JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Thanksgiving Proclamation

President George Washington declared Nov. 26, 1789, the fourth Thursday of November, to be celebrated as a day of American thanksgiving.

Try to imagine how much Americans of 1789 had to be thankful for:

  • Just six years earlier, they had fought and won a war for their independence, to create their own country.
  • Just two years earlier, they had adopted a Constitution, which stands today.
  • Just eight months earlier, they had elected their first president, a great general who had led them to their victory for independence.

Today, we give thanks to President George Washington and those Americans of 1789. Nothing we do today, 229 years later, can even begin to compare with what they did.

Here are Washington’s words. We should read them often.

PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON’S THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor

And whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks

— for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation

— for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war

— for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed

— for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted

— for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions

— to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually

— to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed

— to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord

— to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us

— and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

President of the United States

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Crying Over Spilt Oil — And Brine

OK, when technology fails you, sometimes you just have to do things the old fashioned way.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the North Dakota Department of Health’s Environmental Incident database and how difficult it is to track the performance of various oil companies. I haven’t heard back from the governor yet, and being an impatient Norwegian, I decided not to wait for them to upgrade it because they might never do that. And being retired with not a lot to do on cold days, I decided to become a human search engine.

So I went and physically called up, on the website, the actual Environmental Incident Reports for the 100 worst oil spills — and the 100 worst saltwater spill — in the Oil Patch since the Bakken Boom began. I know. I need to get a life. But it really was pretty interesting.

What I found out is there are some pretty bad actors out there. The five companies with the most spills, combined, accounted for 30 percent of the 200 worst Oilfield Incidents.

The 200 worst spills were committed by a total of 87 different companies. Most had one or two, although there were a good number that had three or four.

But the bad ones spilled a lot. Remember, I’ve pointed out here just from memory of news reports that Oasis Petroleum, Continental Resources and Denbury Onshore must be among the spill leaders. Well, they were.

Oasis, which just announced it’s producing about 70,000 barrels of oil per day and had third quarter earnings of $180 million, led the pack with 15 total spills out of the top 200.

Continental, owned by Harold Hamm, the “Father of Fracking,” and Donald Trump’s No. 1 energy adviser, had 13.

Denbury had nine.

Joining them in the top 5 were Petro Hunt (the famous Hunt brothers) with 13 and Whiting, a company with almost half a million leased mineral acres in the Bakken, with 10.

Those five have a total of 60 spills among them, almost 30 percent of the top 200 (there are actually a few more than 200 in the top 200 because of ties).

I didn’t add up all the barrels of oil and saltwater they’ve spilled, but I’m pretty sure they don’t match a couple of other companies with really, really big spills. You’ve probably heard about them.

Back in 2013, Tesoro (you’ve heard of them, eh?) dumped more than 20,000 barrels — the actual total was 865,000 gallons — of oil on a farmer’s field up on the Mountrail-Williams county line.

And just about a year ago, Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of True Oil Co. from Wyoming, dumped 12,615 (more or less) barrels of oil — more than half a million gallons — into Ash Coulee Creek in Billings County, north of Belfield. So far, Tesoro and Belle Fourche are the two big winners in the North Dakota Oil Spill Lottery.

I did do some math on the total amount of oil and saltwater spilled in the 200 biggest spills in North Dakota since the Bakken Boom began. Get ready for this. In the top 100 oil spills, companies dumped 107,122 barrels of oil onto the ground and into rivers, creeks, lakes and other wetlands. That’s 4.5 million gallons of oil from just those 100 spills.

Compared to saltwater spills, which most environmental scientists tell us are worse than oil spills, that’s nuthin’. The top 100 saltwater spills recorded with the North Dakota Health Department came to 247,704 barrels — 10.5 million gallons of poisonous brine that kills everything it comes into contact with and renders soil pretty much permanently sterile and unusable. When you read the incident reports on these saltwater spills, you learn that if the spill is on land, they just dig up all the dirt and haul it to a landfill. But it is different when it spills into a creek.

There was a big one up north of Williston a couple of years ago. A pipeline owned by a company called Summit Midstream ruptured in the dead of winter and almost 3 million gallons of brine flowed into Blacktail Creek, which runs into the Little Muddy River, which runs into the Missouri River, which runs into Lake Sakakawea. That was a real mess. Dams were built to stop it from reaching the lake. Much of it froze in the creek, and then they cut it into big chunks of ice and hauled it away to a landfill. Can’t even imagine what happened in the spring when the ice melted. The incident report on this mess is 63 pages long. Take a look.

The spill happened in 2015, but samples are still being taken from the water up there, the last one as recently as two weeks ago. We don’t know what they’re finding because the results of the samples are not shared in the incident reports. Memo to Jim:  Ask for the results.

In the case of the Tesoro oil spill, they’re still cleaning up the site, almost four years after the spill. First they set fire to the oil on the surface of the field and burned it. Then cleanup involves digging up the soil impacted by the oil and treating it. At last report the pit where they were digging was 40 feet deep. Here’s that Incident Report.

And the Belle Fourche Pipeline story isn’t over yet, either. Last month, almost a full year after the spill, a Health Department Inspector visited Ash Coulee Creek and wrote this on the Incident Report:

“Sampling Date: 10/11/2017 Ash Coulee Creek was sampled at 11 locations for DRO and BTEX. Those samples were brought to the lab on Friday the 13th. Some locations produced a sheen when the stream sediments were disturbed.”

Obviously there’s still oil in the creek. A year later.

So what happens to these companies that carelessly destroy the countryside? Do they get fined? I’ve been curious about that. So I decided to try to find out. You won’t learn anything by reading the incident reports. Those are written by the scientists on the ground, whose job is cleanup. These guys work ridiculously long hours, away from home, in all kinds of weather, trying their darnedest to get these companies to clean up their messes. Unsung heroes.

Punishment, if any is meted out, goes to a higher level at the Health Department. I’m not sure how high, but I decided to ask one of the good guys at the Health Department, a fellow named Bill Suess, who supervises the scientists. Here’s the e-mail I sent Bill this morning:

Dear Bill,

I have been looking at your Environmental Incident Reports, specifically the largest spill reports of both oil and other liquids such as brine. From what I can tell, looking at the 100 largest oil spills and the 100 largest brine spills, there are five companies who have a substantial number of large spills. They are Oasis, Continental, Petro-Hunt, Whiting and Denbury Onshore.

I’d like to know how many of each company’s spills resulted in fines, and the amount of those fines. I’d also like to know if all of those fines have been paid. If not, how many have been paid, how many remain uncollected, and how much money has not been collected, and what steps are being taken to collect them. I’d also like to know if additional fines are being contemplated or pending in any of those cases, and if so, which cases.

I’ve also taken note of two very large spills, the Tesoro spill in Mountrail County in September of 2013 (EIR2056), and the Belle Fourche Pipeline spill in Billings County in December of 2016 (EIR5282). I would like to know if those companies have been fined, or if fines are contemplated and pending, and how much those fines are, and whether they have been paid, and if not, how much remains to be collected, and what steps are being taken to collect them.

I know your staff is very busy keeping up with all these spills, but I feel the public has a right to know which companies are the biggest violators and how those companies are being treated.

Thank you in advance for your help. I look forward to receiving this information.

Jim

I’ll let you know when I hear back from Bill.

And that’s about as many numbers as an English major can handle in one day. I hope I did the math right. Happy Thanksgiving.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Men Just Have To TELL!

There’s an old story that goes like this. A ship sinks in the South Pacific Ocean and two survivors are washed up on the shore of a deserted island: Sigourney Weaver and a fellow named Joe.

A couple of months go by and no rescue is in sight, and the two decide they might be there for a good long time, and they give in to their biological urges and begin living there as husband and wife.

