North Dakota: Pipelines, Underreporting and Ignorance

RIO BERGH THE SPECTRUM | A fence and road covered with flags from other states and other countries.
A fence and road covered with flags from other states and other countries.

“There are others here who are worried that our voices are not being heard — I am one of them.” Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council quoted from the Bismarck Tribune.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a proposed 1,172-mile-long, 30-inch diameter pipeline. Running from the Bakken region to Patoka, Illinois.

“The pipeline will enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner,”  states the Energy Transfer webpage on the DAPL.

Where is the coverage on this?

We are not stupid. North Dakota State students lack knowledge of this subject though. Our misunderstanding, or in some cases, our lack of knowledge of the event altogether is suspicious to say the least.

Is it our fault that we do not know about the DAPL protest here in Fargo, a mere 250 miles from the Cannon Ball site?

Or rather, are we victims of a state floundering under a large gap in the budget due to an oil bust?

Personally, I can say none other than Shailene Woodley introduced me to this controversial topic. I was introduced through a Facebook live video to an event happening just 250 miles to the southwest of Fargo by the star of the Divergent films.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 20 there is nothing about the pipeline protest on the front page of the Forum’s Website.

Luckily though there are three NDSU Bison football related stories, from Carson Wentz making NFL history, to a player being out for the season with a shoulder injury, we are well informed on this topic at least.

This past Sunday, Sept. 18, another Spectrum editor and myself drove to Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

The geography around Cannon Ball is truly striking in contrast to Fargo. Lovely rolling hills, high bluffs and trees. It is almost hard to believe that here, of all places, one of the most controversial issues for this nation is unfolding.

RIO BERGH THE SPECTRUM | The camp of thousands few even knows exists in Fargo.
The camp of thousands few in Fargo even knows exists.

As we peaked the last hill before the main camp a thought collectively crossed our minds: this has to be one of the most underreported events in North Dakota’s history.

It isn’t a secret. Oil is king in North Dakota.

Or rather it was. Of course we know that now. Booms have been happening in North Dakota for many years, generations and decades. With every boom though, there is an inevitable bust.

“If you don’t know the oil industry is cyclical, you’re an idiot,” Mark Ohl, quoted from Reuters.

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple knows, at least now, that this is a vicious cycle.

“Belt tightening is the order of the day,” Governor Dalrymple stated at an emergency budget meeting in August 2016.

North Dakota released a record $14.2-billion-dollar budget last April (2015). Since then, it has been lowered twice and there has been an estimated $1.1-billion-dollar shortfall. From Rockin’ the Bakken, to raiding the rainy day fund we are here now.

As for an end in sight we are told this by Rep. Mark Dosch (Republican-Bismarck). “I see nothing in our current economy in oil prices, in ag(agriculture) prices that would indicate to me that this slide is over.”

North Dakota went from the state no one really gave a passing thought to, to the state with the largest growing economy in 2014.

A light appeared at the end of the tunnel for our state government. According to the Energy Transfer page, the DAPL “is a $3.7 billion investment” creating anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 local jobs for a state in need of jobs. An estimated $129 million is expected in property and income taxes from the construction phase, with an extra $50 million in property taxes annually from the pipeline itself, with $74 million in sales taxes for North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

So here we are, a state with a 10% budget cut sending shockwaves through the entire state.

“Certainly the university is going to be a different place and it’s not going to be painless,” Provost Beth Ingram says of the budget cuts, which are going to cost 95 positions here at NDSU.

Building renovations ranging from Ehly Hall, Dolve Hall, Residence Dining Center, the Union Dining Center, to a whole new building in the A. Glenn Hill Center to the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, we chose to build with the increased budget.

What we built came at a cost. A cost that now seems impossible to continue.

At the moment we are at crossroads. From boom to bust, North Dakota has been on a wild roller coaster ride over the past few years.

As a community we must have a hard time accepting the DAPL as anything other than a pipe dream. A pipe dream that we are trying to pass in order to protect an economy that is seeing cutbacks for the first time since 2002.

Couple that with statewide media unwilling/unable/unaware to report on this, and we have a population that is under informed and left in a haze about our state’s uncertain future.

Cannon Ball is a mere 46 miles from Bismarck. One would think that the pipeline protest would one of the main focuses for The Bismarck Tribune.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 20, there is only a one story concerning the pipeline protest, the article from Ron Ness. One concerning another pipeline (the Sacagawea Pipeline) and of course there was a story about Carson Wentz.

The number one story on their website is that from Mr. Ness, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, with the title, “All eyes on North Dakota-full story isn’t being told.”

I would have to agree with him on that.

His belief though is that there is “illegal occupation.” With occupiers “intimidating and threatening law enforcement,” his story continues on to say, “there is a time and a place to discuss the merits of this pipeline.”

Finally stating, “It is beyond time to allow construction to continue.”

Personally we didn’t witness any violence.

We experienced nothing but welcoming smiles and nonviolent occupation. These are misconceptions that, if you read this article, you would have a hard time not believing.

It is in the paper though, we trust it.

When traveling we didn’t even know if there was even going to be people there. This is a shared misconception around NDSU, around Fargo and across the state. What is the actual issue? How big of a deal is it? Should I be informed on this? These are all things the media is in charge of addressing.

Our drive Sunday, a mere three-and-a-half hour drive, might as well have been a skip to another planet.

We would be ignorant to think the state doesn’t have an interest in protecting its oil businesses. As we tighten our belts and look for our next project to feed our statewide growth the media is failing us. Whether it be from corporate interest or media owners in the right place at the right time, we are experiencing a media blackout of 1984 proportions.

The students at NDSU deserve to know about this though. We deserve to be part of the discussion. We deserve to hear all the voices, not just Ron Ness’. We will have no place at the table for this discussion until we are informed of the actual issues.

We had no idea. We had no clue going to Cannon Ball on Sunday what it actually was going to be. It isn’t our fault; rather it is the people in charge of delivering us the news.

North Dakota once a state of growth and boom is now a state of unanswered questions. Unanswered questions that it appears we will have to investigate ourselves.

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