Posts tagged ‘crude oil’

March 18, 2013

For the best stories, dig deep


One of my favorite games in life is trying to find life lessons in the world around me. They’re everywhere.

I’ve learned from writing about the Bakken area of North Dakota that there’s oil, and then there’s oil–which, when I apply it to my writing life, really means there’s writing, and then there’s really great, can’t-put-it-down, can’t-wait-to-read-it-writing. For me, this includes both fiction and nonfiction.

It takes a lot of work to get Bakken oil out of the ground. The wells are deep. They’re drilled vertically to about two miles from the surface, and then they’re turned and drilled laterally for up to another two miles or so before the formation is fractured.

To me, that’s what good writing is like. You have to dig deep–way beyond the surface of the story. You have to go beyond the normal depths, twist with the story, dig sideways and up and down within the story’s formation and plot even if it hurts. You dig deep.

Then, when you know your story and your place in it and where everything seems to fit best, you crack it open.

In a horizontal well, the hydraulic fracturing process opens up tiny cracks in the rock that allows the oil trapped there to move into the well bore.

When you’re writing, this is like taking an even deeper look at your scenes, your dialogue, your action sequences, and your characterization. You crack them open, ask yourself what details are missing, what’s simply too much, what else will add to the story–and then, you let the story flow like oil into a well bore.

One of the really great things about Bakken oil is how little refining it needs compared to oil from other formations around the country. I suppose if you do it right, if you really know your story, crack it open and let it flow, the refining process for editing and rewrites could be simplified, too.

Most likely I’m reading too much into this. I do that sometimes–but I can’t help thinking that the best things I’ve written personally have been pieces where I’ve known the story inside and out, even when not all of the details appear in the finished product. This is something I’ve learned gradually over the past few years, and it’s not something I have a great handle on yet,even though it makes complete sense to me. It’s something to work on.

Romance author Carrie Spencer recently posted on Word Play on a similar topic. I loved her ideas. She wrote about how, in her first book, she chose the plot and characters and went with the first careers, settings, etc. that occurred to her. Since then, she’s discovered that plots and characters become more unique, more interesting if writers don’t use the first idea that pops up. She recommends taking an option further down the list and working with that. She wrote:

You can play this game with all parts of your story. Use it to turn your setting from blah to ta-da. Turn your hero from a boring man in a beautiful suit to someone who has pizzazz and personality. Take your heroine from a beautiful woman who owns a hotel to one who has multiple secrets about her past and is on the edge of disaster.

It also reminded me of something Rachel Aaron wrote in 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better and write more of what you love. As a way to up her writing productivity, she began detailed plotting lists of what she meant to write before she began her writing sessions, with terrific results. Sounds like cracking a story open, to me! I appreciate people who write about these kinds of experiences and allow me to learn from them.

March 11, 2013

Why writers have to consider semantics

Rose colored glasses--sort of! :)

Rose colored glasses–sort of! 🙂

The more I write, the more I understand that semantics and definitions really do matter to readers.

In the oil industry, for instance, there’s a real difference between oil shale and shale oil. Getting the two mixed up can completely change the meaning of the article–it can even impact whether the article makes sense.

And, as I learned this past week, my definition of one word has a completely different meaning to the wider world. I’ve thought quite a bit about it, and I can’t help smiling over it. I always knew I was at least a little bit odd (we all have our eccentricities). It still amazes me how different frames of reference impact the way we define words in our world.

Just for the fun of it, I’ve listed a few words that, upon some reflection, I define a little differently than at least a few people I know. Like the word ‘simple,’ most of these words have become goals for me to shoot for. I’d love to be able to define my life these ways.

Meek–I think this word is thought of far too often as a synonym for ‘weak.’ I recently heard a new definition for it: meekness is absolute power, under absolute control. I haven’t been able to think of it the same way since.  How wonderful would it be to know you had the power to crush your enemies, but the self-discipline and compassion to help them, instead?