More months go by, and one morning, Joe announces to Sigourney that it is his birthday, and asks for a favor.

“Sure,” the actress says. “What is it?”

“Well,” Joe says, “Just for today, because it’s my birthday, would you mind if I drew a moustache on you?”

Sigourney is puzzled, but she agrees. Joe takes a piece of charcoal out of their fire pit and smudges a moustache on her upper lip. Then he asks for another favor.

“Would it be OK, just for today, if I called you Fred?”

Still puzzled, Sigourney again agrees.

At which point Joe places his hand on Sigourney’s shoulder and says, “Fred, you’re not going to believe who I’ve been sleeping with for the last six months.”

The point of the story is, men just have to TELL someone.

Which brings to mind Roy Moore.

So far, all the telling has been done by women, telling about their awful experiences with Moore when they were just girls.

But you just have to believe there were nights when Moore and his buddies were sitting around watching football and drinking beer that Roy Moore told of his sexual exploits — or attempts at them. You have to believe there were times when a young waitress walked by and Moore said, “Damn, she’s hot, isn’t she? I really like those pretty little girls.”

And you have to believe that he said things like that to different men, more than once. Men just have to TELL.

And you have to believe there were times when Moore got up from the table to go home and one of the guys said, as he went out the door, “I wonder if he’s meeting some young chick out there tonight. You know, that Roy Moore, he likes them young.”

You just know there are men out there who could TELL on Roy Moore.

Sadly, they won’t.

Because right now, Roy Moore has every red-blooded man in America — including me — searching their memories. Did I ever do or say anything that could be construed as sexual harassment? Let he who is without sin …

It started with Trump bragging about grabbing women. He just had to TELL. And then women began complaining about being grabbed by him, about the same time Bill Cosby was in court. Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly dumped huge loads of coal on the fire, and it is burning out of control right now. Kevin Spacey and Mark Halperin stoked it. And good grief, even old George H.W. Bush tried to set some pants on fire. From his wheelchair! Six times! Six different women! And told them some dirty jokes at the same time. Here’s what one of the women recounted:

“He reached his right hand around to my behind, and as we smiled for the photo, he asked the group, ‘Do you want to know who my favorite magician is?’ As I felt his hand dig into my flesh, he said, ‘David Cop-a-Feel!’”

Yep, just like Donald J. Trump, George H.W. Bush just had to TELL what he was doing. Because when you’re rich, or powerful, or old, or famous, or an ex-president, in Trump’s words, “you can do anything you want.”

Here’s his excuse, from his PR agent Jim McGrath.

“At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”

Here’s more — read this story.

But back to matters at hand. It’s obvious that Roy Moore is a scumbag. It’s also obvious that he is probably going to be the next U. S. senator from Alabama. That’s Alabama politics.

I remember, though, when Alabama used to elect Democrats. In the fall of 1968, I was in the Navy, stationed in Pensacola, Fla., just across the Alabama border (I remember the local joke — when someone asked us where we were stationed, we’d say, “L.A., man. Yeah, Lower Alabama).

Hubert Humphrey was running for president in 1968 against Richard Nixon, and while I was not overly enchanted with Humphrey, I was really against Nixon, so I volunteered to do some door-to-door literature drops for the local Democrats on a weekend up close to the election.

We all met somewhere in a parking lot, and we rode a bus for half an hour or so to our destination: somewhere in the suburbs of Mobile, Ala.! There we were handed our voter guides and told to drop them inside the doors of houses on the streets we were assigned. Much to my dismay, when I looked down at the cards we were to hand out, Humphrey’s name was nowhere to be found.

Alabama Democrats had endorsed George Wallace for president that year, and the slate of candidates we were to be campaigning for that day listed Wallace as the Democratic candidate for president. (Humphrey’s team did manage to get him on the ballot, but in Alabama, he was running as a third-party candidate. Wallace kicked his ass, and Nixon’s, too. And Humphrey was not on the Democratic guide card I was supposed to hand out.)

Interestingly, in those days, Democrats won in Alabama. I recall the U.S. senator elected that year was also a Democrat, but he had been Wallace’s lieutenant governor. I had no taste for either of them, so I dumped my cards in a trash can and went back and waited for the bus back to Pensacola.

At some point, the 1980s, I think, Alabama became a Republican state and remains so today. It’s been a long time since Alabama had a Democrat U. S. senator. Maybe that will change this year. Maybe, if a couple of Roy Moore’s old drinking buddies would just come out and TELL. … Maybe that would help Alabama voters would come to their senses. They sure don’t seem to be believing those women.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Simple Request To The Governor: Let’s Get Technical

Dear Gov. Burgum,

I am writing to you today about transparency. Transparency in government. Transparency in North Dakota government. Transparency in North Dakota government as it relates to our environment and environmental protection. You’ve said often you believe in transparency. Here’s a chance to prove it.

You’re a new governor this year, and you come from the world of high technology. You’ve got a couple of agencies that are operating at low technology. I’d like you to get them fixed. Because I’m not sure they aren’t trying to hide something from us by keeping their technology low. So I’m making two requests, Governor, to do a little technology upgrade.

The first is at the State Health Department. My friend, Darrell Dorgan, has been regularly critical of them for being too interested in the welfare of industry (read: Big Oil), at the expense of the environment. If you look at some of the stuff they do, you might think that’s the case. I’ve thought for a long time there are good people there who were being leaned on by Govs. Hoeven and Dalrymple to be friendly to Big Oil because that industry, with its boom, was punching their meal tickets during much of their administrations.

The jury’s still out on you, Doug Burgum. Will you let this agency operate as it should? Officially, they are our state’s representatives and enforcers for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, charged with enforcing federal and state environmental regulations. But those regulations sometimes get in the way of the oil industry, and Hoeven and Dalrymple didn’t like that. I don’t know about you yet, Governor. You’re of their political party, but I don’t know if you’re of their ilk. I’ll know better if you respond to my two technology upgrade requests.

Here’s the first one.

The Health Department maintains a website database of what they call “Oilfield Environmental Incidents” in the oil patch. That’s bureaucratese for “spills.” It’s a big database, with records of more than 10,500 spills since Jan. 1, 2008. Quick math — an average of a little over a thousand spills a year for the last 10 years. Here’s the link to the website, so you can take a look for yourself.

If you go there, you’ll see a menu that lets you click on spills in the past 12 months, or spills occurring before that. If you go to one of those databases, you can click on the categories at the top, like the amount of oil spilled in each incident, or the amount of saltwater spilled, from the biggest spills to the smallest (you might have to click twice — they’re pretty cagey). You can click on the county link and find out how many of those incidents occurred in Billings County, or Williams County.

But what you can’t find out is how many of those spills were committed by a particular company. Because there’s no category for that. In order to find out who committed each spill, you have to click on every one of the 10,500 incident reports to find out what company is responsible for each spill.

I know from experience, for example, that there are a couple of companies, Oasis and Denbury, which have been particularly bad violators. In fact, I once wrote on this blog that it was time to kick Denbury out of the state because it was so bad and careless. That was four years ago — Denbury is still here. Its most recent spill was Oct. 5 of this year, when oil and saltwater spilled onto a pasture near Bowman. Denbury still shows up in the database on a pretty regular basis. But you have to look at every incident report to find it. Eight hundred twenty-three incidents this year. So far.

The thing is, there’s really no way of knowing, without looking at all 10,000 incident reports, who the really bad operators are. And that’s the way the industry wants it. Finding out that Denbury or Oasis or Continental (seems to be the most recent bad company) has a hundred or 200 or more spills would just not be good publicity.

