The bleak landscape of oil development on the Bakken Shale.

Inside the Bakken: A Documentary Commences To Describe Life on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation

Terri Hansen
11/12/12

Time was when traffic in North Dakota’s portion of the Bakken oil field was a rare vehicle crossing an expansive horizon on a tiny roadway.

The roadways are still tiny, but traffic has increased monumentally on the Bakken geologic formation, the largest contiguous oil field discovery in U.S. history, says the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

It has also brought a huge increase in traffic accidents, while services at the tiny hospital are limited. The industrialization and population boom has strained water supplies, sewage systems, and federal, state and tribal governmental services in the area, as NPR has reported. Exponentially increased amounts of dust drift across deteriorating roadways. Jobs are plentiful and high paying, but there’s housing shortage, and most of what’s there is makeshift. The once quiet one-bar town of Williston has had an influx of prostitutes, while a thinly stretched police force must now regularly quell once nonexistent bar fights, according to the documentary Faces of the Oil Patch.

Scenes and images such as these have inspired Native American journalist Jodi Rave to film her own documentary. She has assembled a production team to shoot 7-Oil-1: Inside the Bakken. Citizens of the Three Affiliated Tribes will research, interview and script the project. A dedicated technical film crew will shoot, edit and assist in sound production. The project is currently in Phase 1 funding to complete the trailer.

The Bakken field covers western North Dakota, eastern Montana, and southern Saskatchewan, Canada. The North Dakota portion of the Bakken play has drawn thousands of oil field workers, and scores of oil exploration companies, “bringing instant wealth to the state, families, and individuals,” writes Rave.

Unlike other formations developed using standard vertical wells, the Bakken play requires the use of horizontal wells, and the technology implemented in late 2008 of shooting chemicals mixed with millions of gallons of sand and water thousands of feet underground to artificially fracture the rock and allow oil to escape and flow into the oil well in a process better known as fracking. Its use has increased the number of producing wells to 7,701 today on the Bakken play.

In the midst of this rapidly changing social, cultural, environmental and economical landscape are the Three Affiliated Tribes, also known as the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (MHA), of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. At least one tribal citizen feels they are being “trampled” by oil impacts like housing shortages, cost of living increases, dangerous truck traffic, and increased crime, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

As major media outlets from the New Yorker, PBS and Planet Green filmed and wrote about North Dakota’s oil boom while overlooking citizens of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, MHA tribal member Jodi Rave and other tribal citizens saw the need for a documentary film about their issues. Learn more about her efforts here, and in the video below.

Related stories:

Life on the Fort Berthold Reservation from an Oil and Gas Specialist

North Dakota Oil Boom Bringing Jobs, Wealth—and a Looming Humanitarian Crisis

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page