Usually, in North Dakota, environmental activists are careful about how they brand themselves.
Instead of calling themselves environmentalists, they use the term “conservationists.” Instead of saying they want to stop oil and coal development, they talk about protecting property rights. Because those terms sound better to North Dakota ears.
So imagine my surprise when, in this Amy Dalrymple profile of young activist Kathryn Hilton, the subject refers to herself as the “Bakken Resister.”
I suppose that’s a job at the pro-oil “Bakken Backers” group. It’s also refreshingly honest.
Typically activists like Hilton aren’t so blunt about their motivations. At least when talking to North Dakota audiences.
According to Dalrymple’s profile, Hilton is originally from South Carolina and was drawn to North Dakota to work for the far-left Dakota Resource Council, a group which represents itself as representing landowners (wink, wink) but doesn’t seem to have much of a constituency in the state. Hilton now works “independently as a volunteer community organizer,” according to Dalrymple.
It would be interesting to know who is signing her paychecks. I’ll bet “volunteer” is a misnomer.
It’s also interesting, though not terribly surprising, to learn that Hilton often finds herself as the lone voice of opposition to energy development, something she (of course) blames on North Dakota’s leadership:
At a hearing in Stanley earlier this year, Hilton was disappointed that she was the only member of the public who spoke about a proposed pipeline. One reason she sees for the lack of participation is that many residents feel they’ve been ignored by state agencies.
“They’re tired of going to these hearings and having their comments and their concerns completely dismissed,” Hilton said.
I think that comment is more self-serving than honest. North Dakotans have no trouble speaking out when they truly object to something. One need look no further than the brouhaha in Pierce County over a drilling project intended to research disposal methods for radioactive waste. I think the local residents there were wrong to oppose the project – isn’t safe disposal of such waste something we want? – but hundreds of people turned up to speak out.
Maybe Hilton’s problem isn’t that North Dakotans feel dismissed. Maybe it’s that there just aren’t many people who agree with her.
Which brings us back to that “Bakken Resister” mantle. I think that term marks a sharp difference between most North Dakotans and professional anti-oil political activists when it comes to energy development.
While most North Dakotans want responsible development, and prudent protections from the land, they don’t want to block the development. They don’t want to resist the Bakken.
The citizens of this state have a deep-rooted approval of using the land and its resources, probably born of the state’s agrarian past and present.
If you want to talk about protecting the land so that it remains useful for future generations, if you want to talk about protecting property rights, then you will find an audience in North Dakota.
If you want to promote blanket, indiscriminate resistance to energy development, then you’re going to be on your own. Just as Hilton is, it seems, very often.