Tag Archives: Bakken

Real, Surreal, Romantic, and Wilderness

Last week while tooling around with and providing basecamp support for Richard Rothaus, Andrew Reinhard, and Adventure Science in the badlands and above the Bakken oil patch in western North Dakota, one of the evening camp sites we occupied was located in the National Grasslands. Starting on the evening of April 25, 2013, a Thursday, and ending on the morning of April 26, 2013, a Friday, I noticed that over the course of about 10 hours, depending on the direction one looked and at what time of day, the spot of our camp site was on a borderland between the city and the country, the petroleum industry and the grassland wilderness.

Reinhard ultimately found the place we would camp that night, this on one of the thousands of finger-ridge buttes that the badlands offers. On the butte of our campsite (about 15 to 20 miles west of Grassy Butte, North Dakota), short trees and shrubbery protected our spot from any potential winds that would come out of the west and north, and just a bit to the east. A larger butte to the south would provide additional wind break. A raised and ditched scoria/clinker road wrapped around this larger butte, and like most of these roads, it was made sturdy enough for semi tractor trailer traffic.

Below are photos arranged in chronological order, and this speaks to how the surreal and romantic, the wilderness and industry, all intersect at one particular location, and all in less than half a day.

Photo of evening campsite, looking north, tent at bottom-center.

Photo of evening campsite, looking north, tent at bottom-center.

 

Just as the sun dips down and sets in the west behind the badlands buttes.

Just as the sun dips down and sets in the west behind the badland buttes.

Andrew Reinhard at left has Richard Rothaus go over his photos from another 10+ mile leg of Adventure Science's 100 miles of North Dakota Wild.

Photo looking to the north. Andrew Reinhard at left has Richard Rothaus at right go over his photos from another 10+ mile leg of Adventure Science’s 100 miles of North Dakota Wild.

Not long after the sun set in the west, I looked to the east and saw this moon rising.

Not long after the sun set in the west, I looked to the east and saw this moon rising.

While the moon was low in the sky, it looked like this, with serious camera zoom.

While the moon was low in the sky, it looked like this, with serious camera zoom.

An hour or two later, when the moon got much higher in the sky, it looked like this.

An hour or two later, when the moon got much higher in the sky, it looked like this.

Just as the sun starts to rise, the petroleum industry returns.

Just as the sun starts to rise, the petroleum industry returns. This photo is from our National Grasslands campsite, early morning, facing south.

Eventually one embraces the industrial surreal and absurd, and begins to make morning coffee, while smiling.

Eventually one embraces the industrial surreal and absurd, and begins to make morning coffee while smiling. This photo is from the campsite, facing south toward the scoria/clinker road and taller butte.

After the coffee is made, chairs were set up along the roadside to take in the industrial sounds of a morning in western North Dakota.

After the coffee was made, chairs were set up along the roadside to take in the industrial sounds of a morning in western North Dakota. This photo is from the campsite, facing west-southwest.

More industry, or Leo Marx's idea and reality of that machine in the garden. I like to think of it more as an industrial playground in our family livingroom.

More industry, or Leo Marx’s idea and reality of that machine in the garden. I like to think of it more as an industrial playground in our North Dakota livingroom.

It is 1.5 trailers of industrial semi.

1.5 trailers of industrial semi.


Notes from the Basecamp (04/23/2013)

Basecamp water wagon and supplies.

Basecamp water wagon and supplies.

On April 4, 2013, Richard Rothaus and I chatted via e-mail about some base camp logistics for Adventure Science’s 100 miles of North Dakota wild, a pedestrian overland trek through ephemeral drainages and butte plateaus in the nation’s #2-producing oil field that is western North Dakota. We came to the conclusion that I could 1) be useful and helpful in coordinating points of drop off and extraction, and evening details for Rothaus and Andrew Reinhard; and 2) in the interim, between dropping off the team and setting up camp, I could read for comprehensive exams (also known as “comps”). On the April 21, 2013 drive out to western North Dakota, I also thought it would be a good idea to capture some traffic samples that are part and parcel to the borderline anarchy of any blossoming petroleum industry throughout the planet.

After dropping off Rothaus and Reinhard yesterday (04/22/2013) morning, I drove the field vehicle around to where they would arrive that evening, and set to reading for comps (“comps” is one part of the intellectual bootcamp, or disciplinary training, when working on a doctor of philosophy, in my case with North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota). Winter in North Dakota is holding on a bit more than usual, and it is getting the attention of folks in both the city and in the countryside. The late winter means a late spring, and so the snow has been gradually melting.

