Earlier this week, FeverDream Magazine published a story and photography that I’m really proud of: Notes From the Apocalypse: a Journey Through an American Sacrifice Zone. The magazine did an excellent job with the images and the layout and I couldn’t be more pleased.
“Notes From the Apocalypse” was inspired by a road-trip through the Bakken Oil Patch in western North Dakota documenting the epidemic of oilfield flaring and talking to the amazing members of Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights (POWER) for my job at a regional nonprofit. We’d heard about the flaring and the harms to health that it causes, including asthma and other respiratory disease including something called “the Bakken cough” that afflict both oilfield workers and residents. (The chemicals and volatile organic compounds [VOCs] that come up with the methane also definitively cause cancer but haven’t been studied enough to definitively be linked to cancer on the reservation. Cancer rates are higher there, but that can be said of every reservation throughout the U.S.) From space, the light from flaring mimics cities like Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Chicago in the middle of sparsely populated prairie. Seeing it from the ground was still shocking. Thousands of towers of flame licked the sky in every direction out to the horizon.
Drawing on my travel-writing background, I wondered how a travelogue through this largely ignored landscape would read. The photos I’d collected certainly added to the ambiance. Like every travel story, however, it was speaking to the locals that really drove home the scope of the oil industry’s impacts on communities that had very little say in what was happening to them. What came out of the project was something more literary than I’d expected.
I gave a reading of an early version of the story as a part of The Reading Series at Rocky Mountain College. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. There’s an interview printed after the story, if you’re interested in even more background on the project.