All’s Well That Ends Wells
In his report on the fracking boom in North Dakota [“Bakken Business,” Letter from Elkhorn Ranch, March], Richard Manning fails to mention the rapid falloff in the output of fracked wells — often as much as 80 percent over two years. The industry must constantly drill new wells to keep up production. The 673,000 barrels produced daily in the Bakken in January of this year required more than 4,500 wells. To maintain that level, another 699 wells must be drilled next year, but there are plans for many more than that. At a certain point, diminishing returns set in; the Canadian energy geoscientist David Hughes gives the Bakken bubble ten years before it bursts. Saudi America this is not.
Manning uncritically repeats observations made by a delegation from the North Dakota Wildlife Society that visited several drilling sites in 2011 and claimed to have found evidence that reserve-pit water had contaminated the Missouri River. But according to an internal Department of Health investigation, no drilling sites discharged into the Missouri River that year. Snowmelt inundated the well pad at one site, but the reserve-pit water that drained off the pad was contained on adjacent fields.
Last April, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources put into effect twenty-six changes to the rules regulating oil activity, addressing some of the concerns the Wildlife Society raised in its report, and the state legislature is considering bills focusing on other environmental concerns this session. We remain committed to enforcing laws and regulations that protect our environment.
Director, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources
Chief, Environmental Health Section, North Dakota Department of Health
Richard Manning responds:
The government’s attempt to focus the discussion on a single well misses the forest for the trees — and this is no accident. Environmentalists and regulators alike appear most comfortable with a debate over which chemicals leaked at a single well among the state’s 8,000. But the real story is the carbon in our atmosphere. Perfect regulations and perfect enforcement by regulators would do little to prevent us from cooking the planet, or for that matter from leaving the landscape and communities of North Dakota sadly reduced.
In his letter to Paul Wolfowitz on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war [Miscellany, March], Andrew J. Bacevich claims that Wolfowitz, like his mentor Albert Wohlstetter, is fundamentally a pragmatist and not an ideologue. This is a false distinction, as Bacevich’s own analysis reveals. All the ingredients of ideology are present: the preference for preventive war that stems from a belief in American “dominion”; the goal of “unquestioned supremacy” for the United States; the pursuit of global hegemony “for [America’s] own good as well as for the world’s”; and “the imperative of claiming for the United States prerogatives allowed no other nation.” Bacevich is essentially describing American exceptionalism and, as the Kennedy School’s John Ruggie has added, exemptionalism — ideology, pure and simple. Though Wolfowitz’s actions were persistently justified with the doctrine of pragmatism, this ideology has long been the philosophical argument for American military intervention.
Up In Arms
The desperation to identify a convenient rationale for the serious problem of gun violence in America is evident in Thomas Frank’s invective against the film industry [“Blood Sport,” Easy Chair, March]. But Frank fails to recognize that gory movies are a symptom rather than a cause of our appetite for mayhem. We are all of us “lost in some sanguinary fantasy” — the murderous sense of entitlement with which we so easily embark on homicidal forays into those Vietnams and Iraqs and Afghanistans whose atrocities faze us hardly at all. We cannot eliminate the part of our violent nature that horrifies us at Sandy Hook without also eliminating the part that fails to horrify us abroad. When we blithely designate any village on earth an American battlefield, something comparably monstrous is bound to crop up here at home.
“Bakken Business” incorrectly states that oil wells are optimally spaced two to three miles apart. This is in fact the optimal spacing for well pads, which can contain up to twenty-four wells.
“Only Connect” [Whitney Terrell and Shannon Jackson, Annotation, April] incorrectly states that the municipal governments of Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, provide offices, meeting spaces, and showrooms to Google free of charge. The space the company maintains in city-owned buildings is indeed free; its other local facilities are privately rented.
We regret the errors.