Reading in our compartment, I felt the train slowing down, so naturally I stared out the window to see what I could see. I purposely was just going along for the ride and not tracking every moment on GPS like one couple or diligently following maps like many others. When the train came to a full stop, I spotted the sign for Williston, ND, right outside my window. Our crew had told us that the oil boom there was the cause for the increased delays in the last few years, so I perked up and got out my camera.
Imagine living in a town where the technology of hydraulic fracturing, first introduced in 2008, has made the state the country’s fastest growing economy. A town just under 8 square miles in size, where the population has doubled since 2010, and where there are the highest wages, worst housing shortages, and highest rents–a 700 square foot apartment averages $2,394.00 per month.
Imagine what that influx would do to your neighborhood. Perhaps you saw The Overnighters on public TV last October. It’s a film by Jesse Moss that won the 2014 US Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking. I haven’t seen it–we were on the train when it aired–but hear that viewing it was helpful to understand the many aspects of change that an oil boom can cause in a small town. A review says, “The Overnighters almost casually establishes a lingering sense of place, juxtaposing natural beauty against the blight of industry.”
Williston is 18 miles from the Montana/North Dakota border and 60 miles from the Canada/US border. Note the wide-open landscape in the following photos, and imagine what it’s like, both for long-term residents and newcomers, to adapt to the changes that the fracking industry has brought to their everyday lives: oil drilling, oil tankers, line-ups of new mobile homes–all drastically changing what once was.
I would have loved to stop, hang out in a coffee shop, and talk to the locals. But the best I could do was read more about this interesting town once I got home. I’ve cited some resources below.
Learning about other people who live in our own country, yet under very different circumstances than our own, I believe is the value of local travel. Somewhere I’ve read that exposure of this sort enriches us as a humanity and helps us develop empathy for all kinds of people. I agree.