A writer’s stewardship: green living, responsible reporting


One of the most interesting things I’ve investigated this year while writing about the Bakken oil fields is water.

More specifically, I read about clean water technologies and talked to as many people as I could. It’s amazing how much the new technologies can do to keep groundwater safe.

Even better, these technologies are being used to recycle water used in the oil fields.

  •  One company specialized in a purely mechanical, highly efficient way of separating oil, water and solids. The water was re-used for drilling and production purposes and even the solids were useful as soil buffer zones in landfills.
  • Another company I looked at developed a subsurface irrigation system for farmers who have gas wells close to or on their property. The irrigation systems recycle production water from the gas fields. This technology works more with gas fields than with oil fields, but I believe they did open an office in North Dakota last year.
  • Yet another company has found an extremely safe biocide that can help control corrosive bacteria, thus helping prevent underground spills and leaks from damaged pipes and casings.

I love what these companies are doing.

I’ve lived away from North Dakota for more than a year now. It’s only fair to ask this question: why do I think about these things now, and what does it have to do with writing in general?

First, I think that everyone has an obligation to be a good steward of local resources no matter what career they have. This includes writers; if all we can do is reuse old papers for shopping lists and work more electronically, we’re moving in the right direction. No one has to be a fanatic about it for the world to find clean energy solutions, and green living can happen in small ways everywhere you look.

Second, it’s imperative that writers look on the good side of the issues they write about.

Here’s why: companies who have experienced negative articles become less likely to talk to the press. One or two stories like that makes it so all writers who need to contact them for information suffer, and the readers suffer, too.

From my perspective, this has happened somewhat in the oil fields. For one article I wrote earlier this year, a main source pulled out at the last minute because of bad press experiences. Two other sources requested that if I used their information, I leave their names and the names of the companies they worked for out of the story.

Sure, people should be informed if something goes wrong.

They should also be informed about the good things going on. The issue is getting corporate representatives to talk when they’re afraid all you’re capable of is airing dirty laundry.

I sometimes think writing is a bit like using the Force in Star Wars.

Negative stories tend to be angry and accusatory in tone. They grab attention powerfully, and because of this they might seem easier or more seductive–but these negative articles have headlines that scream in the faces of their readers. Who enjoys that?

Positive stories are quieter…they’re found behind the scenes, working unobtrusively but powerfully to make the world better.  They’re also more common. Writers may have to work harder to find them because they have to fight through the negative voices of the world to get to them.

And yet, by their sheer numbers, the positive stories can yield as strong an effect as the negative ones do. We just have to give them a chance.

The world won’t know the good things going on in any arena—education, politics, or environmentally sensitive areas like the oil and gas fields–unless writers are willing to seek out good information and write positive stories.

That includes the positive things happening in the Bakken. Personally, I’m always happy to write about technologies that recycle water in the oil and gas fields, and I enjoy learning about the oil fields in general. Sometimes I might say too much about the Bakken, about North Dakota, about life in general.

That’s only because I believe all good things should be celebrated. Writing about them is one way to do that.

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