Oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation and Alberta’s tar sands is helping to reshape oil markets, creating a worldwide glut and sending prices plunging. Opposition to developing these resources has focused mainly on their contribution to global climate change and on the Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry crude to refineries. NASA scientist James Hanson famously declared that if the tar sands are developed, “it will be game over for the climate.”
Less attention has focused on the social and cultural effects of frenzied, reckless oil exploitation. While most small towns in the Great Plains wrestle with depopulation, western North Dakota is presumably enjoying the pleasures of growth. The boom has indeed brought an influx of newcomers, new businesses, and tax revenues, yet in some ways its effects are as devastating as population decline.