The Bakken Calls Once Again

With the price of cratering and the North Dakota cold settling on the Northern Plains (we can ignore the forecast for 55 degree temperatures in the Williston area tomorrow), the industrial beauty of the Bakken once again beckons.

This trip will enlivened by the magnificent Richard Rothaus once again joining the North Dakota Man Camp Project Field Team as well as an embedded radio journalist and a photographer.

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The goal of the trip is to once again to check some material in two ongoing publication projects. The first, you should know well: A Tourist Guide to the Bakken. This is to say: go make comments on it over at The Medium.

The other is an article under revision for re-submission to Historical Archaeology. Over the last few days, I’ve deconstructed this article extracted the pieces that our generous peer reviewers thought most valuable, and now need to fill gaps, to smooth transitions, and to reassemble the core content (probably best next week). But for now, I need to check on a few things and fill some gaps. 

The article was this strange beast that included almost everything that we wanted to say about the Bakken in one ramshackle construction. It was not pretty, but it might be useful to someone thinking about their own research in the Bakken and since it will not be published in anything like its current form, I include it here:

We’ll also visit some of our long term study sites with some additional manpower making it easier to document them more thoroughly. Hopefully on Saturday, we’ll look at some of the mobile home camps that have appeared around Watford City and consider these from an archaeological perspective.

Updates will appear next week!

Myth of Origins in the Bakken

I am once again in the Bakken, but this time on business with my wife rather than on my own research adventures. That being said, I did have a chance to visit a few sites that had eluded me including the monument marking the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well which initiated the Bakken boom in 1951 and the rather more obscure site of Temple where sweet North Dakota crude was first transported by rail to markets back east.

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This got me thinking about the myths of origins in the Bakken. The name of the play derives from the Henry O. Bakken #1 spudded in July 1951 and completed less than a year later in April of 1952. The Iverson #1 was, of course, earlier, but Mr. Bakken’s name graces the famous North Dakota oil play.

Some trace the origins of the most recent, fracking inspired oil boom to work in the Elm Coulie oil field in eastern Montana where horizontal drilling and fracking demonstrated the potential of these techniques as early as 2000, almost a decade before the current boom was touched off by a horizontal fractured well west of Williston.

I talk a good bit about the various origin stories in my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch and this morning published Route 5: Williston, ND to Sidney, MT which looks west for the origins of the most recent boom.

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

P1090294As the kids would say #nofilter

 

Another Route from the Tourist Guide to the Bakken

One of my favorite drives in the Bakken is from Williston, ND to Watford City, ND. The route takes you south over the Missouri River and through the the Little Badlands before turning east south of Alexander, ND with its mighty bypass. The intersection of US Route 85 and ND Route 23 has become a settlement in its own right with workforce housing accommodating over 1000 people around the iconic Bakken Buffet. 

Then you follow US 85/ND Route 23 east, past Arnegard before descending onto the Madson Flat just west of Watford City. On the south side of the road is the imposing Madson grade which was meant to bring the train onto the flat toward Watford City. For my time and energy, the drive from Williston to Watford For more on this, go and check Route 4 in my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch.

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For people into this kind of thing, Google Earth now has Landsat images from late September 2014 available. 

Here is the current table of contents for 

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

Another Installment of the Tourist Guide to the Bakken

I’m running out of blog titles for my serialized Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, but here is the next installment (IV. Route 3: Tioga to Williston). 

With any luck, I’ll be taking a visitor out to the Bakken next week and doing the Minot to Williston run. This will be another chance to ground truth the Tourist Guide. I’ve also been working to understand some small part of the literature on the tourist’s gaze and the relationship between tourism and other forms of mobility in contemporary culture. I’m not sure that any of this will impact the nuts and bolts of the guide, but it will certainly help me articulate how tourism and tourist guides create a space for the critique of contemporary culture.   

As per usual, I’m posting this because I think it will entertain people, but I have an ulterior motive; I also want some feedback before this manuscript gets its final revision and is sent off to the press for review.

I have a couple specific issues that I’m messing with. First, I’m trying to figure out whether to include small character sketches of some of the people we’ve met out in the patch. We have these great interviews with folks and the people we’ve met add to the character of the patch, but character sketches are not strictly part of the tourist guide genre. Next, I have this overwhelming desire to include a series of hand-drawn maps of the Bakken. And I suspect that I can convince Kostis Kourelis, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber to do it, but I’d like to get two more people involved so each route comes with its own map. Anyone interested in preparing a hand-drawn map for my book? The only criteria is that you’ve spent some time in the Bakken. 

I also continue to be interested in the readerly experience with Medium. I like the aesthetics of the site and I find it very readable, but I wonder whether everyone sees it the same way? I also have been thinking about it as a venue for some aspect of the Digital Press. 