And the Health Department has acquiesced to their wishes. Or, more likely, someone in Gov. Hoeven or Gov. Dalrymple’s offices had sent word down to just leave that database the way it is. I talked off the record to a Health Department employee about a year ago and asked about this. He told me they wanted to fix it, and were going to ask for money from the Legislature in 2017 to make the database searchable. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

But now we’ve got a new governor, and he’s a techie! I bet, Governor, if you sent one of your former Microsoft programmers over to the Health Department, they could make that database searchable in 15 minutes. If that’s something you wanted done.

So that’s my first request, Gov. Burgum. Send someone to the Health Department and fix that database. They’re right over there on the second floor of the Judicial Wing of the Capitol Building. Heck, I bet they wouldn’t even have to go over there — they could probably do it from your office. Or from home.

So next time I write a story reporting that Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. is still trying to clean up its 175,000 gallon spill into Ash Coulee Creek last December, I can also find out how many other spills it made since then. Oops, bad example. That one’s not in the database.

See, sometimes whoever happens to be in charge at the moment in the Health Department will, instead of creating an incident report in the oilfield spills database for a particularly egregious spill, like the Ash Coulee one last winter, they’ll instead put it over into a DIFFERENT database, called “General Environmental Incidents.”

I’ve never been able to figure out why they did that for Ash Coulee because it was surely an “Oilfield Environmental Incident,” just like the one by Tesoro a couple of years ago, which spilled 20,600 barrels — 865,000 gallons — up in Mountrail County. The only thing I can figure out is that Tesoro only reported it spilled 750 barrels, so it got listed as an oilfield incident, until a Health Department official discovered two months later that it was really more than 20,000 barrels. Oops. I guess 750 barrel spills get logged in as oilfield incidents, and spills like the Ash Coulee one, at 4,200 barrels, don’t.

It sure is harder to keep track of those things when you have to look through different databases. Oh, yeah. I get it.

Anyway, Gov. Burgum, please put your programmer to work. Oh, and there’s one more thing I’d like you to take care of, while you’ve got your programmer available. That’s over at the State Water Commission website.

Since you’ve just signed a bill allowing industrial use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River (if you haven’t already done so, you could read Amy Dalrymple’s (no relation to Jack) story about this in the Bismarck Tribune by clicking here), and because there are a lot of us who love that river and are concerned about it, we would kind of like to be able to keep track of how many water permits are being issued to take fracking water from the river, and where they are, and how much water they are taking.

Well, the Water Commission, like the Health Department, also maintains a database on its website, called “Water Permits Database” (you can find it here — down toward the bottom of the page), and, in theory, you could get that information from that database. Except you can’t. Because those water permits are not in the database. I know because I know some of the people and companies who have been issued water permits, and they are not in the database.

Oh, the Water Commission does have a double-secret way to find out who has industrial water permits, but you have to be a pretty good detective to find it. Well, I did a little detective work, with some urging from Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, who kept telling me, “They don’t put it in the database, but it’s on the site, you just have to learn how to use the maps.”

Learn how to use the maps. Old dog, new trick. But I did it. It took me a few hours because it is well-hidden, so if you are nosy like me, I’m just going to give you a direct link (sort of) to go and look. Click here, and then go down to the bottom of the page and click on the artwork that says “Water Depots.” (Don’t click on the link that says Water Permits — you won’t find all the Little Missouri water permits there — only some of them.)

Once you’ve clicked on Water Depots, you have to figure out how to use the maps and the embedded database in them. First, you take a tutorial and learn to click on the little bar on the side of the page that says, “Show layers,” and then about half an hour or so later, you’ll find, for example, that a company named Streamline Water Services LLC has a permit to draw 233 million gallons of water (yes, you read that right) from the Little Missouri State Scenic River, on land owned by a rancher named Joe Schettler, between last December and next August. Your state engineer, Governor, has authorized one company to take more than 200 million gallons of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River. Is there even that much water in the river, ever? Geez.

Joe Schettler’s Water Depot, in the center of the photo, hard against the Little Missouri State Scenic River at the top of the photo, courtesy of Google Earth. From here, the big trucks take water to the fracking sites.
Joe Schettler’s Water Depot, in the center of the photo, hard against the Little Missouri State Scenic River at the top of the photo, courtesy of Google Earth. From here, the big trucks take water to the fracking sites.

Streamline has built a big water depot on Schettler’s land, alongside the Little Missouri. Joe also just happens to be Dunn County’s representative on the Little Missouri State Scenic River Commission. I’m not sure if Schettler is a partner in the company, but one way or another, he’s making a lot of money from that water, which he gets pretty much for free — I think the water permit costs a couple hundred dollars.

But anyway, back to matters at hand. It would be pretty easy, Governor, for your Microsoft programmer to run those permits hidden on the map pages into the Water Permit Database, so we could keep track of them, instead of having to wander around that incredibly confusing map system. (I’m guessing, by the way, that the engineers over at the Water Commission are pretty disappointed that an English major like me could figure out how to get this information.)

So that’s my second request, Governor. As soon as you’ve got that Health Department database cleaned up, how about fixing the Water Commission database, too?

Thanks, in advance.

Jim

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Read Bluemle’s New Book

John Bluemle’s new book, “North Dakota’s Geologic Legacy” (actually published in 2016 and now in its second printing), is a culmination of a career of more than 40 years he spent with the North Dakota Geological Survey, researching all facets of North Dakota’s geology, carrying the title of state geologist.

It’s his fourth in a series of books designed, as he says, “for physical and arm-chair travelers.” His earlier work, “The Face of North Dakota,” comprised three editions, as he constantly updated it to keep up with demand and the changes we humans have brought to our state’s landscape.

This new work, from the North Dakota State University Press, should be required reading in our schools, and for those of us past school age, it can serve as a marvelous guide as we take advantage of the outdoor recreational opportunities our state provides.

For North Dakotans who love the Bad Lands, as I do, Bluemle provides a rich and easy-to-understand explanation of what we are seeing and why we are seeing it as we drive, hike or canoe deep into the canyons carved by eons of wind and water on fragile soil.

He devotes a lot of ink to the Bad Lands, rightfully so, since it is our most interesting geologic area, but if you have ever been curious about sand hills, eskers, anamooses, geologic beaches, buttes, potholes, cannonballs, flint, kames, veblens or natural terraces and the forces that formed them, this book is for you.

Or even if you’re not overly curious about those land forms, it’s fun to look out the car window as you drive through our state and know what it is you’re looking at and how it got there.

First, a bit about the author, John P. Bluemle. He came to North Dakota from Montana, right out of college, geology degree in hand, and went to work as a geologist for the North Dakota Geological Survey. He never left. Instead, he spent more than 40 years traveling our state, studying every major landscape system in the state.

In his foreword to the book, geology professor Eric Brevik writes “There probably isn’t anyone alive today who knows more about North Dakota’s geology or who has reached out to the public to expand general knowledge of the state’s geology.”

In this book, Brevik writes, Bluemle takes the reader on a wonderful journey through landscapes dominated by deposits from glaciers, ancient lakes, running water, an erosion. And, Brevik points out, the book is written for nonscientists.

Geology is important. It helped determine where people settled and where people live today. Our vast energy resources — not just coal, gas and oil, but wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric energy as well — are a direct result of our geologic heritage. And Bluemle discusses each of these in one of the book’s most interesting and timely chapters.

How and when was the Bakken formed? How does horizontal drilling work?What’s the future of solar energy here? Did you know that North Dakota’s long summer days and dry climate provide more sunlight than any other state along the Canadian border? Did you also know that lignite coal could be gasified 2,000 feet underground, producing vast quantities of synthetic natural gas without disturbing the landscape and without any air pollution? The book is a treasure trove of information and caution about the use of our energy resources. I hope the owners of every energy company doing business here read it.

But mostly, for me at least, the book answers the questions I have about what I am seeing as I drive through North Dakota, or walk through my favorite hiking and hunting places.

