Sneak Peak of the Bakken Goes Boom

Over the next few weeks, Kyle Conway and I will be offering some sneak peeks at our forthcoming edited volume: Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota which should come out early next month from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. 

Here’s our introduction:

0a Conway

The Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota

This book is about the human side of the oil boom in the Bakken formation in western North Dakota. We began work on it in 2013, when a barrel of crude oil sold for a little more than $90. At that time, economic optimism was the order of the day. People were asking, would the boom last twenty, forty, or sixty years? Harold Hamm, the billionaire CEO of Continental Resources, went so far as to tell the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, “I still think we will reach 2 million barrels a day [by 2020]. I don’t think that’s over the top, folks” (quoted in Burnes 2014).

Now, as we write this introduction at the end of 2015, that same barrel sells for less than $40. What we did not know—what we could not know—when we began was that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would refuse to cut production in the face of dropping oil prices, in an apparent attempt to make oil production from shale, such as in the Bakken, too expensive to continue (Murtagh 2015; Olson and Ailworth 2015). In retrospect, the estimates of a forty- or sixty-year boom seem naive: by all appearances, we were at the boom’s peak. In December 2014, there were 174 rigs drilling in the oil patch; a year later, there are 65. There are also five thousand fewer jobs, and monthly in-state income on oil royalties has dropped from $128 million to $69 million (Donovan 2015). Inadvertently, it seems, we captured an important moment, when the bust people dreaded (but thought would never happen) was just on the horizon.

Our purpose in putting this book together was to give voice to as wide a range of people as we could. We were both professors at the University of North Dakota, so we sought out other scholars. We researched the boom, so we sought out our collaborators. We taught about the Bakken, so we sought out students. But we also read the news, went to art galleries, and read poetry, so we also sought out journalists, artists and museum curators, and poets. The boom was one of the most interesting things we had ever seen, and there were more ways to know it than through the cold rationality we privileged in our scholarship. Journalists, artists, and poets could reveal things we would not otherwise see, experiences or emotions that academic prose could not capture, but art or poetry could. As much as drilling for oil in the Bakken produced an economic and demographic boom, it also was an intellectual and cultural moment for North Dakota, and our book tries to capture that.

Our approach was propitious, if the controversies around hydraulic fracturing (or simply “fracking”) are any indication. In the time since we began soliciting submissions, a wide range of books have been published, each more polemical than the last. In one, an environmentalist asks what happens when she inherits mineral rights in North Dakota and has to choose between her ideals and financial security (Peters 2014). In another, a conservative media darling calls out environmentalists for what he sees as their duplicity and willful ignorance of the human rights abuses inflicted by governments of oil-rich countries on their own citizens (Levant 2014). In yet another, an investigative reporter tells the story of an Alberta woman’s fight for justice from the oil industry (and her own government) after fracking poisons her water supply (Nikiforuk 2015).

In this back-and-forth, it is clear that the pro- and anti-fracking groups are talking past each other. This is where our book does something different. By and large, contributors sidestep the controversies about fracking and focus instead on the social impact of the boom. There is much to learn here: whether we support or oppose fracking, it has had a significant impact on people’s lives. For people living in the Bakken region, life has changed, and we want to understand how. What impact did the boom have on longtime residents? On newcomers? On women? On Native Americans? How did it reshape the healthcare infrastructure? Housing? The media? These are the questions we asked our contributors to answer.

Scholars and journalists shared insight that they gained from their particular perch. But artists and poets did something more: as they talked about how the boom has reshaped North Dakotans’ sense of self—how North Dakotans see themselves and imagine their future—they evoked something akin to emotional truth. For that reason, we have devoted considerable space in this book to their work. Because art has to potential to affect viewers at a gut level, we included, among other things, a catalogue from an exhibit about the Bakken at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. We also included comments left by members of the public.

We also decided to open this book with a prologue in the form of a prose poem. Language is an imperfect tool. It serves us relatively well when we describe technical aspects of a situation, but in other cases it falls short. We know this most acutely when we experience powerful emotions such as joy or grief and words fail us. In the Bakken, for instance, it is relatively easy to describe the monetary or environmental costs of an oil boom, but it is much harder to find words for the ache we feel when our home no longer looks the same. But in poetry, language comes closest to breaking free of its bounds. When poet Heidi Czerwiec writes, “Given enough time, a sea can become a desert; given enough time, even a desert has value,” she presents us with an image not unlike the art in the catalogue. In the dried up sea, we see our own fall from plenitude to emptiness. But the loss is paradoxical, in that it brings a new type of value. Her image brings the contradictions that undergird our experience into view. Even if we cannot put them into words, we can see them and feel them.

