Kingsbury Column: Train Derailment Brings Out Luddites In North Dakota

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I assume Say Anything readers know who Luddites were. Even today every time some industry or area tries to move to the next level of industrialization we find out that not all the Luddites were captured or killed in their time.

Today they have chosen North Dakota as their battleground. It has gotten so absurd that in the most recent train accident in Canada there was a headline that it was not Bakken oil, as if that should be a part of the story.

Maybe it should. I understand Bakken oil is so pure that it takes a minimum of refining. A disadvantage of that is as it is pumped from the ground it is more explosive than most oils. Of course that also means Bakken oil creates less air pollution as it moves through the process to its final use providing energy for all of us.

Today’s Luddites write that the towns are not the same as they were before. That is certainly true. Before, as the new agricultural technology was coming into place in the early 2000s farms were disappearing and the population in every little village and larger town was declining by about one-third every decade. We know what is happening now.

Today in the oil patch Grandma and Grandpa’s house which sold for maybe $5,000, if it sold at all in 2000 , now sells for thousands and thousands of dollars. Imagine how much money the kids that moved to Bismarck, or Minot, or Fargo now have for the children’s college education. Education that would have strapped the parents and the children for a life time now will be paid for out of pocket. If not completely at least incomparable to what it would have been otherwise.

Those same Luddites complain about the roads, and what they say is true for a few years until the state appropriating billions of oil dollars catch up with the situation. They are doing that, and in the end the best roads in the state will be in the oil patch, certainly if we have a pipeline system similar to what is in Texas and not have to pound up and down the road with tanker trucks.

The Luddites complain about the schools, and they are right because the boom crowded a lot of classrooms and changed the student teacher ratios. That problem too is being addressed with
the legislature appropriating the money to answer it. In the end the small town oil patch schools with their stable populations will have the best schools in the state. Unlike towns such as Carrington or Langdon with enrollments that continue to decline a place like Watford City will be the city on the hill and the castle will be the school.

The Luddites also complain about social problems. Things like drugs and prostitution. Is social crime increasing? Yes. That is why the Governor has asked for a review of the situation in preparation for the next legislative session. It is why our elected officials and their assistants get the big money. To figure the answers to the hard problems. The low paid people can figure out the easy problems.

Is it better to understand the science of pipelines, including the fact that a lightning strike while highly unlikely is a possibility and when it occurs is just that, an occurrence not to be denied. There is only one chance out of 178 million of winning the power ball lottery so it makes no sense to ever buy a ticket. Except, don’t tell that to the people who have won.

Is there any journalist who has written a story that tells us that there is a greater possibility of a train accident in the winter, especially as it gets colder because steel contracts in cold weather and the increase in rail gaps makes for a greater possibility of an accident. Has anyone ever considered that those possibilities could be minimized if the properly designed car were required to run immediately in front of those trains looking for those problems. Has anyone ever investigated the possibility that the new longer rail today may work just fine in Texas, or even Illinois, but should not be used in the extreme cold of the northern prairies?

Do any of the columnist who write that the oil industry doesn’t pay enough in taxes ever investigate how much of the money being spent on roads, schools, additional government
employees, or even social programs comes directly from oil? Are those columnist so jealous of
success that they can only write false conclusions?

Finally, has any one tried to draw a correlation between the number of our sons and daughters who have not been killed or lost arms or legs in the middle east to keep that oil pipeline open because we have the oil here at home? Have they calculated how many gallons of energy have not been burned hauling crude from North Dakota to the American market instead of from the middle east, or even South America? Don’t they understand, or don’t they care?

Ralph Kingsbury

Ralph Kingsbury owns Kingsbury Economics. Specializing in statistical research his on line blog is free to readers. It is located at www.northernplainsstats.com. It contains statistics of North Dakota, and NW Minnesota. At the request of his readers it has a section on Grand Forks. It also reports on Montana, South Dakota, and all of Minnesota when appropriate to telling the story of the upper Great Plains both economically and culturally.

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