It takes soul to love the prairie

I’ve been trying to write more about North Dakota recently (see here and here). Why? Because I’M MOVING THERE.

Yes, it’s true: starting in two weeks, I’ll be the North Dakota reporter for a brand new multimedia journalism group called Inside Energy. I’ll be based in Bismarck at Prairie Public Broadcasting, covering the Bakken oil boom and other energy-related stories in the Great Northern Plains. Other reporters in Wyoming and Colorado will be doing the same in their respective states, and all together, we’re trying to take an in-depth look at the domestic energy revolution. BAM!

In the meantime, I’ve been making phone calls and trying to get a handle on what’s happening up there. It’s pretty fascinating: as the Western part of the state is booming, other areas are continuing their long, slow decline. The emptying of the prairie and the boom are happening at the same time, in the same place. I’m excited to be in the middle of it.

Oh, and the title of this post? That’s something a North Dakotan said to me on my visit earlier this spring. Anyone can love the mountains, he said, but it takes soul to love the prairie.

I'll be seeing a lot more of you, Prairie.

I’ll be seeing a lot more of you, Prairie.

Bad dust

All around the West, there are pockets of asbestos and other hazardous substances that, when disturbed and inhaled at certain concentrations, can be really bad for you. I just found out about another one, called erionite, which is found in rocks and soil of western North Dakota, and acts similarly to asbestos. For decades, people re-surfaced gravel roads with stones that contained erionite, not knowing it’s a potential carcinogen. The oil boom has created even more truck traffic on some of these back roads, sending great clouds of dust into the sky with more frequency, and scientists are concerned about people being exposed to erionite this way. Read more here.

Oil truck in North Dakota. Courtesy Flickr user Tim Evanson.

Oil truck in North Dakota. Courtesy Flickr user Tim Evanson.