As long as this country continues to be dependent on fossil fuel to power its economy, the long-term effects of its consumption are going to continue to be felt - socially, environmentally and politically.
That was the predominant message that came through during a Wednesday night panel discussion of the regional impact of North Dakota’s most recent oil boom, hosted by the Becker County Friends of the Library and the Lakes Area League of Women Voters at the Detroit Lakes Public Library.
“The oil business is part of the fabric of our lives,” said Dan Kalil, chair of the Williams County Board of Commissioners in Williston, N.D.
Kalil was one of two special guests invited to take part in the discussion, along with Lisa Westberg Peters, author of “Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil.”
Peters, who grew up in the Twin Cities, said that she was faced with a dilemma when she learned her father’s family had owned land in the heart of North Dakota oil country - land to which their family owned a share of the mineral rights. It is that dilemma that forms the heart of her book.
“I wasn’t sure how I felt about profiting from the extraction of fossil fuel,” she said - so she began to do some research.
Though she didn’t give away too much about the conclusions she reached, Peters did say that she would like to see “more balanced” energy usage, with more attention (and money) given to developing renewable energy resources such as solar, geothermal and wind.
“Changes are going to have to be made,” she said. “Whether we like having oil or not, we have to weigh it against what’s happening with the climate.”
“My dilemma is everyone’s dilemma,” Peters said, noting that one of the questions she poses in her book is whether we “want to keep signing up for oil,” or start finding some alternatives.
During his portion of the discussion, Kalil talked about the “huge impact” that the oil boom has had on Williston, and North Dakota in general.
“In 2009, the first (oil) well was drilled on our farm,” said Kalil. “It was a very traumatic event for me.”
Though this most recent oil boom was not the first time that oil had been drilled for in North Dakota, the speed and scope of its development was unprecedented, he added. Due to advances in technology, oil can now be extracted from land where previously, all wells had been holes.
“Now it’s not looking for oil, it’s mining the oil,” he said, noting that the efficiency of the drilling these days is “amazing.”
As has happened with previous oil booms, however, things are now starting to slow down again - leaving Williston with lots of empty apartments and hotel rooms.
“Now we have massive layoffs,” he said, adding that about 4,000 jobs have left the area.
And that’s not all that’s left.
“We’ve lost the North Dakota culture,” Kalil said. “We’ve lost the spirit, that homesteading culture.”