So what do we learn from all of this? What do scholars, journalists, artists, and poets reveal about the human side of North Dakota’s oil boom? Resources are stretched thin, and to compensate, people have had to rethink the social and physical networks that link them to others. As a result, the geographies of western North Dakota—the ways people understand their relationship to space and place—have changed. Part of this change is material, such as the demographic shift from the eastern part of the state to the western part. A decade ago, nearly a third of the state’s residents, those in Grand Forks and Fargo, lived in the narrow strip between Interstate 29 and the Red River. In other words, almost one out of three people lived within five miles of Minnesota. No longer is that the case, as towns such as Williston, Watford City, and Dickinson have doubled or tripled in size, creating unmet needs in social services, law enforcement, healthcare, housing, and other forms of infrastructure.

Part of this change is psychological, too. The stories people tell to make sense of their place in their community or the world have changed. They understand their relationships with their neighbors differently. Some longtime residents and newcomers view each other with a suspicion that grows out of a disparity in wealth and access to resources. Others look for what they share in common.

One result of these changing physical and mental geographies is that many people have had to make do with less, especially those who were already in vulnerable positions. Rents have gone up, but the stock of quality housing has gone down. Travel takes longer and is more dangerous, and unfamiliar people congregate in once familiar places. Even as the boom has subsided, social networks remain stretched for longtime residents, who face new disparities of wealth and ongoing political challenges, and for newcomers, who have left families in faraway homes in search of work. In short, there are more cracks to slip through.

But there is also resilience and creativity. Longtime residents have found ways to extend hospitality to newcomers. Artists have found ways to reimagine their place—which is to say, our place—in a landscape punctuated by oil rigs and tanker trucks. We cannot understand the challenges posed by the boom without considering the creativity it has brought about, nor the creativity without the challenges. One tugs constantly on the other.

To close, let us consider an interesting potential symmetry. In 2013, the bust was on the horizon, but we could not yet make it out. We must not forget that booms and busts are cyclical. Perhaps the next boom is on the horizon now, but as with the bust, we will see it most clearly in retrospect. As Karin Becker writes in her chapter, change has reached a plateau. North Dakota in 2015 is not the same as North Dakota in 2005. People talk of a “new normal.” The state has reversed its longstanding trend of outmigration, and the population is up almost 20 percent compared to a decade ago. The median age is younger, and jobs pay better: even Wal-Mart has to pay $17 an hour to its employees in Williston, where the average annual salary is still more than $75,000 (Donovan 2015).

The changes North Dakota has undergone are real, and we owe it to ourselves to ask how they have shaped us. We would do well to listen to everyone—citizens, public figures, artists, poets, and even scholars. This book is not the final word on the Bakken oil boom, but we hope readers will find in it something useful, a starting point for understanding how the boom has affected us and who it is we have come to be.

References

Burnes, Jerry. 2014. “Hamm: Bakken Will Double Production by 2020.” Williston Herald, May 23. bit.ly/1JDpCHv.

Donovan, Lauren. 2015. “Oil Patch Slides Toward a New Normal.” Bismark Tribune, December 25. bit.ly/1Sk2ULN.

Levant, Ezra. 2014. Groundswell: The Case for Fracking. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart.

Murtagh, Dan. 2015. “Shale’s Running Out of Survival Tricks as OPEC Ramps Up Pressure.” Bloomberg Business, December 27. www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-28/shale-s-running-out-of-survival-tricks-as-opec-ramps-up-pressure.

Nikiforuk, Andrew. 2015. Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry. Berkeley, CA: Greystone Books.

Olson, Bradley, and Erin Ailworth. 2015. “Low Crude Prices Catch Up with the U.S. Oil Patch.” Wall Street Journal, November 20. www.wsj.com/articles/low-crude-prices-catch-up-with-the-u-s-oil-patch-1448066561.