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

A Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch

This morning I posted a draft of the introduction and conclusion to my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch to the online publishing site Medium. I’m just a bit excited about the experiment and will almost certainly publish drafts of the rest of the Guide to Medium over the next few days

I used Medium, rather than my trusty WordPress blog for a number of reasons. First, it seems more suited to long form reading and while none of the individual sections of my guide are long by Archaeology of the Mediterranean World standards, they are just on the edge of tl;dr status on a typical blog. So I wondered whether the clean interface on the Medium would make it easier to read.

More importantly than that, Medium allows readers to comment on specific paragraphs rather than just comment at the level of the blog post. This is a very helpful way of collating comments on a longer manuscript and allows readers to post their immediate gut reactions to a particular section.

My plan is to use the comments assembled at the Medium to revise my manuscript prior to submitting it for peer-review and publication. As readers of this blog know, this project places me a wee bit outside of my traditional, academic comfort zone, so I’m particularly eager to get some feedback on how I do as a historian of North Dakota, as a commenter on our modern, industrial condition, and as an author of something more popular than scholarly (although this work has clearly academic goals).

I intend to serialize my tourist guide over the next couple of weeks, but for this first group of posts, I have focused on my introduction and a fairly rough draft of my concluding comments. More of the tourist guide proper will follow, so please stay tuned!

A Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.1. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

 

 

Fractured Land Author to Speak at the University of North Dakota

On Thursday, October 30th, Lisa Peters the author of Fractured Lands will speak in the East Asia Room of the Mighty Chester Fritz Library.  The book has received a positive review from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and I’ve offered my thoughts on it here.

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While making a poster for the book, I took a few minutes to think about the font used on the cover. I think it’s a version of Cochin, but it’s clearly a transitional serif font. I suspect the use of this font for book covers is designed to evoke the cover of Larry Potter books which used a version of Cochin to evoke the fantastic and anachronistic world of the young wizard (or whatever he is). As someone who wrote a fairly long dissertation and endless articles under the oppressive gaze of Times New Roman, I’m sort of over transitional serif fonts. I can vaguely grasp the point of it on the cover. I suppose it is designed to evoke tensions between her father’s fascination with North Dakota oil and her own desire to move forward into a greener, more environmentally friendly world.  

Ironically, the book is set in a modern serif font, Escrow, made famous by the Wall Street Journal. I thought that was a nice touch, considering the topic of the book! I might have dumped the Larry Potteresque title and run an old style serif font like Garamond throughout. I like the intimacy of the Classical/Old Style fonts and I think they’d be fitting for a memoire. 

Font situation aside, her talk should be good fun. I’m donating some of my time from North Dakota Humanities Council affairs to organizing this talk, so it’s sponsored by the NDHC.

Here’s the link to the live stream on the day of the talk.

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Memory and Place in Grand Forks

I was out for my evening “run” last night (which is actually more of a trot or a shuffle) and I had a remarkable experience.

As I was heading out Belmont Road in Grand Forks and complaining to myself about the persistent headwind, I passed an old man and said “Hi” as I usually do. He was walking with a cane, and presumably out enjoying the same lovely fall day that I was ruining for myself by running.

He said, as I ran past, “It’s been a long time since I could do that.”

I responded, “I’m just trying to hang on for as long as I can,” thinking about the fall weather.

He didn’t hear me so I doubled back to tell him what I said. When I got back to him he told me a story completely unprompted. 

He said that when he was in about second or third grade, the concrete sidewalk where we were standing had buckled a bit and had fallen apart. He and his two friends where riding their bikes down this little hill and Johnny Erikson’s front wheel grabbed on the crumbling concrete sending him over the handlebars and skinning his knees badly. He then told me that they sat there a while while he bawled because they weren’t doctors and didn’t really know what to do. When Johnny stopped crying they went on their way.

He then pointed to the massive elm tree by the side of the road and said, “This tree was there then and it was large, just as it is now…. and that must have been, well, at least 50 years ago.” 

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Fracking Made Personal

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading popular treatments on fracking. While in the Bakken I read Lisa Peters’ Fractured Land in anticipation of her visit to UND at the end of the month (more on that soon!). I then, while ambling about Amazon.com admiring Punk Archaeology, I bought Alex Prud’homme’s Hydrofracking in Oxford University Press’s What Everyone Needs to Know series and picked up Russell Gold’s, The Boom as well for fun. (Ok, I also indulged my hobby of Late Antiquity and bought Jonathan Conant’s Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700, but I won’t talk about that book in this post.)

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I really want to write about Peters’ book, because in some way it’s the most interesting in presentation and the most relevant to any stray North Dakotans who might stumble on my blog, but Prud’homme, Gold, and Peters all do something similarly in their work. They begin with first person anecdotes about the boom. Gold talks about his liberal, aging-hippy parents being offered $400,000 by Chesapeake Energy to lease the rights for the gas under their rustic retreat in central Pennsylvania. Prud’homme finds himself at a public debate over fracking in New York City. Peters is on her way to be by her oil-loving father’s side at his death bed. For some reason, popular books on the oil boom and fracking demands a kind of first person intimacy.

