North Dakota Oil, Fracking Documentaries Long On Politics And Short On Facts


Earlier this week I wrote about a documentary about the oil boom in North Dakota that was being screened by a George Soros-backed left-wing group in Washington DC. A former North Dakotan and SAB reader who lives in DC went to the event and provided the insights below.

I biked over to the Center for American Progress (nice digs!) after work to catch the anti-fracking films you blogged about the other day. Not all that interesting: Environmental activists produce anti-energy video screeds to show to 120 other environmental activists. Fracking is bad, one and all agree. Free pizza!

The “documentary” about the Theodore Roosevelt National Park turned out to be just a five-minute video about the threat outside-the-park drilling poses to the pristine park. (A Boom with No Boundaries) In North Dakota, it’s not news that Clay Jenkinson waxes apocalyptic about threats to experiencing nature. To those unfamiliar with his shtick — and I do respect his talents — he’s compelling enough.

Winthrop Rockefeller, the great-grandson, narrates the ad. It’s hard to picture Winthrop tracking down criminals in the Badlands; families peter out. But he has the name.

No, opposing views were not aired. Oil development is nearing the national park, why, may even someday enter the park. By definition, that’s bad. I can see a flare, I can see a rig, my life is ruined.

More interesting was the second feature, the 28-minute  Backyard,, featuring interviews with anti-fracking activists in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Montana and North Dakota. The North Dakota subject/advocate was Jacki Schilke, the rancher from Williston territory. I was unfamiliar with her, but my initial reaction was that she was histrionic, not credible.

Now that I read your previous post about her, I see that my initial assessment is on the mark. She’s just not credible, the usual seeker of environmentalist celebrity.

The Backyard documentary relied on a common argument in environmental-activist documentaries, the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which is to say, if bad things happen after fracking, it’s fracking that caused the bad things. A paralytic kitty, a dead cow, dogs with cancer? Obviously fracking is to blame.

But as you reported when blogging about Schilke, the state was not allowed to test the assumptions.

One interesting note from Backyard and the subsequent Q&A: People are really upset about the increased truck traffic caused by fracking. It seems to be the most disruptive part of energy development: Not everyone has a well or compressor station next door, but everyone has to drive the roads. I think that observation jibes with the North Dakota experience. Fair enough.

The subsequent panel and Q&A were actually quite interesting. I was impressed with the spokeswoman from the Natural Resources Defense Council, who offered dispassionate, informational commentary about various issues involving energy development. I suspect she was on her best behavior — NRDC is radical — but still, she did a good job.

A local advocate from the Shenandoah Valley also gave a reasoned argument for opposing Marcellus Shale natural gas development in the area of Virginia.

The Q&A was moderated by Erika Bolstad, a former McClatchy reporter whose family stems from Burke County. She’s working on a book, mostly a personal reflection, about how energy has changed North Dakota. Her website is