And since I spend much of my time in the Bad Lands, I love that he gives that area of the state special attention. In his summary of that chapter, he writes, “The geology is only part of the badlands story. The weather and climate, vegetation, animals, birds, insects, sounds and aromas — all of these, along with the human history and the ranching heritage — work together to complete the story of the badlands.” (Note he and I have different treatment of the area called “the Bad Lands” or “the badlands.”)

“I have hiked and camped in the badlands many times,” he writes. “Evening summer showers accentuate the colors, and the clinker beds assume intense shades of red and orange. The fresh, pungent aroma of wet sage and cedar enhance the experience. At night, the stark, intricately eroded pinnacles can seem unreal. In the moonlight, or in a night lightning storm, it is easy to imagine the strange shapes as ruins of a magical city, rather than structures of mere sand and clay. Blend in the sound of coyotes conversing, and the badlands environment is complete.”

Who says scientists can’t write?

The book takes us across the state from west to east, and as we travel, we learned that the tops of our thousands of buttes, and indeed, even the Killdeer Mountains, were once the bottom of giant lakes. The hard caprock preserved them while all around them, the land eroded away as the lakes receded, leaving what once were lake bottoms as now the highest points in our state.

Midway through the ice age, a glacier blocked the Missouri River, likely not far from where the Garrison Dam is today, Bluemle tells us, forming “the original Lake Sakakawea: an early ice-dammed lake that predated the Corps of Engineers version of Lake Sakakawea by thousands of years.”

The Missouri Escarpment, the near-absence of rivers and streams flowing into the Missouri from the east, The Turtle Mountains, the terraces of the Sheyenne and James rivers, and the flat, flat Red River Valley, once the bed of a glacial lake, all have geologic origins. Their stories are fascinating. As are the stories of things no longer here, like Glacial Lakes Souris, McKenzie, Dakota, Minnewaukan and Cando.

All those things, and more, Bluemle shares in the pages of a 375-page book, beautifully printed on heavy gloss paper, and making it more enjoyable are the abundance of high-quality color photos (taken by the author), charts, graphs and illustrations and Bluemle’s translation of the vernacular of geology into layman’s terms.

Yes, John Bluemle probably had the best job in the state. He got paid to drive around and explore and examine our landscape. And he has used it to share with us a wealth of easy-to-read information no one else has ever compiled. His book is available at the North Dakota Heritage Center, most North Dakota bookstores and online. Because of its high-quality printing, it’s a bit pricy at $40, but worth every penny, especially when we read the words of a crusty old geologist as he sends us on our way at the book’s conclusion, much like he did in his earlier books, with these words:

“We ask much of our land — and the land, in turn, challenges us. We farm the fields, drink the water, build our homes and businesses, pump the oil and gas, mine the coal and sand and gravel, bury the wastes and play in the parks. Our land provides the basis for all we are. City people depend on it just as much as those who live in rural areas. Each of us needs clean water, fresh air, open space and the chance to experience the natural marvels surrounding us.

“As we look at today’s North Dakota, we strive to appreciate yesterday and anticipate tomorrow. Both our past and our future are rooted in our land, and in its ability to work for us and with us. If we understand the geological history and natural processes that have shaped the landscape, we can better apply that knowledge to conserve and renew it.

“As we constantly mold and remodel the land to suit our needs, it is important that we adapt to the changes we impose upon it. However we choose to treat our land — gently and with respect, or harshly and callously — we are shaping the legacy we leave our children.”

Read this book.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Conflicts Of Interest Could Plague Scenic River Commission

The North Dakota Legislature approved, and Gov. Doug  Burgum signed, legislation last May authorizing the use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River for fracking oil wells. Now our state engineer, Garland Erbele, has issued industrial water permits authorizing more than 2.1 billion (that’s 2,142,000,000)  gallons of water to be taken from the river. So far.

The withdrawals are actually measured in acre feet, and the allocation by the state engineer, who works for the State Water Commission, is about 6,600 acre feet between now and next Oct. 30. An acre foot is enough water to cover one acre of land a foot deep in water. That takes about 325,000 gallons. I don’t know if the permittees will get as much as they’re authorized, but they could, if the technology is there, and the river cooperates.

I also don’t know how much water there is in the river, but I do know the river has been running pretty close to dry all summer and fall.

It’s a big number, but I am not really concerned about that. As the oil boys will tell you, if we don’t take it out, it just goes to New Orleans, and they have plenty of water.  There are plenty of other things I am concerned about, though. Like the impact of all this industrial activity on the integrity of the Little Missouri Scenic River Valley, North Dakota’s only State Scenic River. And conflicts of interest.

For example, the newly elected chairman of the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission, Joe Schettler of Killdeer, is a partner in a company called Streamline Water Services, and his company, which sells water to oil companies for fracking, has industrial water permits to draw 715 acre feet between now and next August.

And Scott Kleeman, Schettler’s proxy on the Commission if Joe can’t make it to the meetings, is part of a family operation that has an industrial water permit to draw 900 acre feet and sell it to oil companies between now and next April.

There’s also one more potential conflict. At last week’s meeting, neither the McKenzie County Commission member David Lee Crighton, nor his proxy, Kit James (who also has an industrial water business), was able to attend, so they sent Kaye Nelson to represent the county. Kaye is the widow of Alvin Nelson, the former commission chairman back when it used to have meetings, around the turn of the century. Apparently she attended a lot of the meetings with Alvin, so the county felt like she could represent them well.

The problem is, a company called Select Energy Services has a water depot on her ranch along the Little Missouri west of Grassy Butte, and it has an industrial water permit to take about 100 acre feet of water between now and next May.

To be fair, all of them have been in the water business a long time, and were in it when they took their seats on the commission. I’m guessing the county commissioners in their counties who appointed them knew about that. But they’ve not taken advantage of their positions on the Scenic River Commission for personal gain. So far.

Still, it would seem like there’s a pretty big potential conflict of interest there. One of the other commissioners told me this week that the fact they are in the water business threatens the integrity of the whole commission.

Right now, the industrial permits are being given out by the state engineer under an “interim” policy allowing river water to be used for fracking. “Interim” because Gov. Burgum wants the approval of the Scenic River Commission before he makes it permanent.

At last Wednesday’s commission meeting (I wrote about it earlier this week), there was a motion to approve Burgum’s “interim” policy. It was made by Gene Allen of Golden Valley County. But no one seconded the motion, so it died. And they voted to postpone consideration of the policy until their next meeting. Schettler was chairing the meeting, so he couldn’t second it. Nelson also demurred. Maybe she thought it would be inappropriate because she has a potential conflict. Or maybe it was because she really isn’t a member of the commission, and was just filling in.

In any case, it would be good if the members who are already in the industrial water business made that fact known to the rest of the commission and to the public. Well, I guess I just did that for them. If there are any other members who are in the water business, or have a potential conflict, I don’t know about it. If so, they should ‘fess up as well.

The rest of the list of industrial water users who have gotten permits since the governor signed the bill May 2 is pretty interesting, too. Erbele didn’t waste any time. On May 5, just three days after the bill became law, he signed the Kleeman family’s permit for 900 acre feet.

The second one was even more interesting. On the 9th, he granted a fellow named Wylie Bice 700 acre feet. You might remember that name. I wrote about him last summer. He’s the guy who sold his trucking company for $80 million or so, bought the ranch next door on the other side of the Little Missouri Scenic River and then built a bridge over the river to get to it.

One side of his bridge is on federal land, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, as is a road he built on federal land to access it. And then he put in an illegal water depot on BLM land beside the Little Missouri River, a big plastic-lined pit to store the water he’s taking from the river to sell to oil companies.