Feminine–To me, feminine doesn’t mean prissy, prudish, or frilly. It also doesn’t mean feminist, which I think demonstrates the other end of the spectrum.

In my mind, the word ‘feminine’ embodies strength–the quiet, uncomplaining kind. Patience, a willingness to sacrifice for others, a dedication to home, family and work (whatever that may be), cheerfulness and compassion are part of it, too. The most feminine women I know are also kind to themselves. That alone has to take an amazing amount of inner strength.

Kind of a tall order, don’t you think?

Courage–Growing up, I thought of courage as the lack of fear. I still sometimes think of it that way, but my personal definition has expanded to include this idea: real courage means having the integrity to live openly and authentically without worrying much about what other people in the world think.

So, maybe I just see the world through rose-colored glasses, but I’m really curious now. Does anyone else think of these particular words this way? Are the words that other writers define differently than other people?

If so, I’d love to hear about it. These are the kinds of things that writers have to take into account, if not in their writing, then at least in their re-writing and editing.

February 25, 2013

Six life lessons I’ve learned from the Bakken

Quick note: this photo was  taken in Utah, not North Dakota--but most drilling rigs look similar to me!

Quick note: this photo was taken in Utah, not North Dakota–but most drilling rigs look similar to me!

For the past few years, I’ve written contributed to a publication focused on oil exploration, development and production in the Bakken area of North Dakota. I’ve written before about how these kinds of articles are my constant education–and I love it.  That’s at least partly because, beyond being able to speak and write about it somewhat intelligently, it teaches me about life.

Here are the top five life lessons I’ve learned from the Bakken:

When you hit rock bottom and can’t go up, go sideways.

Horizontal drilling has and will continue to be a major factor in the amount of oil that’s recovered in the Bakken area of North Dakota. For those unfamiliar with this idea, wells are drilled vertically to a certain point (about two miles deep in the Bakken), then turned and drilled horizontally for about another two miles.

This life lesson occurred to me one day when I was contemplating what it felt like to hit rock bottom. There are times when you’re down, and you just can’t seem to get back up, to return to your starting point and try again.

In these instances, there’s usually some wiggle room if you look for it. If you go sideways, at least you’re moving, and you never know what pool of resources you might hit.

Just keep moving.

Sometimes you have to combine methods to get anything done.

Oil flow in the Bakken is determined by a variety of factors. Combining horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing has made a huge impact in the amount of oil that’s recoverable from the oil formations in North Dakota.

My writing life is very much like that. I love writing fiction. I love poetry. I love blogging. I love writing nonfiction articles.

It seems to take a combination of all of these, plus a combination of forces outside writing, to keep me balanced, healthy, and happy enough to serve my family and those around me.

My life’s lesson: think beyond what you’ve done in the past, combine your methods for reaching happiness, and let the creative juices flow.

Face life’s bottlenecks.

The oil patch in North Dakota produces more crude oil than it can get to market. To date, there simply haven’t been enough pipelines to move the product to the coasts where producers can get the best price for their oil. Pipeline projects are a big deal for this state, but so are other options like trucking the oil (mostly locally) and using rail to carry it sometimes as far as refineries on the east coast.

My personal bottlenecks usually come in the form of time management issues. Raising a family, managing a household, volunteering in my community, and writing everything I can all compete for my attention.

In my world, getting things done is like getting a product to market. It’s not something that can be ignored, but with determination to work through the issues and some creative thinking, these problems usually solve themselves.

It’s okay to be your own pipeline, to truck your own writing work and to be responsible for getting your own ideas to market.

It’s also okay to follow North Dakota’s example and find help. Like the railroad system, letting other people help you move your writing work while you concentrate on building other personal ‘pipelines’ can be a valuable investment.

Always try new things.

I really believe that success in the Bakken is based on ongoing research. Every time the issue has come up in an interview, I’ve been told the oil companies and their partners are always trying new things to increase their efficiency and decrease their ecological footprint on the land.

