Kris Kitko is a folk singer and in the tradition of same, she uses her voice and guitar to comment on the issues of the day. In North Dakota, that means commenting on one of the biggest issues in North Dakota, the oil that is being produced in the Western part of the state near the communities of Williston and Dickinson. During the recent recession, North Dakota has boasted of an unemployment rate of around 3%.
Its state budget has been running at a surplus of approximately $1 billion. A lot of people in the state have been crediting that with the excise taxes that the state gets from oil revenues.
Its a tough environment in which to raise concerns about how the oil is being extracted. The oil is held in shale. The process of getting the oil from the shale is called fracking.
Fracking uses water, sand and other chemicals to create fractures in the shale so that the oil can flow into the wells and be brought to the surface.
But, Kitko and others are raising uncomfortable questions about how the oil is being brought out of the ground and doing it in an environment where people are seeing substantial benefit to the oil in terms of jobs and revenues being brought into the state. Being a folk-singer, Kitko has already put her feelings about the fracking process to music in a song thats available to listen to on her website (kriskitko.com). But shes also become the public face for people raising the issue about what fracking does to the environment.
She says that her fellow North Dakotans are afraid to do so right now and so there have been anonymous postings on a blog called Bakken Watch (bakkenwatch.blogspot.com). But, the online activity for this group has shifted mainly to a Facebook group.
Kitko does admit that she is one of the people who is posting news stories and other material to the Facebook page, but does say that there is another person who is primarily responsible for the page but does not wish to reveal her identity. Thats because, says Kitko, there are repercussions for speaking out against the states oil boom. Being a somewhat public person due to her performing, Kitko says she has received what she calls, veiled threats, such as I hope you dont go into any dark alleys, that sort of thing.
What Kitko says people fear more, has to do with the nature of the state. North Dakotas population is under 1,000,000.
Its biggest cities are on the Eastern border. The oil counties are out west where communities are much smaller and close knit. People there fear being shunned, says Kitko. She says that they do get moral support from anti-fracking groups in states like Pennsylvania. But, they say things like, just contact your local anti-fracking group. She adds that they dont quite understand what North Dakota is like, although they have shown a lot of kindness to us.
There is no base of support that makes people feel more comfortable speaking out against pollution.
She says that they dont get any support from state officials, We keep getting told, theres been no contamination, but Ive been on a womans land where shes shown me a small pond thats fizzing.
One of the major steps that Kitko says that the few anti-fracking activists are trying to do is to raise money for more environmental testing.
She says, Were told it doesnt really count until someone official does it. The EPA has been conducting tests in the Killdeer area for contamination of the residents wells.
EPA testing in Pennsylvania has determined that that while some wells are contaminated, the chemicals that were found in the wells were not at dangerous levels. Kitko says that she and the other people in North Dakota who are raising these concerns want to keep people talking, before we destroy the land, or develop hot pockets for cancer.
Where they are making some headway, says Kitko, is that we are allowed to talk about the infrastructure.
The huge influx of people to oil country for work has raised concerns about not enough housing, and an increase in rents.
Roads in the west are starting to feel the wear of more trucks hauling heavy equipment than for which they were intended. Emergency service providers have said they dont have enough people to cover police and medical services for everyone who is out there now.
School officials say they need more facilities and teachers for those who have moved their families for the area.
Kitko says she is not blind to the economic benefits of the states new boom. I know people who have benefitted from this, she says, but what are they going to do when they dont have their health?
Jon R. Pike writes in Fargo, North Dakota. See jon-pike.suite101.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2012
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