When the landscape is quiet again: North Dakota’s oil boom
World leaders have gathered in Paris for the United Nations climate change conference, where they are expected to produce a landmark agreement on limiting rising global temperatures. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, more than 100 leaders will resume talks that have failed for years.
The scientific research supporting global warming is undeniable. The past three decades have been the hottest on record and 2015 is expected to set a new record. Global energy demands, and the means by which we meet them – from burning oil, gas and coal – have contributed to a rise in sea levels and shifting weather patterns.
Rising energy demands have led to new methods of extracting natural resources from beneath the earth’s surface. In North Dakota, an oil boom has exploded in recent years, as hydraulic fracturing has altered the landscape – both physically and economically – and the state’s quiet agrarian landscape has been transformed into an industrial zone dotted with well sites, criss-crossed by pipelines, lit up by natural gas flares, and contaminated by oil and saltwater spills. The Bakken oil field is currently pumping out over a million barrels per day from over 10,000 active wells, and companies may drill thousands more, though demand and output from the Bakken has slowed dramatically in recent months.
Since 2012, photographer Sarah Christianson has been documenting the legacy of oil booms and busts in her home state. As a fourth generation North Dakotan whose family has been profiting from oil wells drilled on land her great-grandparents homesteaded in 1912, Christianson has borne witness to the successful and profitable extraction of resources from her state’s land. But she also asks: “What are the hidden costs of this prosperity?” Massive spills, oil train explosions, and worker fatalities are only some of the scars that have been inflicted on North Dakotans and on the men and women who moved there to take advantage of economic opportunity. What is the cost people are willing to pay for economic gain? What are the environmental sacrifices we are willing to accept in the name of technological progress? These are some of the difficult questions that not only North Dakotans must ask, but that the world leaders who have gathered in Paris will have to answer in the coming days.