Sarah Christianson


Tioga Lateral Alliance Pipeline through the Jorgensons’ land, White Earth Valley, ND

When the Landscape is Quiet Again
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Since 2012, I have been documenting the legacy of oil booms and busts in my home state and how the region is changing again today due to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. My photographs bear witness to the transformation of western North Dakota’s quiet agrarian landscape into an industrial zone dotted with well sites, criss-crossed by pipelines, lit up by natural gas flares, and contaminated by oil and saltwater spills. The Bakken oil field is currently pumping out over a million barrels per day from over 10,000 active wells, and companies may drill thousands more.

These activities have brought a steady stream of revenue, people, and jobs to this economically depressed region. Everyone wants a piece of the action, including my family: since the start of the boom we have been profiting from oil wells drilled on land that my great-grandparents homesteaded in 1912. Although many other families are doing the same, I am still torn: what are the hidden costs of this prosperity? I examine the scars from North Dakota’s prior boom-and-bust cycles and the new wounds being inflicted upon my home because the status quo must change: something needs to be left for the next generation, not the next quarter.

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This project has been supported by grants from the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Center for Cultural Innovation. Additional support has been provided by RayKo Photo Center and in-the-field assistance has been given by the Dakota Resource Council, Killdeer Mountain Alliance, Northwest Landowners Association, and numerous individuals.