Peters, Lisa Westberg. 2014. Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

The Archaeology of Home in the Bakken Oil Patch

A year or so ago we submitted a manuscript to a top-tier archaeology journal describing our North Dakota Man Camp Project. It was a long manuscript – 12,000 words, it was descriptive and report-y, and tried to say everything at once. It came as no little surprise, then, when we received a “revise and resubmit” request from the journal along with some really positive (and critical) comments. It turns out that our article was far worse than our project (at least we hope). We hope this article is better.

I make a couple of maps yesterday using the really great data from the North Dakota GIS Hub.

Figure 6

A year later, we’re ready to resubmit, and this marks one of the few tangible results of my sabbatical (so far?):

Man Camps, Domesticity, and the Bakken

Over the past week, Capital Lodge near Tioga announced it was closing permanently. It was one of the biggest camps in the Bakken and at its peak could accommodate over 2000 workers and had infrastructure capacity – including its own sewage treatment facility – for 3000. News reports indicate that it cost close to $30 million to set up. 

The owners of the Capital Lodge suffered from the decline in oil prices and activity in the Bakken and when the camp closed it had only around 100 residents. We visited Capital Lodge in August and guess that many of those were employees of the lodge. The decision to close the facility came at the end of some rather lengthy negotiations to try to rezone the camp either as an extended stay hotel or to move at least part of the camp to another site in the region. The reluctance by the community to allow the camp to be rezoned (and the economically unfriendly conditions attached to the setting the camp up elsewhere in the region) represented as much “market forces” as the local media spun it as decisions made by the local communities.

P1090207

The decisions made by communities in the patch with regard to temporary workforce housing have received national attention. The city of Williston, for example, has established a moratorium on new camps and has a date for camps to depart from city limits. RV parks and the like are under pressure as well as they try either to renegotiate their zoning or find ways to continue to generate revenue as the boom slows to a crawl. Over the last few months, I have received calls from national and local media and financial firms from across the US asking my thoughts on the man camp situation in the Bakken. 

This has led to me to think about how the communities in the Bakken are asserting their autonomy during this lull (let’s say) in the boom. First, many observers have critiqued the role that the state of North Dakota has played in encouraging the rapid acceleration of oil related activity in the Bakken. There is no doubt that lax regulation, low taxes, and various incentives made it appealing for companies to invest in their Bakken operations and persist with them even as the price of oil has declined. The state not only accelerated the impact of the boom in the Bakken, but also prolonged the boom even as it became clear that the price of oil could not longer support the more costly extractive processes used in the Bakken. 

Under these circumstances, local communities often struggled to accommodate the rapidly growing workforce, the infrastructural demands of the oil industry, and the social pressures associated with the boom. Since local communities had very little control over what goes on outside their limited territorial jurisdiction, they often sought extra territorial authority from the counties or to expand the city boundaries and by-and-large were granted these rights. Even these expanded rights, however, did not impact the state policies that dictated the extent and pace of oil work in the region. City and county authority can influence the inventory of workforce housing, however, and recent decisions by both counties and city councils have demonstrated a growing reluctance to allow temporary workforce housing to expand or persist unfettered in their communities.

To be clear, I’m skeptical whether these communities’ decisions to limit temporary workforce housing is the right one. Since most work in the oil field is temporary, expecting short-term oil field workers to sign leases or purchase housing in a community is unrealistic. At the same time, I do recognize the strategies used by these communities represent a kind of control over the processes associated with the oil boom. Cities and counties have virtually no control over the extractive process, but they do have control over the social impact of these processes.

Efforts to limit the extent of temporary housing is not just about making it harder for oil companies and related industries to expand the number of workers in a community. While there are tax implications associated with permanent housing – either in apartments or houses, I’d argue that this isn’t simply an economic decision on the part of these communities.

In the Bakken, man camps and workforce housing stand as a challenge to traditional notions of domesticity. Traditional domestic space accommodates family life whereas temporary workforce housing serves single individuals, typically men, who live in dormitory style rooms and dine in communal space. Traditional domestic space is stable and permanent, whereas workforce housing – whether prefabricated and mobile man camps or RV parks – are inherently mobile and temporary. The investment in permanent housing recalls the investment in the traditional family and the importance of property and fixity in both the myth of American life and in the economic and social life of local communities. Finally, traditional domesticity continues to play a key role in the dominant discourse of morality. The fixity of domestic life and the presence of the family reinforces accountability in the context of traditional morality.

