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  • Lance Mannion
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Jeff Boatright

Great post.

Earl Bockenfeld

North Dakota is the NEW California from Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath".

Unemployment is a national problem in the U.S., but you wouldn't know that if you travel through North Dakota. The state's unemployment rate hovers around 3 percent, and "Help Wanted" signs litter the landscape of cities such as Williston in the same way "For Sale" signs populate the streets of Las Vegas. "It's a zoo," said Terry Ayers, who drove into town from Spokane, Wash., slept in his truck, and found a job within hours of arrival, tripling his salary. "It's crazy what's going on out here."

There's no available housing, so people sleep in truck stops and Wal-Mart Stores' parking lots. The McDonald's in Williston is one of the busiest in the country, and they need to pay $15 an hour just to attract employees to work there.

"Clearly, it is the largest oil field we've found in North America in the last 40 years," said Bud Brigham, founder and CEO of Brigham Exploration, which has staked the company's future on the Bakken oil business. "If it's more than 15 billion barrels, it may be the biggest oil field found in America ever." Oil companies, including Brigham Continental Resources, Hess and EOG Resources, drill two miles down and two miles horizontally. Then, they use hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to create space for oil to flow out of the rock—hundreds of thousands of barrels a day, literally, one drop at a time.

Of course, that's as long as prices remain relatively high and fracking is allowed to continue. "Where we are today, we can generate really solid returns at 65 to 70 dollars a barrel," said Bud Brigham. As for fracking, it's the process that makes oil extraction possible in the dense rock and shale of the Bakken. Basically, equipment creates thousands of fissures in the rock and then sand, water, and even ceramics are blasted into the rock in order to prop open the fissures to allow oil to flow. There are chemicals in the "frack water," and there has been some environmental backlash. So far, it looks like the drilling method is safe from any bans or over-regulation, but if fracking were ever limited or disallowed, the Bakken Boom would go bust.

If you have a license and no criminal record, you can get a six-figure trucking job almost overnight. Real estate construction is almost as frenzied as the oil drilling, and there's even a huge business in housing the workers who don't have housing. They're called "man camps" in the local parlance, and even though there are some women staying there, it's a lot like most people would think it is. Trailers lined up in rows with workers either sleeping in simple single rooms, or in some cases, bunking up with others. Food is in the cafeteria, and companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger pay an average of $120 per person per night to safely house and feed their workers.

Some Americans have this misguided notion that as long as something is profitable then it's automatically a good thing. Our nation can't drill itself out of a bad economy and an entire industry - finance - that tried to cheat its way to riches. And if fracking is so safe, why do energy companies refuse to identify the chemicals they use in the process? Why do we allow energy companies to inject chemicals into the land without telling us what they are, and what risk for harm do they mean for our public health?


I like the last excerpt you included ("Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do"). The rich/1 percenters/landowners/whatever-you-want-to-call-them aren't evil, just as the poor/99 percenters aren't evil. When arguing, we (whichever group you think you belong in) paint the other side as not only wrong but callous and purposefully deceitful because we want to make a point and it's easier to think that way.

But really, the world is more complicated than that. To quote our friend Jed Bartlett, "Every once in a while... every once in a while, there's a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts."

Sherry Chandler

Truly a good post. Thank you.

And totally irrelevant to your point, there was a considerable out-migration north of white people from the southern Appalachians. See Harriet Arnow's novel, "The Dollmaker." When I lived in Chicago in the 1970s, the Uptown area was still considered "hillbilly."


There's another issue, too: The Joads very nearly settle down in the Federal co-op, where they are paid a living wage and given decent places to bunk down, and protected from the harassments of the locals who don't like "their kind" moving in and stealing jobs.

But then (at least in the novel) the Joads work on a nearby peach farm to break the strike that Cuz'n Casy helps to organize, because he wants the workers to unionize for better wages and benefits for all the workers.

You know, socialism.


Just outstanding, Lance.

Rob Hill

At the risk of complete irrelevance to your reasoned argument, yesterday I watched the anthology film O Henry's Full House which features Steinbeck as onscreen narrator. Fascinating to see him as a breathing entity in all of his gruffness as opposed to merely a revered name on a spine.

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