Farming In The Middle Of North Dakota's Oil Boom

Inside Dakota Ag

When I hit the heart of the Bakken, I was shocked. What were they doing to the land? Farmers would get in big trouble if they were doing the same.

Published on: October 8, 2012

I recently made a trip to western North Dakota to see what it’s like farming in the middle of the oil boom.

When I hit the heart of the Bakken, I was shocked. What were they doing to land? There were payloaders, backhoes, bulldozers and graders everywhere.

It seems farmers can’t clean a ditch, touch slough or covert grassland to cropland without getting into trouble with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited, the Sierra Club and dozens of other wildlife and conservation groups.

But in the Bakken, oil companies were peeling back the soil to build drilling pads on every other section line. The pads are 10+ acres in size and are bristling with towers, drilling rigs, temporary offices, sleeping trailers and containment structures.

Construction crews were digging pipelines across wheat fields and pastures. The lines don’t neatly follow existing roads or rights-of-way, either They shoot across fields in every direction like a spider web crossing ditches, roads and creeks as if they weren’t even there. Oil pipelines don’t have a small footprint like tile drainage, either. Crews slice open a wide swath of topsoil before digging a trench in the middle in which to lay the pipe.

Bulldozer and scrapers were turning prairie trails into red scoria roads big enough to carry hundreds of semis loaded with equipment, gravel water and oil every day.

Carpenters were building man camps near every little town, and sometimes out in the middle of nowhere. Some of the camps look like a series of big, modern dairy barns complete with a milking parlor (the mess hall) between them. Others are row after row of container-like trailers.

And the traffic! Oh my! See a video of the traffic at the Intersection of Highways 85 and 23 in Watford City (pop. 1,500 before boom). http://farmprogress.com/dakota-farmer-story-farming-north-dakotas-oil-patch-14-63407.

Over every hill in the Bakken, I was surprised by what I saw -- or what I thought I saw.

Once, I saw a field of what thought was blooming sunflowers on a distant hill. But, as I drew closer, I saw it that was parking lot and maintenance yard for a fleet of yellow tanker trucks.