Managing workforce housing, then, presents an opportunity for local communities to exert control in a situation that is largely dictated by the state and by transnational corporation. They do this by appealing to traditional domesticity and the economic, social, and moral controls inherent in these long-standing structures. 

Undermining the Global in the American West

Over the long weekend, I relaxed a bit and read Lucy Lippard’s newest book, Undermining: A Wild Ride through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (The New Press 2013). The book is quite wonderful and thought provoking and brings together art and argument in visually appealing ways. Lippard’s book considers the political ecology of the American West by focusing on the intersection of the local and global.

The book begins with gravel pits in New Mexico and considers the role these pits play in the production of roads. Road, in turn, open up the settlements, sacred landscapes, and delicate ecologies of New Mexico to development. At the same time, gravel provide a source of prosperity for isolated communities which frequently have limited resources, but also involves engaging those communities with a global economy that shows little interest in the local. Lippard’s use of gravel as her first case study evoked images of gravel pits across the Bakken and reminded me how important gravel has been to creating the infrastructure necessary for extractive industries in western North Dakota.

Lippard’s New Mexico shares many characteristics with the Bakken. Indigenous communities, small towns, and natural resources lace a sparsely populated and geographically and economically “marginal” landscape. Extractive industries, industrial development, and discard reflect patterns of use for marginal landscapes as local residents negotiate integration with the larger economy. Ironically the appeal of integration is that it can often provide access to resources necessary to preserve local ways of life. In New Mexico, gravel provides roads for the extraction of uranium, water, coal, and exploration for gas and oil.  

Lippard’s book also provided some parallels and local context for events like the dumping of Atari games in the Alamogordo landfill. Lippard discussed the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) near Carlsbad, New Mexico where radioactive waste from reactors around the US is deposited and ideally isolated for 10,000 years. The radioactive history of New Mexico extends to the earliest days of the nuclear warfare as the Trinity site at White Sands witnessed the first detonation of an atomic bomb. The radioactive plume from that detonation billowed northeast up the Tularose valley contaminating the air and the soil. The rural West with its isolated, poor, and minority communities seems particularly susceptible to dumping toxic material beyond the gaze of the urban world. In the documentary made about the dumping and excavation of the Atari games, Zak Penn, the director, asks the mayor of Alamogordo if he’d be willing to open the city’s landfill to another dump of video games. He answered in the affirmative, making explicit the link between local attitudes and global networks.

Lippard concludes her book with a meditation on the role that art can play in negotiating the fraught political ecology of New Mexico. While she recognizes that art also participates in the global market especially spectacular landscape works, she hints that local artists, embracing DIY approaches might find ways to leverage their access to specific landscapes, communities, and experiences to offer distinctly local solutions to global problems. 

Finding ways to mediate between the specific and the global remains a key challenge for articulating a political ecology that is simultaneously sensitive to the specific and generalizable to the global. My effort at writing a tourist guide to the Bakken oil patch fits into this larger project of making a distinctive landscape part of the universal, modern experience of tourism.    

Proposals for New Grant Programs

I spent part of yesterday morning contributing to an email discussion of digital humanities and virtual reality with the good folks at the North Dakota Humanities Council. This was both fun and productive. One result of these conversations is that I was encouraged to propose some new grant initiatives to the NDHC. These are just proposals, but I wanted to think out loud here on the bloggie-blog to gets some feedback from as wide an audience as possible. As with any grants, the outcomes are only as good as the program will allow. Poorly articulated grant programs produce poor projects.

The first of two new programs that I’d propose would be called Digital North Dakota Grants. These grants have three goals:

1. Extending the Reach: The state of North Dakota has long suffered a diaspora of sorts as people with strong North Dakota ties have moved elsewhere for a better climate, more opportunities, and a different life. These individuals often retain a strong sense of connection to the state and its communities. The energy and remittances from this diaspora community has had an impact on life here in the state. The Digital North Dakota Grants would be a way to engage the North Dakota diaspora in the vibrant, local humanities scene.

More importantly, perhaps for the NDHC is that these folks have resources, and as the NDHC has turned its attention toward development to ensure that our programs can weather upheavals in federal funding, we need to expand the impact and reach of the NDHC to the diaspora who have typically remained active in state initiatives.