Wylie Bice’s illegal water depot, on BLM land.
Wylie Bice’s illegal water depot, on BLM land.

The BLM has been up to see Bice, and it’s given him an application to apply for a bridge and a road, to “get things legal.” I don’t know about the water depot.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the BLM might give him a permit for a bridge and a road after he’s already built them. I’m going to go out to Dickinson to the BLM office one of these days and take a look at that application.

What I’m not going to get a look at, my friends at the BLM tell me, is what is called a “trespass file.” I’m not sure exactly what’s in there because it’s confidential right now, but I have to guess they’re considering some kind of legal action against Bice for putting stuff on federal land without permission. I’ll find out more about that when I get to Dickinson, too.

Also troubling is the creep of fracking further south into the Little Missouri River Valley. A company called NP Resources is drilling two wells near the Little Missouri Scenic River between Medora and the Elkhorn Ranch. The wells are on land owned by two pretty wealthy friends of mine who have purchased ranches along the river to protect them from development. One is directly across the river from the Elkhorn, President Theodore Roosevelt’s historic home. In both cases, the minerals under their ranches are owned by someone else, so they were powerless to stop them. Mineral owners trump surface owners.

In both cases, NP resources applied for and was granted water permits for 58 acre feet of water from the Scenic River — bout half a million gallons each — to frack the wells. It’s troubling because the industry appears to now be making serious advances deep into the heart of the Bad Lands, in the Little Missouri Scenic River valley, not so far north of Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The rest of the permits are mostly for a couple of hundred acre feet, and ranchers are taking advantage of their location beside the river to make a little money. Maybe more than a little. Hard to begrudge them that.

But those activities are the very reason the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission exists: Our state law, Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code, the Little Missouri Scenic River Act, says we need to “preserve the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state,” and “maintain the scenic, historic and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

Let’s make sure we do that. It’s getting harder, though.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Maybe The Governor Shouldn’t Send Engineers To Represent Him

“Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it,” the wise man said. And you might not like what you get, I might add.

That’s what I was thinking about four hours into last week’s second meeting of the newly reconstituted Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. I’ve been harping for a couple of years on the idea of bringing back what was supposed to be a watchdog group overseeing what goes on in the Valley of the Little Missouri River during an oil boom.

It started with a letter from Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, to the North Dakota DOT’s Matt Linneman in 2015, regarding the construction of a new bridge over the Little Missouri Scenic River on U.S. Highway 85. Jan reminded us “The Little Missouri River was established as a N.D. State Scenic River in 1975 by the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act.

The act’s Intent reads: “The purpose of this chapter shall be to preserve the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state, which shall mean that the river will be maintained in a free-flowing natural condition, and to establish a Little Missouri River Commission. The stated duty of the Commission is to maintain the scenic, historic and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

When I read that, I went looking in the North Dakota Century Code for Section 61-29, Little Missouri State Scenic River Act. I had a foggy memory of a company called Tenneco wanting to build a coal gasification plant in the Bad Lands and to dam up a tributary of the Little Missouri to provide water for the plant, and of the North Dakota Legislature responding by passing the Scenic River Act in 1975, sending Tenneco home with its tail between its legs. The state had effectively said “No thanks, Tenneco, put your plant somewhere else.” Can you imagine anyone in state government using those words today? Hah.

Well, long story short, I wrote a bunch of articles about it, Doug Burgum got elected governor, I lobbied him through his chief of staff, and he reinstated the commission, directing the six Bad Lands counties to appoint new members, and now they’ve had two meetings. And accomplished nothing.

Actually, as far as the last meeting goes, accomplishing nothing is a good thing. They could have done something bad.

A bit of background. For the first 42 years of its existence, Section 61-29, the State Scenic River Act, prohibited the State Water Commission from issuing Little Missouri water permits for industrial use (read: fracking oil wells). Little Missouri River water could only be used for agriculture and recreation. Made sense. But the 2017 Legislature changed that, to allow Little Missouri water to be used for fracking.

Turns out the Legislature was only legalizing something that had been going on for 30 years or so. See, the Water Commission staff had been ignoring the law (it claimed it didn’t know about it, a story I bought until just a few days ago — more about that on another day) and the commission had issued more than 600 industrial water use permits from the Little Missouri, all in violation of the State Scenic River Act.

What the Legislature did was make legal what had been going on for decades — at the request of the Water Commission engineers who had been breaking the law. Burgum signed the bill. But in either a show of uncertainty, or just a show, he slapped a moratorium on that industrial use. That was in May of this year, just after he signed the bill. But then only a month later, he steered the State Water Commission, which he chairs, into lifting the moratorium. But in doing that, he said this was just going to be an “interim policy” because he wanted the newly appointed Scenic River Commission to “weigh in” on that action, to let him know how it felt about industrial use of Little Missouri River water. You still with me here?

Meanwhile, while we’re waiting for that commission to “weigh in,” permits for use of Little Missouri River water for fracking are being issued.

So at this week’s Scenic River Commission meeting, Water Commission engineer Jon Patch, the man who issues water permits (including those 600 illegal ones) brought the interim policy to the commission and spent two hours pleading with commission members to ratify it. Commissioners were skeptical, which in my mind, was “weighing in.”

In fact, when a motion was made by one commission member to approve the policy, it died for lack of a second. Only one of the nine commission members wanted to approve it. When newly elected commission chairman Joe Schettler announced the motion had died for lack of a second, there was a stunned silence at the commission table and among the 50 or so audience members.

Patch had just spent two hours fending off comments from audience members in opposition to industrial use of Little Missouri River water for fracking and pleading with some skeptical commission members, going on and on about how it would keep trucks off the road, making the roads safer and eliminating dust, although with no mention of how the oil companies were going to get the water from the river to their oil wells.

Patch brought along a power point slide to that effect, (as you can see, visible and audible disruption of the Little Missouri River Valley is not really a problem!), and when Jan Swenson rose from the audience to make a well-reasoned plea to delay action on approving the policy, Patch rudely put the slide up on the screen behind her for the audience to see. Frankly, I was surprised that no one booed, but audience members apparently had better manners than Patch.

Well, nether the audience members nor the commissioners were stupid enough to buy Patch’s argument. Finally, in an ironic twist, commission members and State Engineer Garland Erbele, Patch’s boss, made a motion to postpone action on the policy, a motion that was quickly seconded and passed unanimously. Erbele’s motion staved off further embarrassment for his staff engineer, who had just wasted two hours of everyone’s time, and also staved off the possibility of a motion to reject the policy, which likely would have gotten a second, and maybe would have passed.

By this time, the meeting, which had been billed as a two-hour gathering, was more than three hours old, and it took another hour and a half to finish, thanks to some silliness on Erbele’s part (or more likely his staff).

See, when Erbele’s staff was putting together the agenda for the meeting, there was really only one item to discuss — approving Patch’s policy — so to fill up the two hours, whoever did the agenda, with Erbele’s approval, had scheduled a bunch of bureaucrats to brief the commission members on some pretty much irrelevant stuff.

First, an assistant attorney general spent about half an hour, with a fancy power point presentation, going painfully through all the nuances of the state’s open meetings law, including changes made by the 2017 Legislature, when all she really had to do was say, “Hey, you guys, all your meetings are open to the public, and all minutes of your meetings are available to anyone who wants to read them.”

Then another engineer, this one from the Department of Transportation, repeated everything he had said at the group’s August meeting about the proposed new bridge over the Little Missouri on Highway 85, beside the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It’s important for the commission to “weigh in” on that one, too, but there was no new news at this meeting, just a rehash of the previous meeting. The commission might decide to weigh in after it sees the Environmental Impact Statement in a couple of months. This presentation, and its power point slides, could have waited until then.

