An Exaggeration Put to Rest

For years now, as the development of oil and gas resources in western North Dakota has advanced, one consistent talking point from the opponents of that development is that it was encroaching upon the pristine solitude of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Or, put another way, that people might be able to see or hear from the park oil and gas activity taking outside of the park.

Most recently there was controversy over the idea that park visitors atop Buck Hill, a popular hiking destination because of its views, might be able to see a refinery to be built roughly seven miles away. For context, here’s a map of the as-the-bird-flies path from Buck Hill to the site of the proposed refinery:


If that’s not enough to convince you that some of the concern trolls worried about the viewshed from atop Buck Hill were exaggerating, consider this experiment by Meridian Energy Group, the company trying to build the refinery:

Meridian Energy Group put up an 11-foot-wide kite late Tuesday afternoon at the location and height of the stack, and members of the public were invited to climb Buck Hill — the highest observation point in the national park — to take a look. The distance, as the crow flies, was roughly 7 miles. The bright-red kite wasn’t visible, even with binoculars.

Meridian folks were on hand to point out exactly where on the horizon to look for the kite floating 150 feet in the air. When no one could see it, the kite crew raised it an additional 100 feet. At that height, with clouds in the backdrop for contrast, the kite became faintly visible to a few observers.

“If this is the fight, then we should move on,” one critic of the refinery who tried to spot the kite from Buck Hill told the Bismarck Tribune.

I agree. Unfortunately this incident is all too typical of activists trying to impede oil and gas development. They make claims about the impact of the development which, very often, turn out to be exaggerations. Or, worse, outright fabrications.

Meridian should be commended for taking the time to demonstrate that their project wouldn’t diminish the views from Buck Hill, but we should all be a little more skeptical of those making claims like this.

Rob Port is the editor of, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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