In the few years that I’ve been writing about the Bakken, I’ve seen a handful of new technologies make a real difference.

My lesson has been to allow my curiosity to get the better of me whenever I can. The writing methods I learn about from fiction have already improved my ability to write creative nonfiction; the methods I learned from writing articles apply to my blogging and to my editing.

The cycle continues. I’ve come to believe that personal research, trial labs and other educational pursuits are one of the best indicators of how well and how often I reach my goals.

Steer your own drilling bit.

Producers rely on all kinds of technology to help them steer the drilling bit (which is sometimes miles away) from the surface. They have to know as much as they can about what’s going on underground: what the rock formations are like, where the resources are, what they want to have happen.

This might be akin to always trying new things, but knowing what’s going on in the area you’re working in can make a big difference in where you go and how fast you get there.

This includes setting goals. Deciding where to go is the first big step, and only you know where you really want to be.

Tactfully refusing to listen to people who don’t know anything about where you’re drilling is the second step. You’ll never get where you want to go if you let other people steer your drilling bit—but keep your goal in mind, lead out, and they’ll usually follow.

Living unselfishly is part of living the dream.

I’ve often been surprised at how quick oil companies are to lend a hand to the communities they work in. I recently learned of a huge donation to a city to help develop affordable housing. I can think of a number of other projects where oil companies have worked to decrease traffic on the roads, help protect wildlife near oil resource areas, and more.

All this while they’re producing oil, making money for the state and employing a huge work force—is it possible?

If nothing else, it emphasizes the idea that I can do things for others even while I try to make life better for my family and myself.

I can recycle; I can make small donations of my own to local charities; I can pitch in and help when someone needs something—and, if I use my time right, I can do this even while I manage my household, raise my children, keep falling in love with my sweetheart and write, write, write!

Granted, I can’t do everything—but I can do some things, and that makes living the dream completely worthwhile.

January 10, 2013

Why I can’t choose a writing niche


Has anyone ever read the book Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly?

I picked this book out of a bargain bin at a traveling book fair about eight years ago. I was excited. NOW I had all the answers; NOW I’d be able to make money writing, enough money to pay off our mortgage and allow my sweetheart husband to retire young.

I was in for a surprise.

Naively, I expected to learn about how to write award-winning freelance articles for major newspapers and national magazines. I anticipated taking notes on the three easy steps that would propel my status from a simple freelance journalist to syndicated-column fame.

Instead, I found a book packed full of ideas on how to break into the world of commercial sales writing. I get the impression that Mr. Bly makes more than a decent living writing the kinds of letters you get from insurance agents and sweepstakes.

I just wasn’t sure that type of writing was for me.

It’s not that I hate sales. I wrote my share of advertorials for a small city publication in North Dakota. Most of the time, it was enjoyable. The small corporate publicity brochures and sales papers I worked on were downright fun.

Stretching myself far enough to create an entire home industry based on sales pitches just seemed too far to go at the time.

I thought of this experience again during an interview the other day, when it became clear that yet another big oil public relations representative came from a journalistic background not much different from my own.

That’s happened a lot recently. I couldn’t stand it anymore. At the close of the interview, I found myself tapping my pen on my notepad, shoring up my nerve, asking an impertinent question I wasn’t sure I should ask.

“I know you don’t have time right now, but can I e-mail you sometime about setting up an appointment to find out more about why you became a public relations representative?” The words came out in a rush, and I had to repeat myself.

Mr. Public Relations’ voice changed. He stumbled over words for a second or two, but his tone morphed from ‘Professional-answerer-of-your-oil-related-questions’ to ‘Delighted-to-share-my-experiences-with-you.’ You can bet I’ll call him back after I meet the deadline I’m working on.

No, I’m not planning to become a publicist. I’m just curious about it. It’s like another ‘secret’ of a freelance writer, and I want to know what’s making so many journalists cross to the other side of writing.

