When thinking of my quick visit to North Dakota, one word pretty much sums up what goes on way up there. Productivity. Any form of the verb to produce seems to fit. It is not a state that relies on tourism for its dollars. They produce stuff. And by stuff, I mean important stuff. When you drive probably most anywhere in ND you see farmland. The crops that I tended to see were wheat, corn and canola. There’s probably more, but the city girl in me can recognize a few. But amongst the vast plains of farmland, they are utilizing the space above and below the fertile ground.
As we drove north of Bismarck, we saw some lone windmills. But as we got further along highway 83 there were more than just a few…
From living in the Fargo/Moorhead area while going to college, I knew that wind was a big factor in the area. Just the wind alone would make you run from building to building between classes. So harnessing that power is only natural in this area of the country. I have no idea how much power one windmill produces and what the return is for a single one in comparison to the cost of putting it up and maintaining it. I would guess the maintenance might be kind of tricky.
We kept driving and could see a large production facility off in the distance but we didn’t know what it was until we got closer. It was near Falkirk and it turned out to be coal. Later when we met up with my parents, my dad told me it was a coal gasification plant that was built for millions several years ago, before the current oil boom. But over the highway was this track that apparently carries coal to the plant.
After the coal plant we started seeing more “stuff” associated with oil. We were entering Bakken territory. The link is to the Wikipedia page since I can’t explain everything about the Bakken. There are still fields of crops everywhere. But every once in a while, or several times in a while, you’ll see an oil pad. A typical set-up is a well (or 2 or 3 – the most we saw was 5), and holding tanks on a rectangular plot without any vegetation.
Many times, you will see a flame coming out of the ground or some sort of apparatus. Whatever process they’re using, natural gas is a byproduct and they just burn it off. Because they have found so much natural gas, it is now so cheap that they don’t worry about capturing it. Hence, flames dot the countryside. I think it would be interesting to drive around there at night to more easily see the flames.
When they are drilling, there is a drill rig set up. We saw lots of these. I don’t know the specifics of how it’s done.
Part of the controversy in North Dakota has to do with how they are extracting the oil. There is now technology that can go deeper and further to find the oil. Again, I’m no expert on fracking, but the link is to the Wikipedia page. During the last oil boom in ND they mainly knew how to drill vertically. Now they drill vertically, when they get down far enough, they’ll switch to horizontal drilling. That’s how you can have more than one well on a pad.
If you’re willing to move and can operate heavy machinery, you can probably find a job in North Dakota. The problem is, you probably can’t find a place to live. I’ve heard of the term “man camp” but never really knew what to picture in my mind. Basically, it’s an area with a lot of camper trailers. There are also some that have many mobile homes in one area. Since most of the work is done by men, they’re called man camps. We saw lots of them. This is a small one…
I was at a conference a few weeks ago and they talked a lot about the oil and gas activity in North Dakota. One of the things I learned at the conference was that when they ship the oil by rail, they can control more so, where it goes, and the price. If they put it into a pipeline, it goes to one place before distribution, and the prices are more fixed. The photo I took of the rail cars happened to focus on the bug guts on the windshield of the car. But you’ll get the idea.
I really don’t know enough about what is happening in North Dakota to write much more without doing a lot of research. I just thought I’d give a glimpse into a state that a lot of people don’t think too much about and don’t visit. There’s a lot of productivity in North Dakota with a lot of hard-working people. Hopefully you’ll think about that, the next time you think of that Great Plains state in the north.