The population of the state has historically trended older, but recent trends have shown that the state is, in fact, getting younger and the media age of ND residents is now below the national average. Our younger constituency typically lacks the financial resources of the North Dakota diaspora, but should nevertheless be a target audience for humanities programing. Digital North Dakota grants would help bring a generation of citizens more familiar with digitally mediated discussions into the conversation.

2. Celebrating the Local. The National Endowment for the Humanities initiated its Office of Digital Humanities in 2011. This office has funded a wide range of grants that they recognized as having national and international impacts. They have been somewhat less interested in digital projects that have local impacts or reflect the more focused priorities of local communities. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Red River flood or the 50th anniversary of the publication of Elwyn Robinson’s influential History of North Dakota, we encounter local events that speak directly to history of the region, the state, and our communities. Funding to support digitally mediated projects that engage these events (as examples) is unlikely to come from a federal sources (and even if it does, the NDHC brand should be associated with work to preserve, celebrate, and reflect on these memorable events).

3. Preserving the Conversation. The NDHC is remarkable in its ability to stimulate conversations. All too often, however, these conversations, discussion, and engagement are ephemeral. Digitally mediated conversations offer a way not only to expand the conversation but also to preserve it allowing future generations of North Dakotans to reflect on how certain events or encounters transformed their ways of thinking or even their communities. For example, the recent tumult over the new University of North Dakota nickname provides a fascinating perspective into the relationship between UND stakeholders and Native communities, ideas of North Dakota identity, and the politics of race in the state. Creating a digital application where members of the community can contribute their reactions to this process, while it remains energized by emotions, polemic, and conversation, presents an exciting way to document and capture the local history of the state at a particular moment in time.

With these goals in mind, my proposed grant would encourage applications that (1) extend the reach of traditional humanities programming, (2) focus on local concerns, issues, collections, and conversations, and (3) feature robust data management plans to ensure that both the program and conversations are preserved. Successful proposals must stimulate discussion, focus on local groups or communities, and encourage and preserve dynamic and thought provoking engagement with the humanities. Purely archival or access based initiatives will not be funded unless they foreground dynamic opportunities for reflective and reflexive engagement with collections. Whenever possible proposals should involve open source software and encourage free, open access materials.

In my formal proposal, I’ll include case studies funded by other state humanities councils like Washington’s, DC Digital Museum or Vermont’s wonderfully simple, Civil War Book of Days serial email.

The second proposed new grant program would focus on the North Dakota Humanities Council’s already successful GameChanger Series. One of the most exciting things about this series is how effectively it stimulates discussion and brings together a diverse and dynamic group of speakers and from the community to engage with the most pressing issues of the day. The first GameChanger focused on conflict and culture in the Middle East, the second focused on the challenges and opportunities of the digital world, and next year’s series will celebrate 100 years of the Pulitzer Prize.

The disappointing thing about these events is that the energy of the conversation tends to dissipate rather quickly as the attention of the small NDHC staff ramps up for the next year’s event. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the game has, in fact, changed (or just the playahs). The KeepChanging Grant Program would support programs and projects that continue the momentum and themes of the GameChanger series in the three years following the event. Each year at least three grants would be available with at least one grant set designated to support a project related to each of the previous three years of the GameChanger. (Wow, that’s hard to articulate in a clear way!).

The goal of the KeepChanging program is to extend the impact of the GameChanger series without taxing the small NDHC staff. It will also provide us with an informal measure of the impact of the GameChanger in on the humanities in the state. Presumably more engaging events will spur ongoing interest.

As per usual on the blog, I’m interested in any and all feedback on these ideas. They are, as I said, just proposals; just my thoughts, man – right or wrong.

Books by their Cover

You can’t open Facebook these days without seeing a profile picture superimposed with a French flag. A year ago, profile pictures had multicolored hues in support of equal marriage rights or gay marriage. At various times of year, social media profiles sport pink for breast cancer, mustaches for prostate cancer, or various other regular designs to demonstrate solidarity or sympathy with this or that cause. Invariably, there are columns that comment or complain about a particular practice, the uncritical and uncomplicated adoption of potentially fraught symbols, and the deleterious effects of “slacktivism.” Most worry that a changed profile picture will substitute for political or social action and superficial expressions of sympathy, solidarity, or awareness will replace genuine engagement with issues. These concerns are so pervasive that they constitute part of the discourse of representation on social media and are in no ways less hackneyed or superficial than the practice that they critique. 

