New York Times launches series looking at N.D. oil industry

You won’t be fully up to speed on how oil production, and hydraulic fracturing, has transformed the rural communities of North Dakota unless you read Deborah Sontag’s exhaustive piece in The New York Times.

Sunday’s Part I of a series, “The Downside of the Boom,” includes video, satellite maps and other visuals to complement its reporting.

At the heart of Part I is the way land has been “sliced and diced” in North Dakota for years, and rights to the surface don’t necessarily mean the landowner has control over the resources that lie beneath.

Given that mineral rights trump surface rights, this made many residents of western North Dakota feel trampled once the boom began.

In 2006, a land man for Marathon Oil offered to lease the Schwalbe siblings’ 480 acres of minerals for $100 an acre plus royalties on every sixth barrel of oil.

“Within a few years, people were getting 20, 30 times that and every fifth barrel,” Mr. Schwalbe said. But the Schwalbes did not expect “to see any oil come up out of that ground in our lifetime.”

Oil companies were just starting to combine horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing to tap into the mother lode of Bakken oil. “We didn’t really know yet about fracking,” he said.

The Schwalbes’ first well was drilled in 2008, their second the next year. Powerless to block the development, Mr. Schwalbe and his wife, nearing retirement, took some comfort in the extra income, the few thousand dollars a month.

Then that was threatened, too.

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