I got to thinking about why these authors used this particular device to introduce their treatment of fracking. It’s not like fracking has been dehumanized in the mass media. The oil-smeared faces oil workers have already offered a human face of the industry, but these books seem to substitute a different face. They have replaced the dirty hands of the laborer with the soft hands of the journalist. Appealing to middle class ambivalence about fracking, the writer takes on the confusion of information confronting someone who might have oil stocks in their portfolio and appreciate their performance, but also have a twinge of guilt that perhaps profiting from petrochemical industry is not compatible with genteel environmentalism.

One of the key aspects of this bourgeois environmentalism are the attitudes of Gold and Peters toward private property. Peters, in particular, demonstrates a delicate ambivalence. On the one hand, she recognized the homesteading claims of her grandfather who tried to make a living from the difficult North Dakota soils. She admired her grandfather’s prescience in retaining mineral rights to his land and making leases to oil companies. Her childhood and environmentalism developed, ironically, from the conversion of these oil rights to property on the scenic St. Croix river and a lovely cabin. On the other hand, Peters knowingly trespasses on the St. Croix property after it was sold to reminisce about her childhood. Elsewhere in the book she was traumatized when she encountered an overzealous security guard at a fracking sand quarry. The final encounter in the book, which involved spreading her father’s ashes at a well site, was made more sweet when an oil field technicians at the well gave an impromptu tour rather than chasing the family away from the site. Despite his generosity, Peters made clear that the risk was there and the reader could only think of the earlier encounter at the quarry. In fact, a key tension throughout the book is the complexities of ownership whether of oil, property, or mineral rights, and the benefits and (ethical and emotional) risks associated with ownership.

In a sense, then, the story of the oil boom revolves around a complicated American dream which recognizes property ownership – whether the Jeffersonian farm, the modern suburban retreat, or the urban condominium – as part of a package of rights derived from a particular reading of John Locke. Environmentalism, in contrast, appears to ask the individual property owner to resist the fullest expression of those rights for the common good. In some cases, the state intervenes as mediator between the rights of the individual and the community, but Peters’ book problematizes this relationship between the individual and property.

The first chapters of Prud’hommes and Gold’s book likewise articulates the oil dilemma facing Americans as they locate themselves between the arguing factions, competing narratives, and the conflicting myths of private property, energy independence, and progress. I’m no environmentalist, but I do worry that the emphasis on the individual story undermines the genuine power of collective action. By making the hard work to keep the oil industry safe and as environmentally and culturally sensitive as possible a distinctly middle class operation guided by a set of middle class expectations, we run the risk of minimizing the responsibilities of the state (as in the federal, state, county, and local governments) and the community (loosely construed as people who share space, resources, and social ties) to negotiate the complex interests of its stakeholders.

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Public Art, Grand Forks, and Joel Jonientz

We had a beautiful day yesterday celebrating the state of North Dakota’s 125thaversary and the art (and life) of Joel Jonientz. We hung his mural on a bizarre storage unit at the intersection of Walnut St. and S. 5th Avenue in Grand Forks. It looks great there. It got a nice story in the Grand Forks Herald. About 40 people came out to the event.

The program started at Centennial Part where we all admired City Councilor Bret Weber’s public orator and the fine broken clock that celebrates the timeless traditions of the Northern Plains.

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We then crossed the street and admired Joel’s mural. Bret told the story of how Joel and he got together on the mural project. He left out a few parts and for the historical record, I’ll clarify here.

First, when Bret began talking about public art in Grand Forks, I mentioned that Joel had painted murals with Americorp in Seattle and was (cough, cough) never all THAT busy.  So Bret and Joel and met at J.L. Beers – a local beer and burger place – to hash out details. I drank beer and Joel and Bret hashed. 

The result of that was a proposed mural by Joel. It appears to have involved sheep. I never saw this draft of the mural, but I hope they were as awesome as these sheep.

Bret was not impressed with Joel’s sheep, and told me so. 

I told Joel – probably after a beer or two – that Bret wasn’t feeling his mural. Joel laughed about it in that way that artists sometimes laugh leaving you unsure whether he was hurt or had just added Bret to his list of people who would never get it.

Bret, of course, had not communicated this to Joel, but the next time the two were in the same place, the first thing Joel said to Bret was “I hear you didn’t like my mural.” He then told Bret to go and look at his stuff. Bret later admitted that this was usually something you did before commissioning a piece of public art, but it didn’t matter because Joel was able to repurpose some of his Fatty Arbuckle work into the perfect mural to hang across from a police station and next to a rail line.

In a less public venue, it will be fun to recount the adventures involved in moving the prepared, but unpainted panels into Joel’s van late one evening…

Here are the murals, which were finished by students and colleagues in the Department of Art and Design at UND.

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It was cool to see the community embrace public art and got me thinking about what more I could do to make Grand Forks a more interesting place.