While reading for comps, and while temporally in late spring and spatially in western North Dakota, I revisited a short passage from the first chapter of Elwyn B. Robinson’s 1966 History of North Dakota (University of Nebraska Press), entitled, “The Grassland Setting.” In this, Robinson says,

For hundreds of millions of years the Williston Basin [of western ND] and the area surrounding it were intermittently covered by a salt sea stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic. Sediment carried into the sea by flowing water was deposited on the bottom and slowly compacted into strata, or layers, of sedimentary rock made up of clay, shale, sandstone, and limestone. (Robinson, 1966: 2)

Basecamp 2 TrafficIf wandering around in the badlands today, the tops of all the buttes represent the bottom of that ancient and dried up sea floor. Erosion from glacial advances and retreats helped shape what we see and make up our landscape on the northern Great Plains, and also what Rothaus and Reinhard slogged through all day. I noticed the slipperiness of this clay and mud about mid-morning (04/22/2013): while sitting in the cab and reading, and while the mid-morning sun warmed the badlands, the snow and mud went from frozen to melt, and this caused the field vehicle to start sliding from a standstill. This feeling is at first a bit unsettling, at least before realizing what is happening. I fired up the vehicle and drove it to a less-remote location, namely a raised and ditched off-road of Highway 85, not too far north of Grassy Butte, North Dakota. That solved the vehicle sliding problem.

From here I collected some traffic samples, capturing the number of vehicles that passed by in two separate 15-minute windows. Below is a short clip of the traffic (arguably a way to humanize the social science).


Winter Driving in the Oil Patch of Western North Dakota

North Dakota Highway 85 on March 23, 2013.

North Dakota Highway 85 on March 23, 2013.

On March 23, 2013 (a Saturday), I drove west on I-94 from Bismarck, North Dakota to the Belfield exit, then turned north on Highway 85. My goal was to make it up to Watford City to take in a discussion on the Dakota Wars, post-150 years. The previous evening the discussion was held at Sitting Bull College, and I attended that one too. But after driving on Highway 85 that early afternoon, at least after 20 miles of it, I decided to turn around and head back to Bismarck. The wind carries wisps of snow over the road, and it barely melts, and then freezes. In the afternoon, the roads were a kind of icy-slush, and my plan was to attend the discussion that started at 7pm, and then head back to Bismarck around 9pm. The temps would drop, and the icy-slush would turn to straight-away ice. In both academic and lay-person parlance, driving at night on these roads is what we would have called a “really, really dumb idea and follow through.” So on the afternoon drive up, I eventually pulled over at a safe place, called ahead to Watford City to inform the group that I had a change of plans, and then turned around and headed back to Bismarck. Before turning around, though, I captured an audio-video short of what the roads were like, a kind of cross-section of what western North Dakotans and oil laborers (they are increasingly the same thing) are exposed to each and every day.

In the audio-video: to the right a pick up is driving in the ditch after having just slid off the road while in the left lane oil trucks whip by in the opposite direction. Stay safe out there folks, and don’t let yourself or crazed bosses or market forces hurry you any quicker than you need to be going. Remember this: the oil isn’t going anywhere, and it will be there tomorrow.

An aside: in driving from Sitting Bull College to Bismarck, and then in an attempt to make it up to Watford City, I couldn’t help but thinking about how certain North Dakotans will sometimes in a very judgmental tone say, “Look at all these people coming into our state!!… Do you think they will stay?” And then thinking after that how in the 1860s and on Native elders may have said the same thing about our arriving non-Native and Euro-American great-great grandparents and great grandparents. Then I start thinking about how population movements throughout world history have almost always been chaotic…


Bakken Oil Field Paper Abstract for the WSSA

Field crew member Professor Holmgren (of Franklin and Marshall College, PA) documents a historic cemetery surrounded by a Type II camp just south of Tioga, ND in August 2012.

Field crew member Professor Holmgren (of Franklin and Marshall College, PA) documents a historic cemetery surrounded by a Type II camp just south of Tioga, ND in August 2012.

The Western Social Science Association‘s abstract deadline for the April 2013 conference in Denver, Colorado is but a day away. So in the last three days, I put together two disparate abstracts (one for a paper and one for a poster) and submitted them to the conference committee. The paper proposal draws from August 2012 research in the man or labor camps in western North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, and builds off existing scholarship at this link here. (Note: North Dakota is #2 for oil production in the United States, just behind Texas).

The paper will broadly touch on how and why an area is populated, depopulated, and then repopulated (or re-re-populated, ad infinitum), but focus in on the micro, or what in the business we call individual lives. Contextualizing the micro within the macro, the local within the broader theme. Sometimes historians say those sorts of things in academic papers, or in conversation in general.

Here is the proposed title and abstract of my paper, the one I e-mailed just yesterday to the WSSA people:

Food, Shelter and Water: The Bakken Oil Boom and the Repopulation of Rural Western North Dakota

In August 2012, a collaborative team of historians, archaeologists, architects, sociologists and photographers spent four days studying the labor and “man” camps associated with the Bakken oil boom in rural western North Dakota. While there is monetary success and tragedy inherent in any petroleum boom, the team documented the ways in which skilled and un-skilled laborers carved out their own identities. This captured how an oil boom is much more dynamic than the typical media reporting of it as 100% “good” or absolutely “bad.” Humans are much more complex. This paper considers how a selection of individuals came to work in the Bakken oil field, and how they find lodging, food and hygiene on a day-to-day basis in a rural environment with limited infrastructure.