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Shelly Ventsch: No rigs, no flares in N.D.'s tourism guide

NEW TOWN, N.D. -- Recently, Gov. Jack Dalrymple was on the news justifying the North Dakota Industrial Commission's permitting more drilling near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. He had been to the area and said it is "not crea...

NEW TOWN, N.D. -- Recently, Gov. Jack Dalrymple was on the news justifying the North Dakota Industrial Commission's permitting more drilling near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. He had been to the area and said it is "not creating any undue problems ... in terms of appreciating the view."

That is his opinion, one which may not be shared by visitors who come to a national park wanting to see only wilderness.

Is this the mindset -- that as long as there already is a scar, no one will notice a few more? Why do I get the feeling that Dalrymple's and the other Industrial Commission members' visits to scenic or pristine areas will turn out to be a waste of time?

Oil production has been touted as a wondrous thing. But what exactly is North Dakota promoting in terms of tourism?

In the latest North Dakota Travel Guide, produced by the state Department of Commerce's Tourism Division, Dalrymple's welcome makes no mention of oil development. And out of 158 pages totaling 13,588 square inches of publication, there is only a 3/8-inch picture of a rig in a Parshall, N.D., ad and an even tinier pumping unit in a Williston ad inviting visitors to "Experience the Bakken."

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Only three other places mention oil. One of them is Minot's ad, which touts the city as the "Gateway to the Bakken" (luckily, a gateway also is an exit).

Nor is oil development mentioned in any of the guide's sections, which include outdoors, culture and heritage, attractions and lodging, and events. And no wonder: Aside from jobs and money, how is oil development attractive?

The state has held seminars, symposiums, conferences, conventions and oil shows; but none of these are included in the schedule of events.

In short, the Tourism Division put out a nice guide, but it entirely omits any sign of what has happened to the western part of the state.

Then again, how could the changes have been promoted realistically?

"Come experience the thrill of truck-dodging, watch them cross center lines, run stop signs, and maybe even overturn, spilling a river of crude or catching on fire.

"Never had the opportunity to hit the ditch? This may be your chance! Come search for the disappearing wildlife as they make their way through a habitat fragmented by oil sites, gravel pits, compressor stations, man camps, pipe and power lines, new rails and roads littered with trucker bombs and radioactive filter socks.

"Country adventure includes the challenge of hearing birdsong through the industrial racket of engine brakes, drilling rigs, pumping units and howling flares. And while you're here, check out the night sky, lit by the eerie glow of never-ending flaring and minimizing the Northern Lights, planets and stars.

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And don't forget to take a deep breath of what North Dakota is becoming famous for: Truck exhaust, flare emissions and dust mingled with frac sand and a variety of chemicals."

Should prostitution, drugs, violence, price gouging and other boom-related "attractions" also be mentioned?

When people who left North Dakota years ago return for a visit, they say they are heartbroken and won't come back.

If the state is interested in attracting genuine tourists to western North Dakota, false advertising might just be the way to go. But it may be a one-time trip.

Ventsch farms near New Town.

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