Eric Bergeson: Oil boom not all sunshine & roses
The oil boom hit Casselton, N.D., last week in a big way.
With a couple of big booms, the myth that crude oil which moves through our towns on long trains won’t explode went up in smoke.
If an oil train derailed in a major city, the consequences could be dire.
Other myths deserve to be exploded as well.
One is that this oil boom will burn itself out and things will eventually return to sleepy normal on the Upper Great Plains.
People who subscribe to that myth aren’t living in the real world. There is enough oil beneath the prairies of North Dakota, the western provinces of Canada and the plains of Texas to feed the world’s addiction to fossil fuels for generations.
The massive estimates of oil in place use conservative assumptions, and they only account for present technology.
In fact, the ability of explorers to extract oil from the deep rocks improves with each passing month.
Not included in estimates are several layers of oil-soaked rock which haven’t yet been studied, much less drilled.
But, skeptics say, how can we keep fouling the earth’s nest by burning fossil fuels which increase carbon dioxide levels and harm the atmosphere which sustains us?
That’s like telling a drunk, “we would like you to stop drinking for the good of yourself, your family and your community.”
“Oh, and by the way, we have just put 50 barrels of whiskey in your garage which we would prefer you didn’t drink.”
It is going to take a cataclysmic event larger than the explosions at Casselton to scare the world’s economies into treatment for oil addiction.
It will take a massive political sea change—perhaps a rise in ocean levels of 10 feet or so—to create a crisis sufficient for the people to demand an intervention.
Given the hundreds of billions of dollars at stake and the perceived geopolitical importance of “energy independence,” the Great Plains oil boom is here for the lifetime of anybody reading this.
In the meantime, we will be faced with local consequences of the worldwide thirst for oil.
Those consequences are not limited to North Dakota, but will spread to the entire region.
Increased violent crime. Increased drugs. Increased desecration of once-lonely prairie. Rising costs of property. Rising rents. Overburdened infrastructure. Crumbling roads.
The present political climate, fueled by short-term thinking and a naive “drill baby, drill” ideology, tilts towards unfettered looting of our newfound bounty—but you might ask the long-time residents of western North Dakota whether they are better off now than they were before the looters arrived.
Follow the money. Wherever there is lots to be had, there will be thieves.
When thieves get enough money, they buy their way into legality through contributions to politicians.
Oddly, the prevailing political ideology has conned the little people into thinking the looters will allow something to trickle down to them.
Think again. If the president of Exxon showed concern for the little guy, he or she would be canned within the month.
The underlying demand for oil is so huge that the industry can stand a little regulation, no matter how loudly their well-paid lawyers cry poverty.
For example, Texas—Texas!—demands oil companies capture their less profitable natural gas and sell it rather than flaring it off, as is done in North Dakota.
Is that so difficult?
How about the increased costs of law enforcement, emergency medical services, road construction and maintenance, schools, welfare, and property costs?
If the world wants this area’s fuel, it should pay for the effects of removing that fuel from our once-pristine and blissfully-neglected region.
But for a government body to insist upon such responsibility takes courage and foresightedness.
Thanks to our round-the-clock media circus, such qualities are in short supply. To get elected, politicians must spout the same popular falsehoods accepted as dogma by the bozos with a 12-year degree in talk radio.
Drill baby, drill.
Politicians know they are lying when they dispute science, but just as they did when they supported the obvious lies of tobacco companies, politicians go with the flow —the flow of money into their campaign coffers.
To make the best of the oil bonanza — to make sure it doesn’t do us more harm than good — we need leadership.
But until the people demand such leadership, they will get just what they deserve: Short-term thinking and the destruction of their way of life.