Personal branding on social media is no less complicated than personal branding in any medium and criticizing its simplicity is, in itself, a failure to understand the complications associated with branding and interpretation of branding across various media in our image rich society. My November mustache might be ironic, it might show I’m participating in “Movember,” or it might be that I genuinely like how I look with a mustached lip. Or it might be all these things. Most of us recognize the ambiguities present in these simple personal branding exercises (and even relish the potential for an un-ironic mustache!) and even appreciate the earnestness of people’s efforts to celebrate a cause, negotiate the political landscape, or just to show preference for one brand over another.

When it comes to branding a larger enterprise, we are less tolerant of this kind of ambiguity. I’m waist deep in type-setting a new book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota right and beginning to think a bit about cover designs. I’ve been fortunate that my collaborators on this project have offered images and designs for the cover and these designs are all visually arresting. The book is titled The Bakken Goes Boom and it should appear early next year, but the cover design project represents another chapter in the larger Branding the Bakken project. From Alec Soth’s black-and-white images of the oil smeared worker to Sarah Christianson’s The Skogens’ bedroom window, images have dominated our apprehension of the Bakken boom. It is hardly surprising that my own work documenting workforce housing in the Bakken has generated over ten thousand of photographs and videos. 

The image-driven nature of our engagement with the Bakken means that selecting the cover of the first book-length academic study of the Bakken boom takes on particular significance. Each cover represents a different aspect of the Boom and a different point of emphasis in the book (as well as a different style). 

My co-editor Kyle Conway created an arresting cover image that shows a drill rig situated near his families property in Williston.

Bakken cover off center

Photographer Kyle Cassidy who has worked with our team in the Bakken and has a contribution in the volume offered several fantastic cover designs:

Bakken goes boom cover 1

Bakken goes boom cover 2

Bakken goes boom cover 3

Bakken goes boom cover 4

Bakken goes boom cover 5

Comments and feedback are appreciated!

The University of North Dakota and the Great War: The First North Dakota Quarterly Reprint

Today drops the inaugural volume in North Dakota Quarterly Reprint Series. It is a collaboration between NDQ and the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The goal of this series is to bring some of the back catalogue of North Dakota Quarterly to public attention again and we started with a series of articles that deal with the Great War in North Dakota and on UND’s campus.

This reprint series had the added benefit of serving as a little design study as I continue to work on my layout and editing skills. To that end, I used a recently reconstructed, digital version of The Doves Type to add a bit period-appropriate gravitas to reprints. I also had to negotiate the absence of a bold or italics for The Doves Type, through the use of a small-caps for titles (recognizing that this is not a true small caps, but just the same upper-case letters in a smaller font).

(For those who don’t know The Doves Type story, it was an Arts and Crafts typeface initially designed for The Doves Press that was dumped unceremoniously in the Thames River after a dispute between partners at the type’s foundry in 1916/1917. Here’s a little video about the fonts recovery. Note that the diver is wearing some kind of sweet diving bell helmet, and the recovery of this font has an unmistakably archaeological vibe to it. We also thought it paralleled the recovery of parts of NDQ from obscurity as well as the modernist vibe of the “little magazine” movement of which NDQ was a part.)

I tried to keep the pages quite vertical with rather large margins to allow Doves Type some room to stretch out and enough space to breath. Despite this attention to the font and the page, I still see plenty of little infelicities that I need to create systems to eliminate in future efforts.

It’s not entirely about design, of course. The articles in the volume are good especially Wesley Johnson’s 10,000+ word recollections of his time in the fields and trenches of France and Hazel Nielson’s experiences in France with a cadre of North Dakota nurses. The volume also documents historian Orin G. Libby’s flip-flop from being an opponent of the war to the chair of UND’s War Committee. It is not difficult to see in his work the brewing controversy with UND President Thomas Kane who Libby accuses of mismanaging the influenza outbreak on campus which resulted in the death of several cadets. In any event, the entire volume makes for interesting reading and brings to life the style, perspective, and spirit of UND in the era of the Great War.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that this is part of my larger (and growing) role as North Dakota Quarterly’s Digital Editor. My job – at least as I see it – is to expand NDQ’s presence on the web and to enliven how people interact with this venerable landmark in North Dakota’s cultural landscape. So, in a very limited way, publishing this volume is designed to draw people to the NDQ website and, perhaps more importantly, to get them to sign up for periodic emails from NDQ which highlights new content, delivers some interesting and timely links, and allows us to spread the word about the Quarterly to a new, online centered, audience. We have no plan to get away from print any time soon (and I think we’ll likely produce a print version of the University of North Dakota and the Great War at some point.)