And then a fisheries expert from the state Game and Fish Department got out his power point slides and talked for a long time about “endangered” fish in the Little Missouri. Duh. He could have just said, “There are no fish in the Little Missouri because it’s only 6 inches deep in most places in the summer and it freezes to the bottom in winter.” Yeah, that might endanger the fish.

It was a really bad miscalculation on the part of the Water Commission staff, and it is time for Parks Director Melissa Baker to wrest control of this board from the engineers, the way three Parks directors — Doug Eiken, Bob Horne and Gary Leppart — before her did. There were no meetings during the most recent Parks Director Mark Zimmerman’s term, and only one or two during his predecessor Doug Prchal’s term.

But give those ranchers on the commission credit — they stuck it out for 4½ hours, even though there were a hundred things they could do at home, and most of them just wanted to get into the bar for a quick Jack and Coke before heading back to the ranch.

The three Bismarck bureaucrats on the commission — Erbele, Baker and Dave Glatt from the Health Department — are probably used to long government meetings, but I bet two of them called Erbele the next day and said, “No more of that.” The meeting, which had begun at 4 p.m. Bismarck time, ended at 8:30 p.m., and they still had to drive home from Dickinson.

Here’s the bottom line: Gov., Burgum wants the Little Missouri River Commission, whose members are mostly Little Missouri River Valley ranchers, to tell him how they feel about the interim policy adopted by the State Water Commission, which allows temporary industrial water permits to be issued to draw water from the Little Missouri river for fracking. A reasonable approach by the governor. It might have been a good thing for the governor to come to the meeting, sit down with the commissioners and talk about it. That’s the way to find out how the Commission members feel.

Instead, he had his state engineer bring in one of his staff who, frankly, came off as a bit of a schoolyard bully, with a statement, all written up, and just asked them to approve it. It read:

“The Little Missouri River Commission has received and considered Temporary Water Permits Revised Interim Policy in the Little Missouri River Basin developed by the office of the State Engineer and presented to it at the August 19, 2017 meeting. The Little Missouri River Commission concurs with the policy and recommends that the State Water Commission adopt it as a permanent policy of the State Water Commission and the State Engineer.”

The Commission said no, we’re not approving that. At least not today.

Well, good for them. Meanwhile, the “interim” policy continues to allow issuance of fracking water permits from the Little Missouri. I don’t know if that’s what the governor wants. But it’s what he’s got, without the blessing of those who matter most — the ranchers in the Little Missouri River Valley. I’m not sure what will happen if the Scenic River Commission says “No” to the governor. Will he back off on issuing fracking permits?

There’ll be another meeting of the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission in a couple of months. Maybe commissioner will discuss the policy then. Or maybe next time the governor, if he really does want their input, will come and sit down with them ask them what they think. Wouldn’t that be something?

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Cry Of The Pheasant

One more time around for pheasants and Paul Southworth Bliss, in honor of Saturday’s 2017 Pheasant Season Opener.

This will be my 59th pheasant season. Actually more because before I was 12 in 1959, when my dad bought me my first shotgun, I had tagged along since I was able to keep up with him in the field, probably starting at age 8 or 9. And actually less because I missed a few seasons in the ’60s and ’70s when I was away in the Navy and migrating between California and North Dakota.

And then there was last year. An early October bout of bronchitis turned to pneumonia, and I was sick the whole month. Then November came, and the weather got good, and Jeff, Wayne and I fished pretty much every day, telling ourselves there’d be plenty of time to hunt when it got cold. So we fished right up through Thanksgiving weekend, when we got hit with the terrible blizzard dumping feet of snow on our hunting grounds. We hunted pheasants once in December, in waist-high snowbanks , and I didn’t get one bird, the first pheasant season I’ve gone without shooting at least one in many, many years.

Well, anyway, I’ve chased pheasants for a lot of years, and it’s an eagerly awaited time of year for the Fuglie boys, thanks to a dad who literally decided where he wanted to live after graduating from optometry school in 1950 based on pheasants. He had offers from three North Dakota towns — Grafton, Ellendale ad Hettinger — and chose Hettinger because of good pheasant hunting. Thank you, dad, from all of your boys.

So, starting Saturday morning, and for the next eight or 10 weeks, I’ll join about 90,000 or so of my best friends in one of North Dakota’s favorite pastimes, hunting pheasants. In honor of the season, thought I might rerun a post from a few years ago with some of the poetry of Paul Southworth Bliss, my favorite North Dakota poet.

* **

Paul Southworth Bliss was no outdoorsman. Born in Wisconsin in 1889, educated at Harvard, a World War I veteran, where he rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army, Bliss began his professional career as a newspaper reporter and music critic. But sometime in the mid-1930s, he found himself driving the back roads of North Dakota during the darkest days of the Great Depression, as front man for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Progress Administration relief program.

He traveled the state with with pen and paper in hand, and he used his gift as a poet to describe what he saw and felt on those long, dusty, sometimes freezing cold, sometimes sweltering hot, roads. From those North Dakota travels came three of his seven published books of poetry, three volumes full of poems about places in North Dakota. And what makes Bliss’ poetry so enjoyable is that he identifies the time and place where each poem happened to him, and in many cases, you can say “Yeah, I’ve been there.” But generally, Bliss throws a whole new light on those places.

Bliss has been dead 75 years, but I’m still a fan of his poetry and short essays. He spent as much time in the Badlands as possible, and loved what he saw there, and in his unique style, found ways to describe the countryside that I have never seen before. For example, this line from a poem called “Blue Heaven”:

Under the torture of 47 degrees below.

The air of McKenzie County

Is pure as the soul of Christ.

Bliss comes to mind as October — Pheasant Month at my house from the time I was old enough to jump into the back of Dad’s station wagon — begins calling me from my warm bed on those first few cold mornings of late fall. His seasonal poetry is some of his best, and it’s clean and clear and shows an obvious love for his adopted state. Two of my favorite Bliss poems — one about pheasants, the other about dogs — are the reason I’m thinking about him right now.

But now, for me, in retirement, October is much more diversified.

When I was a student and then when working for a living, hunting and fishing were done pretty much on weekends, and so choices had to be made, and in October I most often chose pheasants. But now, it is not unusual for me to be sitting in a duck slough or a goose blind or a fishing boat on a Wednesday in October, sometimes more than one of them in a day, because in retirement, every day is Saturday, and there’s time to do everything.

What I don’t do much of in October is read, especially poetry. Now, my reading is pretty much left to those winter days when the wind is blowing too hard to go ice fishing or summer days when it is too hot to sit in a boat. But on those days, I often turn to Bliss to remind myself what a great place we live in.

You can probably find Bliss’ books in your local public library, or buy them online at Amazon.com, or your favorite used book website, or you can just Google Paul Southworth Bliss poetry, and you’ll find a place to buy his books. They’re all out of print now, so they might be a little pricey, but if you shop around a bit, you can probably find one in your price range.

Without further ado, let me share a couple of his best poems with you. Both are from a volume titled “The Rye Is The Sea,” printed right here in Bismarck, in 1936, using recycled farmers’ burlap bags for the covers.

In the introduction to this book, Bliss writes “Attention is invited to the physical appearance of this book. ‘The Rye is the Sea’could be produced from a farm village. The burlap binding is the gunny sack of agriculture. The bag of which this binding is a part has held in its time wheat and corn. The paper used is ordinary wrapping paper.”  The book is about 7½ inches by 10 inches and is so intricately printed and bound it is a joy to hold in your hand.

The first poem is titled “Pheasant Cry.  I love it because Bliss tells us what color pheasants are, like no one ever has before. My friend Dan Nelson says, every October, “Let’s go get some of those big red birds.” And we usually do. But Bliss adds a few more colors to his description.

Pheasant Cry

Sun,

Shine on me —

Make me glorious!”

