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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The damage done. A Montana community braces for the next oil boom while still dealing with the devastating effects of the last one.

It started with rust. In the toilet. On the shower stall. Helen
Ricker saw the orange stains and wondered what was causing them. Her
water came from a well, from an aquifer that had always been good. So
she drank the water anyway. Beneath the ground, the diluted edges of a
large groundwater contamination were seeping by in a slow, gravity-fed
progression. Little by little, Ricker's water got worse.

The water stained her white sheets when she washed them and turned
her white socks orange. Every time she filled the sink to do dishes, the
water's surface shimmered with an iridescent sheen. Residual grease
covered her plates long after soap washed away the night's meal. Then
the water started to stink. A sulfurous stench rose from the toilet in
the bathroom and cascaded out of her faucets. Ricker stopped drinking
her water.

Ricker lives on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation three miles north of
the town of Poplar, on the desolate BIA Road 75. Her home lies two
miles southwest of the East Poplar oilfields, a large expanse
crisscrossed with rutted dirt roads and spotted with blue, yellow and
black oil pumps bobbing up and down like plastic drinking birds from a
novelty store. The oilfield is not as productive as it used to be. But
that soon may change.

The Fort Peck Indian Reservation is on the western edge of the
Williston Basin. Beneath the reservation and expanding east into North
Dakota is the shale-rich Bakken formation. In the past, the oil and gas
in this particular rock was untappable. But recent advances in oil and
gas drilling technology have provided a way to break the Bakken's grasp
on what is now known as the largest continuous deposit of natural gas
and oil in the U.S.

The once humble farming town of Williston, N.D., which is at the
center of the Bakken reservoir, is now bursting at the seams with oil
workers from all over the U.S.

Though Poplar is only 97 miles west of Williston, things are still
very quiet there. Hotels have vacancies, and restaurants have empty
tables. But many believe that a new oil boom is on its way. Read more...