Billboards Be Damned, We Need Change, Now

Oil prices are high. Workers, wary from the severe recession, come in throngs to sleepy towns like Watford City and Williston. Rigs are erected. Millions of dollars are generated for employers and the state.

The year is 1984, and North Dakota’s oil-fueled dreams are about to become nightmarish; the state’s boom is about to go bust.

Fast forward three decades and North Dakota is feeling, again, like a Sunday morning after a night at the O.B., this time cooling off from a boom five times larger than its ‘80s predecessor.

With our cash-rush slowing and delirium fading, our still-buzzed state looks around in a daze and asks, “What just happened?”

We are thankful for the Bakken. Without our well-placed oil field and hydraulic fracking, North Dakota undoubtedly wouldn’t have fared as well as it did during our most recent recession.

We wouldn’t have our $3 billion rainy-day fund. We wouldn’t (finally) have Dunbar Hall II’s funding. And we wouldn’t have John Oliver reminding people of our existence.

Alas, Oliver, that buzzkilling Brit, wasn’t as “North Dakota” nice as we all apparently are. Ironically, our lack of madness made him mad.

During his popular HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver picked apart our questionable policies regarding big oil. Oliver’s argument was the state’s unique yet problematic regulatory friendliness to oil companies.

So Oliver and company, in North Dakotan fashion, put up a polite billboard near Minot that read “Be Angry” and, on the flipside, “(Please.)”

The comedian’s point hit a nerve for some here, sparking retaliatory commentators and billboards to fend for the lax status quo.

Here in the upper Midwest, this kind of emotion is rare. Anger is suppressed. Opinions are muffled, especially like the blunt bombs Oliver tossed.

But if it takes a British transplant who lives in New York City to call out our shoddy policies, we should listen. We need to make changes, even if Oliver pronounces “Bakken” and “lutefisk” oddly.

Blind anger isn’t the answer, though; informing oneself is essential. A quick Google search brings up the good and bad of the boom.

As future leaders of this state, we need to research both the policies and the politics.

We need to hold both big oil and our representatives accountable for their actions that are undeniably changing our landscape.

In a reactionary article by Tyler Axness, the state senator advocates for more competent citizen voting, emphasizing the obvious contrasting views of Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Axness, a Democrat, draws attention to various bills created by Democrats that would combat these issues, yet the Republican supermajority soundly defeated these votes.

He concludes his letter to the Forum, writing, “If you are going to ‘be angry’ (please) as Oliver suggests, direct that anger at those who refused to pass common-sense solutions. … Take that anger and be active (please). Vote them out next November.”

It’s easy to dismiss Sen. Axness’ opinion, especially since it comes from a minority party, but he brings up a fair point:

Why should we allow big oil, and business, get away with damaging our state, with little to no repercussions?

Just this Saturday, an Oasis Petroleum Inc. oil well blew out near Tioga, N.D. According to Reuters, the company hasn’t been able to regain control of the oil and brine spill.

The legalese-riddled policies we uphold are kept in place for profit, not North Dakotans’ livelihoods.

North Dakota prides itself in being a safe, clean and nice place. Big oil says differently. Disregard politics and look at the state of North Dakota.

We don’t need another hangover.

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