 

Thus spoke

The pheasant,

Walking the rowed wheat

In the morning.

 

North of the way,

A cottonwood;

South of the way,

A willow;

The sun shone upon them all.

 

Said the pheasant:

“Sun,

Shine on me —

Make me glorious!”

 

It was afternoon:

A crag

Of white cumulus

Lay in the north;

Nimbus

Hung in the east;

The south

Was pearl —

The sun shone upon them.

 

The pheasant cried:

“Sun,

Shine on me —

Make me glorious!”

 

All day

The pheasant called

Incessantly.

 

And at evening

The sun

Hearkened to his cry;

And the sun

Bestowed upon him

All his colors:

Pink, violet,

Honey, salmon,

Thistle,

Persian rose,

Copper,

Peach,

Daffodil,

Tangerine,

Citron,

Tile,

Lapis blue,

Wine,

Emerald,

Corn,

Old gold,

Lavender,

Ginger,

Henna,

Sandalwood,

Turquoise,

Sea green,

Fern,

Cinnamon,

Heather,

Wild aster,

Chartreuse,

Carmine,

Lavin red,

Scarlet,

Vermillion,

Purple,

And white.

 

And the sun said:

“From the early

Morning,

When you walked

The rowed wheat,

You have asked

Incessantly…

Henceforth

You shall

Be glorious—

And

A little bit

Ridiculous.”

May 17, 1936

Minnesota-North Dakota border, south of Wahpeton-Breckenridge

Now you know what color a pheasant is. Then read this one, and see if you don’t recognize you and your dog.

 

Just Another Old Dog

Just another old dog with sorrowful eyes,

Peering at me from the rug where he lies;

Watching me always, calm as a sphinx,

With two aging eyes, neither one of which blinks.

 

Knows I’m no company — not for a dog

Dreaming of meadowland, forest and bog;

Dreaming of pheasant, partridge and quail,

And curious things by the aspen-leaved trail.

 

Wond’ring why men stay so long in one place,

Chained to a desk — when there’s plenty of space.

Just a run out of town and the fun might begin —

I know that he reckons such sitting is sin.

 

A law would be passed if dogs had their way —

That men must go out in the open each day —

Out to trees, brushland or prairie remote:

Ah, that would win every honest dog’s vote!

Old fellow, stop looking so sadly at me;

If only you knew it, we agree to a “T.”

 

Come, we’ll just chuck it! These papers are trash —

Let’s go where clean, cool forest streams splash!

There, you old rascal with sorrowful eyes,

That far-a-way look was a crafty disguise.

 

Now you jump up, wiggle tail, wriggle ears,

Shedding like water a half-dozen years.

You’ve waited so long, but you knew you would win;

You scoundrel, I see that you’re hiding a grin!

 

So off we go, leaving no trail, and no track —

I hope they don’t miss us; let’s never come back!

May 19, 1935

Williston, N.D.

To a venerable red-eyed springer spaniel, 11 years old, who keeps faithful and friendly watch.

How many times have you seen an old dog jump up and “shed a half-dozen years?” Yeah, me, too. Isn’t that a marvelous line?

After traveling the back roads of North Dakota for a couple of years, Bliss was convinced by his new North Dakota friends that he must take up hunting as a sport.

And so he did, and he recounts some of the adventures of that first year in a short essay titled “Hunting Begins at 40” in the back of “The Rye is the Sea.”

Interestingly, the account is kind of what you might have read in an old issue of Field and Stream or Outdoor Life of the same period. Yeah, me and Joe did this and this and this. But at the very end, Bliss recounts for us how much money he spent on hunting that year (something I’ve always considered too dangerous to undertake — there are some things you just don’t want to know). Here’s his tally. Check out his note at the end.

LICENSE

Hunting License No. 28634 N.D.                                 $1.50

Federal Duck Stamp                                                          1.00

$2.50

EQUIPMENT

Take-down Repeating Shotgun                                   26.95

Gun Case                                                                           4.95

Box of Shells                                                                     .98
Additional Shells, 3 boxes at 98c                               2.94

Ramrod Set                                                                      .39

Oil Can                                                                              .25

Khaki Hunter’s Coat                                                    3.50

Wading Boots                                                              4.50

Decoy Ducks                                                                2.25

Duck Call                                                                        .65

$47.36

TRAVEL EXPENSE

Oil and Gas                                                              $10.00

Broken Auto Window                                                2.50

$12.50

DOCTOR’S BILLS

Visits and Office Treatments                             $18.00

Medicines                                                                   2.85

$20.85

CAMERA EXPENSE

Films, Developing, Extra Prints                         $5.00

GRAND TOTAL                                             $88.21

            Author’s Note:  From this you will see that it cost me $88.21 for one sharp-tailed grouse, one partridge and one duck. Rather expensive — but I will never forget how yellow the cord grass was on the duck pass, how the reeds waved their plumes and how the dawn turned the ice into pink sherbet.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — ‘Quit Farming? Heck, What Would I Do?’

I want to tell you a story today about a really remarkable woman, a true North Dakotan, a real character and my favorite relative: my Aunt Deloris.

Deloris Boehmer is my last living aunt. She’s the only remaining member of my parents’ generation in our family. She’s 88, and lives in Edmore, N.D., about 40 miles northeast of Devils Lake. She’s got a pretty nice house in Edmore — used to be the Lutheran parsonage. She and my Uncle Leonard — my mother’s brother — bought it about 40 years ago and moved off the farm into town.

But they didn’t quit farming. The farm’s just a few miles out of town, and they kept the machinery there and drove out there to work. They drove together, until my Uncle Leonard died about seven years ago. She buried him and kept on driving to the farm to work. She’s still doing it. At 88.

Aunt Deloris is a little spitfire, about 5 feet tall if she stretches up on her tiptoes, a bundle of energy who weighs less than 100 pounds. Aside from a chronically bad back, she keeps pretty fit, and her work uniform in the summer is cutoff jean shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes. In the winter, she substitutes blue jeans for the shorts and puts on a sweater.

She farms with her son, my cousin, Jimmy. Together, she and Jimmy farm 13 quarters. They raise wheat, soybeans and canola. When I talked to her Tuesday afternoon — Oct. 3 — she had just gotten off her combine, getting pretty near the end of the canola harvest. She was taking a break because a hunter from Minnesota had made his annual pilgrimage to their farm to hunt ducks, and he offered to drive the combine for the afternoon.

Usually, by the time he arrives, the combines have been put away and the grain is in the bin. Not this year. And so the city boy is getting a special treat this year, driving a big old combine. And Deloris was getting an afternoon off.

“I’ve never seen two years like the last two,” she told me. “So much rain. We can’t get anything done.”

The wheat finally got combined, in mid-September, “but it isn’t worth anything,” she said, mourning this year’s low grain prices. She’s hoping the canola, a relatively new crop for her, puts some money in the bank this year. And she and Jimmy still have soybeans to combine.

“I can’t remember combining in October before,” she told me. “I remember one year we finished on Sept. 21 — I remember that because it was my mother’s birthday — and I thought that was late.”

But by the end of last week, she’d finished cultivating the wheat stubble — four quarters of it — and was ready to start on the canola fields, probably later this week. Before she’s done this fall, she’ll have cultivated 10 quarters, “black and pretty.”

Aunt Deloris farmed with Uncle Leonard all of their 59 married years. She grew up on her parents’ farm, not far down the road from my Grandma Sophie and Grandpa Pete Boehmer’s place, which became hers and Uncle Leonard’s farm after Grandma and Grandpa died. She grew up driving machinery and milking cows. She married Leonard after he came home from World War II, and she was an active partner in the farm.

During some lean times on the farm, she took a job as a security guard at the ABM “pyramid” down the road in Nekoma, and she later worked as an aide at the Edmore nursing home, just down the street from her house. But through all that, she still found time to be active on the farm.