Well, one other side of writing, anyway. The more I learn, the more I realize that there are ALL KINDS of writing experiences to be had. Here are a few of the many writing skills I want to learn:

  • Poetry
  • Mysteries or suspense novels
  • Young adult paranormal fiction (Not vampires and werewolves, though)
  • Nonfiction how-to books
  • Blogging (apparently)
  • Syndicated columnist (I dream about this one, but I’ve never looked very far into it—maybe I should really try this sometime)
  • Marketing (even Mr. Bly types of sales pitches)
  • Epic family and personal histories
  • Personal essays (You know–the kind that changes the world)

Some of these I’m actively practicing. Others I merely dabble in, although I plan to delve deeply into them someday.

What does that mean for me right now?

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I think it means I haven’t found a niche yet. I love too many things right now to specialize very well.

I know it’s probably not possible to write it all, at least not in this mortality. Still. After all these years, I remain at that place where I love writing in every form.

For that reason, I collect books on the writing craft. My newest acquisition, Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Ned Stuckey-French, arrived last week.

I’m sure I’ll find surprises in this book, too. I look forward to that.

My newest learn-how-to-write book! I've waited a while for this one.

My newest learn-how-to-write book! I’ve waited a while for this one.

Meanwhile, I’m curious. What do other people want to write about most?

January 9, 2013

The North Dakota Legislature and Bakken Oil


The North Dakota State Legislature is in session. I’m here in Utah, getting bits and pieces of what’s going on through the news and short interviews as I work on a Bakken Breakout article.

In some ways, it’s still odd to think I’m not a part of that scene anymore. I only covered the Legislature for two sessions, but the experience was life-changing.

During the 2007 session, I heard about the Bakken area of North Dakota for the first time. I had hydraulic fracturing explained to me, was introduced to horizontal drilling and realized there was more beneath the surface (literally) than I ever imagined. Who knew that it would spark my interest so much?

Now, as I write about the industry, my mind floats back to one particular Senate committee meeting.

I don’t even remember the bill the committee was working on, but it had to do with the Bakken area. There was standing room only. With so many bodies packed into the modest-sized room, it was unbearably hot, even near the door. I took notes while standing, shifting from one foot to another when the discomfort got to me.

Several people testified. The Department of Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas Division brought rock samples to pass around, which helped them explain terms like porosity and permeability and cap rocks. During one of the presentations, someone held up a jar about half full of oil from a Bakken well.

“You can see this looks like honey,” he said. “This is actually oil. We call it light, sweet crude.”

It did, indeed, look like honey.

Perhaps it was being able to swirl it around in the jar or handle the rock samples. The heat and the standing drained my energy, but something about that experience filled me with anticipation. It was like getting a sneak peek at a science experiment that could save the world someday.

I don’t know if it’s really that dramatic, but the Bakken hasn’t failed to provide surprises. Science and technology developments continue there. Those oil fields provided money for the state when the rest of the nation struggled, and for those of us who simply like watching good things happen, the excitement reaffirmed our hope.

I’m glad I’m not at the Legislature this time around. There’s no way I could handle it and a toddler, too. I learned a lot during my time there, but I’ve moved on to different lessons, and they take as much energy as I can give them.

I’ll be watching, though, and I expect to see good things.

December 27, 2012

Four social strategies to ease telecommuting stress

Get out for a walk!

Get out for a walk!

Anyone who’s ever worked from home for a significant time will connect with Steven J. Brachmann’s new post, Telecommuting: A Tough Life.

I’ve worked mostly from home for the past 17 years or so, mostly as a freelance writer. From my perspective, the pros are incredible–flexible work hours, time with my children, no commute, no special wardrobe, and my own personal office (once a bedroom, I’m sure) that meets my needs for a daydream space. It’s my happy place.

