CRUDE OIL – MODERN DAY GOLD RUSH
Travel through the vast desolate plains of North Dakota, amongst sleepy farm communities of familiar landscapes, the vast blue open sky in the great wide open; when the scenery that surrounds you is forever altered by the fascinating and remarkable transformation of a bustling industrial community. Once grain elevators towered over these prairies of golden fields, but now hotels and oil rigs stand tall in the skyline. Welcome to Williston, North Dakota, the new modern day “gold rush” town of the oil industry with heavy truck traffic, miles and miles of temporary housing, new hotels, and the well-established “man camps”. This is the location of the Bakken Shale, an oil-rich rock formation that stretches across parts of North Dakota, Montana and Canada.
Locals and newcomers alike often remark that the attraction of this oil boom is like “The Klondike” and are wracked with their own cultural conflict of this economic force. An area of the Yukon Territory in Canada, the Klondike, was the backdrop for the most spectacular resource boom-and-bust series North America has ever witnessed. At the discovery of gold in 1896, along a tributary of the Klondike River, an estimated 100,000 Americans and Canadians sought to discover their fortune by scaling over the mountains of Alaska and British Columbia and down the Yukon River. It is estimated about 30,000 reached Dawson City, which ballooned in two years from a town of just 16,000. Not many captured a significant profit from the grueling journey before the gold gave way and the rush ended in 1899. Many in and around Williston, North Dakota, are cautionary of the fleeting tale of the Klondike gold rush and their own boomtown success with the black oil “gold rush”.
The coverage of North Dakota’s oil boom in the Bakken Formation coaxed photographer, Travis Dewitz, to understand a place that’s story cannot be justified by just a still photograph. Through his creative lens he demonstrates time and time again how much splendor can be extracted from the interplay of the industrial world around us. The oil boom is affecting much of western North Dakota and Northeast Montana. Williston, North Dakota is in the heart of oil rush and also the largest city in the area. New oil drilling techniques and technologies is what has made oil extraction possible and feasible in the recent years. Fracking is a big part of this new oil business in the Bakken oil fields and much of the special sand needed for fracking comes right from his home state of Wisconsin.
Dewitz was intrigued by the mobs of RVs taking over the Williston Wal-Mart’s parking lot, $17 hour starting wages at local fast food restaurants, $22 an hour for temporary postal workers, help needed signs everywhere, gas stations with entire walls of hot gas station food, thick mud on the floors holding doors open, studio apartment rent as high as $1200 a month with larger places well over $3000 a month and stores so busy that they no longer could keep the product on the shelves and just parked pallets in the aisle-way. More stories kept taking shape; due to high crime stores accepted credit only as any cash on hand could prompt being robbed and near lawlessness in many areas.
There is much fascination with the oil boom in the Bakken Range centered on western North Dakota. Exploration of this oil rich area is a sight even the most prepared aren’t ready for. Experiencing a population explosion like this in our era is astonishing to see and are usually at most, a once in a lifetime event. This crude oil rush is similar to the gold and silver rushes of the past or even the large population growth caused by coal mining in the east. Many expect utter chaos and disorder upon arrival, but the area seems to be catching up to itself quickly with large construction projects all over the region building hotels, homes, service facilities, and other infrastructures. Seeing these large oil platforms jutting out of the landscape into the sky is an astonishing feat for an industrial photographer like Dewitz. In the most unusual and unexpected places Dewitz showcases images that embody the forgotten beauty of heavy industry as he also covers railways, factory floors, the rolling smoke of steel mills, and the cities that are built around them. He brings a certain magic as he invokes the very souls of these glorious industrial areas; his captures overflow with inspirational energy.
The flames that dot the landscape burning through the night and pump jacks slowly rocking back and forth have that have an everlasting energy to them. The men and women who have flooded the area to work hand in hand to make this region a united success is awe-inspiring. Dewitz set loft goals during his trip west to the Bakken as he visually reported the power and growth he felt seeing this oil boom for the first time.
Similar to the gold rush in the Klondike, the black oil rush here is so diverse and unstoppable it’s changing the state’s fortunes and landscapes as its oil is being dubbed as “black gold”. Those with their boots on the ground in the industry hold steady to the character and town of a state that’s changing. They carry the promise and feel the uncertainty. With wheels rolling many are heading off to experience America’s newest gold rush- the Bakken sea of oil being taken from the plains of North Dakota as sleepy towns once busting at the seams are the forefront of an incredible eruption of oil and gas production and is the new frontier of fuel economy. EJ
The Wisconsin frac sand mining industry is exploding. Trucks and trains are being loaded with tons of frac sand that are being shipped out of the state to places like Canada, Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. Being a heavy industry photographer in Wisconsin, I have been following this growth closely. The frac sand industry has pointed me to oil exploration around the United States and especially the Bakken Range. I am fascinated with the oil boom in the Bakken Range centered around western North Dakota. I have always been drawn to the wide open spaces of the western United States, so I packed my bags and headed to North Dakota to explore this oil rich area. I wasn’t prepared to see the population explosion of the region even with the large amount of research I did before I arrived. Experiencing a population explosion like this in my lifetime was amazing to see and are usually at most, a once in a lifetime event. This crude oil rush is similar to the gold and silver rushes of the past or even the large population growth caused by coal mining in the east. I expected much more disorder when I arrived but the area seems to be catching up to itself quickly with large construction projects all over the region building hotels, homes, service facilities, and other infrastructures. Seeing these large oil platforms jutting out of the landscape into the sky is an amazing sight for an industrial photographer like myself. The flames that dot the landscape burning through the night and pumpjacks slowly rocking back and forth have that have an everlasting energy to them. The men and women who have flooded the area to work hand in hand to make this region a united success is awe-inspiring. My goal in my trip west to the Bakken was to visually show the power and growth I felt seeing this oil boom for the first time.
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