If you want to download a copy of the University of North Dakota and the Great War, go here for the Digital Press or here for North Dakota Quarterly. And to get more stuff like this delivered right to your email inbox, subscribe to NDQ’s email newsletter (tentatively called NDQ5… get it? A 5th volume of a quarterly?) here.

UND and The Great War

First Snow

The last seven years, I’ve posted a photo of the first snow (or what I considered the first snow…). Here they are: 2014 (November 8),  2013 (Oct. 20), 2012 (Oct. 4), 2011 (Nov. 10), 2010 (Nov. 21), 2008 (Oct. 28), and in 2007 (Sept. 11).

Unfortunately, I’m out of town, but a member of our household stood in for me and recorded the first snow with scientific patience:

Milo  first snow

North Dakota Man Camp Project White Paper Prospectus

My colleagues Bret Weber, Richard Rothaus, and I started to craft a white paper concerning the recent changes in housing policy and practice in the Bakken this month. We’ve been prompted to put together our research in a more formal after conversations with industry folks and municipal administrators in the Bakken region. 

This is the very first draft of a prospectus for our work. More to come!

Diverse Settlements in a Dynamic Economy
Précis for North Dakota Man Camp Project White Paper

Charlie Hailey in his 2009 study of camps argued that camps were a quintessentially “21st century space.” Indeed, images of refugee camps, work force camps, protest camps, and even recreational camp grounds fill the contemporary media with a kind of consistency that belies their temporary status. Against the backdrop of camps as 21st-century space, this paper presents a summary of over 4 years of research in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota focused on the material and social conditions of workforce housing.

Our work in the Bakken documented over 50 workforce housing sites with interviews, photography, and text through multiple visits over our ongoing four year project. As a result, we can discuss and analyze the relationship between the material conditions in workforce housing and the residents’ attitudes toward their life in Bakken, their relationship with various institutions, businesses, and communities that existed before the boom, and their own efforts to forge communities in temporary settlements like crew camps and RV parks.

Short-term workforce housing represents a response to both long-term and recent trends in development of the American West and the global economy. Camps provided temporary shelter for miners, construction crews, and soldiers in the sparsely populated landscape of the 19th century American West. By the late-20th and early 21st century, workforce housing had become a multi-billion dollar a year industry with global logistics companies provided housing to a similar group of people on a global scale. Fueled by the frantic pace of the global economy and the nearly-boundless flow of capital, just-in-time manufacturing, extractive industries, and construction projects have come to rely upon a substantial mobile workforce who lives and works at a significant distance from their homes. In the Bakken, the workforce needs of the oil industry vary with drilling and fracking requiring more labor than production. Likewise, preparing pipelines for waste water and oil both involves significant labor at the time and reduces the need for truck drivers throughout the life of the well.

The existence of a workforce as mobile as the flow of capital and the needs of various industries has put new pressures on the more stable settlements which have come to host the rapid increase (and sometimes rapid decrease) of these fast moving investments in local resources. Traditionally, communities expanded housing stock, infrastructure, and investment to accommodate a growing workforce with some expectation that the economic benefits and new populations were likely to persist for long enough to produce a return on local investments. In the 21st century, a highly mobile workforce, supported by global infrastructure companies, changing notions of home, and the highly integrated character of modern markets, has changed the landscape in which community investment takes place. Conversations with hundreds of workers in the Bakken across a wide range of housing demonstrate that these changes in the economy shape the attitudes of workers who have come to the region. Many of these workers regard their time in North Dakota as temporary, have homes, family, and strong social ties outside the region, and as the economy slowed, began to formulate alternate strategies that took advantage of their mobility.