This is also the lifestyle I want for myself. I love being able to snuggle with my toddler when he needs me or help my older children with their school work. Writing what I want, when I want and accepting the assignments that bring me the most education and happiness is deeply satisfying. In many ways, working at home is a dream come true.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. Some of them I’ve addressed in earlier posts–Messy Office, Messy Mind and Baby in the background: is this professional? are the first two examples that spring to mind.

Brachmann, however, discusses a challenge I haven’t yet broached: freelancers sometimes feel keenly isolated.

From his post:

I’d add an extra one to this list: Get out. Seriously. Leave your house, if only for a walk. I lived for a month with a very close friend of mine in a different state; it sounded like it would be a great vacation. After three weeks of seeing nobody but him day after day, I began to get a little stir crazy. When you don’t leave the house for work, what do you leave the house for? Working some fresh air into my schedule has done wonders for myself.

For myself, I’ve found three things that help alleviate the crazy sense that you’re all alone in the world.

  1. Send weekly updates to your clients. This seems like a common-sense maneuver, but I have to admit it’s a practice I’ve only recently taken up. It’s been especially valuable with my oil field writing, as so much of that is extremely detail oriented and it’s sometimes difficult to get in touch with sources. Keeping the editor in the loop is simply a good idea. These weekly updates have also been a great tool for keeping me on track with long-term projects for private clients–and the interaction, even if it’s just weekly, is at least a connection to the outside world. Every telecommuter needs that.
  2. Get on Facebook (or your other favorite social networking site) at least once a day. Yes, I’m serious. I know, I know, it’s sooooo easy to waste time there…but a kind word or two from you to a friend needing encouragement can never go wrong. They’ll be likely to return the favor, and besides, giving someone a smile–even if it’s only electronically–helps you remember that you have something to offer to the wider world. Sometimes it even motivates you to get together with your friends–and that brings me to my third point.
  3. At least once a week, visit with someone. In person. This might mean taking a friend to lunch, taking supper to the neighbor, or calling a friend and heading out the door for a run together. It doesn’t have to be big. It certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to be time consuming. Twenty minutes, for me, does the trick–although I like to do this more than once a week if I can, simply because it’s fun.
  4. Call someone who understands why you do what you do. For me, the effectiveness of this strategy falls between a Facebook contact and an in-person chat. I call a friend from out of state who also loves writing and editing. Just hearing her speak enthusiastically about the work she’s doing is enough to keep me motivated on rough days.

In the long run, these small efforts have paid off big for me. Not only have I felt more productive at work (due at least in part to the new perspectives I get from fresh air and fun human interaction), but my social life has blossomed.

That’s another challenge that people who work at home face sometimes, but I have to say, that problem is always totally worth it.

December 26, 2012

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.

December 18, 2012

The Bakken, history, writing and hope

The blog I used to write...

The blog I used to write…

For me, the history of the Bakken oil field began in 2007. I was covering the North Dakota State Legislature at the time. If I remember right, there were a few bills presented to help make horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing easier or more profitable–something like that.

But the real history of this particular oil field stretches back to the 1950s, when oil was first discovered near Tioga. Oil companies have worked there ever since, although not always vigorously.

As I understand it, there was a boom in the 1980s. People invested in housing and infrastructure, and then the boom went bust. It was a hard time for North Dakota.

The Bakken oil boom seems to be here to stay, but people haven’t forgotten. While they’re investing in housing and infrastructure now, they’re cautious.

Why am I writing about this now?

There are a couple of reasons–and believe it or not, they have to do with my writing life.

One: The history of the Bakken closely parallels how I tend to do things.

I start something, perhaps a project like a crocheted afghan, and I think it’s going to be big…but before too long I set it aside and only work on it once in a while. Then someone’s birthday comes along, and I realize I can finish the project to use as a gift…so I hurry, hurry to finish it, only to find I run out of steam (and yarn) before I get close to the end.

A few years later, I find myself doing the same thing again, only this time, I seem to be a little more committed. I’ve learned some. I apply my learning, and although it takes a huge investment of time and energy, I actually get the project finished.