Uncle Leonard had a long battle with cancer, spending his last months in 2010 in a nursing home in Grand Forks while she ran the farm. When he knew he was dying, he said he wasn’t worried about the farm — “She has always been a better farmer than I am,” he said with a smile. When he was in Grand Forks, she put up a new steel building on the farm for their machinery and didn’t tell him. “I didn’t need him worrying about things like that,” she said.

Uncle Leonard was a John Deere man, believing that if it wasn’t green, he didn’t want it. Deloris wasn’t so sure. After Uncle Leonard died, she decided she’d had enough of that green stuff. “I drove that old John Deere for too many years,” she told me this fall. So she bought herself a great big red Versatile tractor, and decided a new combine was in order, too, so she bought a big gray Gleaner. Neighbors said Uncle Leonard was rolling over in his grave. She paid for them in just a couple of years, when crop prices were good, and still drives them. Jimmy runs the green stuff.

With a new swather and a new sprayer, she’s got about all the equipment she needs. Oh, and there’s the new semi, too. She drives that in the fields but doesn’t take it on the road, leaving it to Jimmy to haul the grain to the elevator.

Uncle Leonard had a pretty nice pickup, but it wasn’t quite what Deloris wanted, so she bought herself a new Dodge Ram four-wheel drive a couple of years ago to get back and forth to the farm and to drive to Devils Lake for groceries. It takes her a little work to climb up into it, but when she’s sitting behind the wheel with a smile on her face, he’s the Queen of the Road.

My cousin Jimmy, a REALLY good farmer, a strong man with an easy smile who handles the heavy work of the farm and who has land of his own and his own machinery (the green stuff), is happy with the arrangement he and his mom have worked out. They’re steadfast partners, day in and day out, making decisions together about what and when to plant, when to fertilize, when to sell and the dozens of daily choices that need to be made on a successful farm.

He’s been farming nearly 40 years, first with his mom and dad, and now just with his mom, and runs a snowmobile repair business in the winter. That, and chasing after grandkids all over northeast North Dakota, keeps him plenty busy. He also looks in on his mom most days — she is 88 after all, and lives alone — and reports in to his sisters, who have moved away and have families of their own.

Tuesday, he was fretting a bit about the canola — it was just a bit too wet.There was a big wind blowing, and the elevator man said, “Just wait a couple of hours before you combine it and it will dry out.”

Jimmy replied, “In a couple of hours, it will be dark.” So he and the duck hunter got on the combines and took it just a bit too wet, but Jimmy thought that would be OK.

Aunt Deloris found some odd jobs to do around the farm. She wasn’t going to quit and go to town before the men did.

In fact, she says she has no plans to quit farming any time soon.

“My neighbors all say I should quit. Heck, what would I do?”

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Refinery Company Is Still Blowing Smoke, Still Sleazy

Last week, William Prentice, the slickster CEO of Meridian Energy Group, which wants to build an oil refinery 2½ miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, blew a bunch of smoke up the ass of a young reporter for The Dickinson (N.D.) Press, and the kid, who’s actually a pretty good writer, wrote a real puff piece about how great the refinery is going to be for western North Dakota.

Worse, the Bismarck Tribune reprinted most of it this week. Even worse, Forum Communications’ other North Dakota papers — in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown — all printed the story, under the headline “Refinery near national park would bring jobs, revenue to western ND county.” You could read it here if you want to. This kind of positive publicity coup for a controversial project had old Bill Prentice drooling out of both sides of his mouth.

Prentice said taxes collected from the refinery would provide Billings County “funds to improve schools, roads and anything else. The influx of money and workers could even help return a grocery store to the town, as Belfield has lacked one for years now.”

“Everything needs a little bit of tender loving care,” Prentice said.

Gag.

P.S. Belfield is in Stark County, not Billings.

Now maybe the young reporter is going to do another story sometime talking about the problems a refinery near a national park poses. If so, he might want to talk to some folks from the National Parks Conservation Association, one of the fiercest and most stubborn opponents of the refinery’s proposed location. That’s the nonprofit organization whose only agenda is to support and seek protection for national parks all over the U.S. Because of this severe threat to North Dakota’s national park, NPCA has jumped into this battle with both feet.

To that end, NPCA commissioned an independent analysis of Meridian’s application materials for an air-quality permit from the North Dakota Department of Health. In its application, Meridian claims that the proposed refinery is a “minor” source of pollution. Uh huh.

In her analysis of the application, Dr. Phyllis Fox, an environmental and chemical engineer from Florida who has prepared air permit applications on behalf of refiners and who has reviewed and commented on hundreds of permit applications, says the refinery “is almost certainly a ‘major’ source of pollution that would release substantial amounts of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants — all harmful to human and ecological health.” Uffda.

The designation matters, Dr. Fox says, because unlike major sources of pollution, a minor source permit does not require a rigorous assessment of pollution impacts as well as the best pollution controls. A major source permit requires serious scrutiny, which Meridian wants to avoid.

Her analysis also found that Meridian significantly underestimated or omitted emissions in its application from sources, including flaring events; startup, shutdown and malfunction; and associated equipment, among other sources.

Well. That’s not surprising. As I said in an earlier post here, Meridian is one sleazy company. They’ve told outright lies to the North Dakota Public Service Commission to avoid undergoing an environmental assessment in order to get a site permit. And now, we learn they’ve lied to the State Health Department as well. I asked both those agencies to comment on Dr. Fox’s report.

Craig Thorstenson, the environmental engineer for the Health Department who is responsible for these kinds of things (and who just happens to be the nephew of my Hettinger High School wrestling coach, Chuck Thorstenson, a really good coach who won the state championship and was named North Dakota High School Wrestling Coach of the Year in 1966, the year AFTER I graduated) replied, “We are still reviewing the Meridian application to determine if the application is complete and if emissions from the facility will be expected to remain below the major source thresholds. It will likely be at least two months before we make a determination.”

Craig also told me that when the review is done, there will be a 30-day public comment period, and he said Dr. Fox’s report will be considered if she submits it to the Health Department during that time period. My guess is they will take it seriously. Bill Prentice won’t like that.

Prentice, by the way, was trying to blow smoke up Craig Thorstenson’s ass in the Dickinson Press story, too. Seeking to get out ahead of Dr. Fox’s report, Prentice said, “The North Dakota Department of Health is as knowledgeable, if not more knowledgeable than any other agency we’ve worked with on a complex project, including federal agencies. They are a world-class organization.”

More blowing smoke: As far as I can tell, Meridian Energy is a brand-new company and this is its first project, so I’m not sure what agencies, “including federal agencies,” they’ve “worked with.” Kind of a Trumpian claim, in keeping with the times.

I do think the Health Department is doing a pretty thorough review of the application. I won’t be surprised if they agree with Dr. Fox.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, to whom I have no such close association as I do with Craig Thorstenson and his now deceased Uncle Chuck (although I often sit behind Julie’s brother in church — I sit in the third row on the left side because I am hard of hearing and that’s the spot with the best acoustics, and I don’t want to miss Msgr. Chad Gion’s homilies because they’re very good — and Mike and his family usually sit right in front of me) replied, “Per the law, the PSC can’t require them to site the project. If they begin building without a permit then we could at that point take legal action against them if we believe they are violating the siting law. That’s the legal landscape. Our staff is working on a meeting with the company so we can speak directly with them about their plans, timeline, that site, their technology, etc., rather than through letters.”

I think Julie and her fellow PSC members are serious, too. I don’t think this is a done deal yet with either of those agencies. We’ll see in a few months.

Meanwhile, don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers. If you want something to believe, read the NPCA press release, complete with a link to Dr. Fox’s thorough, 28-page report, here.