The voluntary mobility of the Bakken workforce requires new approaches for ensuring that short-term economic development associated with an oil boom becomes sustained economic growth. It is important to distinguish between the various kinds of work force housing in the Bakken and the populations that these workforce housing options serve. Large crew camps provided by global logistics companies or major employers in the oil industry cater to a workforce with high expectations of mobility and highly-specialized skills tied directly to extractive industries. RV parks, which also represent another form of short-term housing catering to another highly mobile population, but often with weaker ties to the oil industry and more generic skill sets ranging from pipeline work, commercial drivers licenses, to service industry commitments. This group is less directly dependent on oil industry work, more likely to include family members, including children, and perhaps more likely to remain in the community after the boom related industry departs. They, however, are also most likely to require new training or to compete with already existing workforce for jobs in the post-doom community.

The fundamental challenge facing North Dakota communities during the most recent Bakken oil boom is how to provide suitable housing for rapidly changing workforce needs. The initial period of the boom witnessed workers camped in public parks, back yards, and the infamous Walmart parking lot. In response, the municipalities William and McKenzie Counties issued temporary conditional use permits (or special use permits) for crew camps and RV parks. This served to ease the initial shock of the boom by providing housing designed specifically to accommodate the short-term needs of the extractive work and the mobile character of the workforce associated with this industry. Housing in these camps ranged from the functional and comfortable in well-appointed crew camps to the ad hoc and informal in the many RV parks across the region. As oil prices declined, the short-term population housed in crew camps also declined as there was less need for specialized oil patch workers during the labor-intensive process of drilling and fracking new wells. At the same time, residents in the patch who had formerly lived in RV parks found it easier to move into more permanent housing made available and more affordable by the increasing in housing and apartment inventories. The key to understanding the trends in housing in the Bakken is to understand that different populations have different housing needs and resources in the dynamic economic and social world of the Bakken

An Open Access Archive for North Dakota Quarterly

I’m very happy to announce that we’ve worked with the HathiTrust to release the first 74 volumes of North Dakota Quarterly to the Open Access University under a CC-BY-ND license. The ND for all you open access crusaders who saw that and immediately started to sharpen blades is an unfortunate necessity because for much of NDQ’s history we published without contracts or with very restricted contracts that only allowed works to appear in a particular volume of NDQ. We know that it’s not idea, but it is better than nothing or a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

You can get access to The Archive, here.

I also made this little graphic to celebrate the dropping of The Archive.

NDQ GraphicFixedABSM

Here’s the press release that’ll go out today:

On Homecoming weekend, alumni, students, faculty, and administrators take time to celebrate the past and future of the University of North Dakota. North Dakota Quarterly is joining this celebration by releasing over 100 years of back issues to the public for free. The Quarterly is among the oldest academic traditions at the University, and the release of digitalized back issues is part of a renaissance at the journal centered on an active editorial board, a vibrant new design, and a dynamic web presence. By releasing these back issues, the Quarterly makes a world of content that could only be read at libraries available to anyone with an internet connection.

Kate Sweney, the managing editor of NDQ, remarks: “It gives me a great deal of pleasure to finally see the many wonderful volumes of North Dakota Quarterly made available digitally and more easily accessible by a wider audience. I have so many favorite articles, poems, and stories in these issues and its tremendously exciting to open up the Quarterly‘s past to a wider audience.”

Sharon Carson, editor of the Quarterly, responded: “We are proud to be part of public humanities at UND, in North Dakota, and in spaces beyond. We are delighted to make an archive of such remarkable writing from NDQ’s past available to new audiences, and at no cost.”

The Quarterly has long stood as a proving ground for writers across the country and world as well as across campus. The diversity of the Quarterly has long set it apart from the crowded field of literary journals. Sepia toned prairie reveries shared pages with scientific writing, political commentary, history, literature, and poetry.

Bill Caraher, who managed the release of NDQ‘s digital archive, noted: “It is important to stress that NDQ is not a stodgy old academic journal. The back issues reveal the tremendous vitality of the publication as a place for thoughtful comment on the history of the state, the university, and the world. This represents an important resource for teachers, for faculty across the country, and for mindful readers everywhere.”

The Quarterly explores topics as wide as the prairie horizon with thousands of contributions touching on issue as diverse as how best to care for state’s natural resources, the political and social culture of the region, American Indian history and literature, the history of the university, its faculty, and administrators, and the various ways that the world intersects with life in North Dakota.

The back volumes of the Quarterly were digitized as part of the larger Google Book project and are made available through an agreement between the University and the HathiTrust which maintains parts of the Google Books archive. The back issues can be accessed on the ndquarterly.org website and can be downloaded and shared under open access license.