This has happened to me in several areas of my life: painting, crafts and handiwork (including crochet), gardening, home improvement and, yes, writing. Embarrassing, but true.

Two:  Just because something doesn’t work out the first time doesn’t mean you can’t hope for the future.

It had to be disheartening for folks in the Williston Basin in the 1980s when they discovered the oil boom wasn’t sustainable. Technologies like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling hadn’t yet caught up to the underground reserves. The Bakken is in better position now to deliver hope (as well as oil and jobs) across North Dakota.

That also runs a parallel to some personal experiences, namely, the first book I tried to write.

It was a fantasy book, a trilogy about a girl who takes over the world. I had a great time writing it, and I knew it would be a bestseller…but then I finished it, and I tried to send it to a few places.

Of course, it got rejected. I hadn’t bothered to run it through an editor to discover where the plot holes were or how to fix them. I was young and more than a bit foolish, and I’m ashamed to admit I set the project aside for more than a decade.

I still don’t know whether I’ll go back to that book. I don’t even know if I want to be a bestseller anymore. My heart has changed somewhat, and while the idea isn’t scary to me, I’m currently more interested in becoming a better writer.

I have learned this much, though: there are new resources for writers out there every day. There are social networks, writing groups, writer’s conferences, friends, editors, bookstores.

Where so many resources abound, technologies and skills are bound to catch up. It doesn’t mean it will be easy. Like the Bakken, the investment may at first seem to be more than some people are willing to bear—but if they keep trying, the hope is there, underground, waiting to be discovered and pulled to the surface.

For some great information on the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, try these sites/online articles:

December 8, 2012

The blog I used to write

The blog I used to write...

The blog I used to write…

Sometime around 2005, I began blogging for a local blog network. The blog I worked on was called Dakota Lifestyle: beyond the weather. I chose that name because, at that time, North Dakota wasn’t a well-known state. My out of state friends routinely asked me two questions: how cold it was, and how far it was to Mount Rushmore.

“Mount Rushmore isn’t even in North Dakota,” I’d tell them. “Why don’t you come visit sometime, and I’ll take you to Fort Lincoln State Park, instead?”

Very few of them came.

It’s odd to think how things have changed in the past seven years or so. Now my family and I have moved away from North Dakota. When we tell people where we’ve moved from, we hear things like “Oh, I have a brother that just moved there. He’s got a good job in the oil field.”


Oil production, specifically in the Bakken area, put North Dakota on the map. People know about it now, but they don’t always understand what a great place North Dakota was to live and to work. I still like to brag on the outings my family and I had there. It’s a historically rich area of the country, full of tiny, very interesting museums (including the house General Custer lived in at Fort Lincoln State Park), gorgeous riverside parks, and wide open spaces. Around the end of June and beginning of July, a country drive looked like a green, yellow and purple patchwork quilt. Those canola fields were some of the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever seen. Side by side with a blossoming periwinkle flax field, it was breathtaking.

Utah is beautiful in a completely different way. There’s geometry here, triangles of mountain peaks and rectangular slabs of swirling sandstone, blues and browns and reds stacked on top of each other in interesting patterns. There’s oil here, too. The northeast corner of the state is peppered with new wells.

I don’t have a blog for writing about Utah, but I’m as proud to live here as I was to live in North Dakota.

I gave up that first blog sometime in 2007. If I remember right, I had just finished reporting on the 2007 session of the North Dakota Legislature (where I heard the name Bakken for the very first time). I was weary of writing on strict deadlines. Sometimes during that session, I wrote up to four articles in a day. By the time that session of the Legislature ended, setting the blog aside and taking some time to breathe seemed like the most sane thing to do.

