Flip a coin. Heads or tails? The odds are fifty-fifty either way. Make a bet and take your chances. A gamble is just that—a decision that has risk attached to it. Someone wins. But someone loses. When it comes to fracking—the process of extracting otherwise unreachable oil and natural gas by driving fresh water mixed with other substances, some toxic, into layers of rock—the bets become less mathematically clear.
In this month’s cover story, “The New Oil Landscape,” writer Edwin Dobb lays out the choices. On one side of the equation are abundant fossil fuels, less dependence on foreign sources, and the kind of economic prosperity that comes with jobs. On the other side is the possibility of contaminated groundwater, environmental degradation, and what Dobb calls a loss of prairie values—“silence, solitude, serenity.”
All this is happening on the North Dakota plains. I know them well. As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I would make the drive from my home in Oregon to Minneapolis straight through that corner of North Dakota where the Missouri hangs a right turn. It was the same territory that Lewis and Clark explored in 1805. Later, as a photographer on a story about Sacagawea, I gave that landscape an even closer look. It is a land of long horizons, fragrant with wild mint and freshly cut alfalfa, and wheat fields tousled by the constant breath of wind. I think about what that landscape was once like and how it’s changing. I hope our readers will think about that too.