Sunday, July 08, 2012

Badlands, Goodlands

There's an oil boom going on in North Dakota and we got to witness it firsthand on a five-day, 2000-mile trek to my 47th state.

Unemployment is practically zero, and workers are pouring in from all over the country and the world. Our waitress one night was from Salt Lake City. She misses it and doesn't much like her new home, but it's where the jobs are.

The landscape is dotted with trailer park "man camps" to hold all the workers from the oil and associated industries. Row after row of cheap housing is being thrown up as fast as they can build it.

In one tiny western town, the nicest, newest hotel there is, La Quinta, charges $175 a night -- if you're lucky enough to find a room there. It's mostly leased long-term to workers, who are given plastic booties at the entrance to protect the new carpet from their mud-covered boots.

They're totally reconstructing a long stretch of Interstate, not because it's in bad shape but because the state coffers are flush with cash right now.

All of this because of fracking, which, depending on what you read, is either a miracle technology promising to secure domestic energy independence or an environmental catastrophe that threatens to irrevocably despoil the land and water.

For now, at least, there are still places untouched by all this activity. The Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Monument being one of them. It's beautiful country -- one of the few places you can see horses in the wild.

So glad we got to see it while it's still there.

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