Bakken Shale Oil Brings Increased Wealth, Problems

By Donna Hall

New Town, N.D. – Mary Price sat on the porch of her newly bought home on the edge of the Little Missouri River holding her daughter in her arms. “I know that life would have been a little harder if the money from the oil wasn’t here, but I wish the money wasn’t here.”

In 1951 oil was found in the Bakken Formation, located in North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan. Efforts to extract the oil were proven to be too expensive so drilling was halted until recently using Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking” for short. Fracking breaks the rocks by using pressurized to access the natural gas, oil or petroleum hidden beneath the rock.

There are around 500 oil producing wells on the reservation and a high demand for employees.   Since the oil boom has taken root in North Dakota, thousands of people have come from all over the world to work.   In light of increased wealth and people migrating from around the country, some say it’s a good sight to see an explosion in the economy, others are leery of what comes with the new found wealth.

“I have never had to lock my door or worry about whether or not my children are going to be exposed to meth or murder,” says Sarah Walker, a member of the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. “ I still can’t believe that these two elements have taken root on my reservation.”   Sarah is a distant relative to one of the victims of what is known as the November 19th tragedy.

On November 19th, 2012 a quadruple murder and suicide took place in the small communities of New Town and Parshall, North Dakota.   The reservation has never seen the likes of such tragedy and many blame the money that the oil has brought.   There has been a marked increase in violent crimes this past year, punctuated by a double decapitation in July that is still being investigated.   There have been murders on the reservation in the past, but nothing like these recent grisly killings.

For many Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation members, it is a topic thrown around the dinner table and discussed in classrooms, however there is no agreement to whether or not this oil business is a good thing or not.   “If you get some money from all this, it is ok, if you don’t, it isn’t,” says Mary Parker. “I like the money but I hate what it turns my neighbors into, and sometimes me too.”

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