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Fracking America’s Little House on the Prairie


Some see falling prices as the equivalent of a tax cut that will spur the western world out of its economic torpor. Others worry it is an ominous harbinger of deflation.

Some see falling prices as the equivalent of a tax cut that will spur the western world out of its economic torpor. Others worry it is an ominous harbinger of deflation.

Out on the American frontier, the plunging price of crude oil may mean the end of the kind of luxury that for more than 100 years has sporadically visited an area famous for one of the world’s largest-ever land grabs and forced extinction.

The Bakken Club closed its doors over the New Year’s break, evicted after a spat with a controversial landlord in Williston, North Dakota, home to the most expensive real estate market in the U.S., with average apartment rents some 60% above New York City.

 The Bakken Club, which described its menu as “Tuscan” while specializing in 14-ounce pancetta hamburgers, was a startup whose members were required to spend at least $750 a month on food and drinks – a lot by G-7 standards but less than a day’s pay for a skilled laborer in the Dakotas today, where hydraulic fracturing of the so-called Bakken shale is a massive affair.

Indeed, some see the Saudi refusal to cut oil production as a direct response to the fracking rage in North America, a bid to drive fuel prices so low that unconventional drilling methods are no longer economical.

We’ll come back to that, but first it’s worth noting that the high plains are the historic home of some of the most extreme human stories, mostly lost or snobbishly ignored at the individual level yet critical to the creation of the United States of America as it is today – warts and all.

Back in 1880, folks in the area were eating oysters. We know that from the recently-uncovered original autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, source of a wildly popular television series that turned a chaotic story into a one-way gloss on manifest destiny.

It turns out Ms. Ingalls’nation-building epic was spun mostly by her daughter, Rose, who was born in De Smet, South Dakota shortly after her grandfather took a job there with the railway, one of a string of peripatetic jobs held by the patriarch of the “Prairie” dynasty. For the record, Rose was a clever but poor girl who made a fortune in her 20s selling real estate in what is now known as Silicon Valley and went on to a literary career that led her along with Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek to be deemed one of the intellectual north stars of the libertarian movement.

In short, mess with a Dakotan at your own peril. On the other hand, it’s hard to stay up there.

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