Funny how life works. I’m blogging again. I’ve missed it. As I’ve mused on that first blog over the past few days, I’ve discovered three important things about myself:

  • I keep writing. I’ve told myself more than once that I needed to slow down, to pace myself or to quit writing for anyone but myself altogether. I’ve even tried it, once or twice, and I always find myself excited about taking new assignments again. It’s more than an addiction. It’s something that I need to do–and most of the time I don’t care what the topic is. I can write about serious, intricate topics like the Bakken oil industry just as happily as I can write about chocolate. Life–my writing life–is simply delicious.
  • My family likes me better when I write. A few years ago, one of my daughters told me, “Mom, you’re cranky. You need to go write something.” Even now, a few days away from a deadline, my children seem content to see me clicking away on my keyboard. The fun of it all is beginning to rub off on my oldest two children. They’re both working on books of their own now. Whether anything ever comes of it doesn’t matter. The fact that they’re joining me in my craft (and finding as much pleasure in it as I do) matters quite a bit. Writing is how we include each other in our secret worlds, and I think my children like connecting with me this way.
  • I like myself better when I write, too. I like the sense of accomplishment after meeting a deadline, the warmth of laughter at the end of the day when my daughters and I share what we’ve worked on, the quiet ebb and flow of thoughts while I’m sitting behind my desk. Writing has turned me into someone who can think, feel and talk about important topics with other people, but most of all, writing has made me a heroine in my own world.
December 6, 2012

The Bakken and my constant education


A few days ago someone asked me when I became syndicated. “I’ve never been syndicated,” I had to tell her, “But I’ve been a regular contributor for one publication for quite a while now.”

I’ve always told myself—and others, too—that writing is my constant education; putting together articles for this particular publication certainly has been. While I’ve written about the energy industry for a few other magazines, I’ve never had the opportunity to delve into it as deeply as I wanted. Now I’m up to my ears in a river of information concerning the oil and gas industry.

That’s not a bad thing. There’s something to be said for driving past an outpost of metal buildings and suddenly understanding that I’m looking at a disposal well or a set of frack tanks. I get excited when I see water trucks heading into the hills or lines of oil tank cars moving down the rails. Although I do most of my work by telephone, I feel camaraderie with the folks who live and work in the Williston Basin, the Bakken area of North Dakota.

Those are almost my old stomping grounds, after all.   It’s only been a year since my family and I moved away from North Dakota. In many ways it’s still my home.

Maybe that’s why it’s wonderful to see so much growth there, spurred on by the booming oil industry. While other states struggle with funding, North Dakota is in great shape. It makes me proud.

It also makes me worry. Conversations with friends in the Bismarck area leave me baffled. The real estate market there is crazy. I’ve heard there are no houses on the market. If one comes available, it’s bought quickly. It doesn’t sound like there are many rental units, either. I can’t begin to imagine how much harder it is to find a place to live in Williston or Tioga or even Dickinson.

And, like Christmas, the Bakken oil industry has become a new center for commercialization. I just received an issue of a new magazine, North Dakota Business. One of the featured articles was an oil impact report.  Several of the ads inside were for new housing units, shopping areas and commercial office space in the Williston area.

It’s becoming a trend. The Great Plains Examiner, a small Bismarck-area newspaper that has been in business for a year or year and a half now, has just been purchased. New plans are to expand it to cover western North Dakota, including the oil patch, if I understand this article correctly.

I guess I’m not the only person who’s become intrigued by the Bakken and by oil production in general. And it’s quite possible that the world needs more than one publication to tell about it. The oil industry is intricate, full of proprietary information, binding contracts and new technologies advanced enough to give me writer’s block. The housing crisis is something else worth writing about, perhaps from a different angle.

Deep down, I believe the Bakken area is getting so much interest because it could be at least part of the solution to becoming nationally energy-independent (hand in hand with clean production technologies, wind farms and renewable energy resources).

But what does this mean for me personally?


Well, if I’m going to keep writing about it, I’ve still got a lot to learn.

And that’s okay. It’s my constant education, after all, and I love it.

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