a more halcyon time, most North Dakotans used to enjoy: our vast landscape and its wildlife, our quiet and seldom rushed lifestyles. That life was indeed “legendary” in this part of the American West.

Those are the attributes Tourism apparently wishes were still the norm out here, but they’re not, courtesy of 10,000 oil wells, every one of which ever-so-slightly chips away at the “stunning imagery” of the landscape the state tourism director speaks of.

Imagine, then, the impact another 50,000 oil wells will have on that “stunning imagery,” unless, of course, that imagery includes the consequences of rampant oil development, like gas flares lighting the formerly dark night skies, or the life-threatening Oil Patch traffic, the boom towns, which are in some sense a blight on the landscape because those of us who are Dakota “originals” know the inevitable bust with its depopulation is coming.

Well-intended as it is to have a Hollywood actor speak up for “Legendary” North Dakota, there aren’t enough actors in the world to restore the image western North Dakota is frittering away in the oil delirium. No matter how many barrels of oil lie beneath North Dakota’s rolling prairies and badlands, the fact is, the resource will be depleted over time, with great environmental and societal cost. Are those the consequences our state will be legendary for in the decades ahead?

State Tourism may want to consider fighting fiercely for what has made the western edge of the state legendary for well over a century, rather than timidly acquiescing to the calamitous actions of Mineral Resources, while hoping a few crumbs of our wonderful natural and cultural heritage are salvageable when the oil is gone.


Heiser is a badlands naturalist, seasonal back country ranger in the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and cattle rancher. His grandparents homesteaded near Dickinson, N.D., and Grassy Butte in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is graduate of Dickinson State University in biology.