From the wars of West Africa to the oil boom of North Dakota
by Alex Halperin // November 7, 2014
WILLISTON, N.D. — The sun wasn’t yet visible over the nearby farmhouse when Younger Konah and Ibrahim Kamara stepped out of their battered trailer. The matching black T-shirts they wore read, “100% All-American premium deliciousness.”
Decaying heavy machinery lay scattered around the field near the couple’s home: a bulldozer, pickups, a boat, a howitzer cannon, even an amphibious military transport vehicle. Several nearby trailers also housed migrant workers. Konah, 23, and Kamara, 26, each of whom escaped a West African war before arriving in this country as refugees, call this informal settlement “the camp.”
On their way to work at Fuddruckers, the hamburger chain, Konah was excited to meet the puppy a co-worker had offered her from a new litter. “I want something that will be mine, something I will train my way,” she said.
Konah and Kamara are two of the African-born workers who have come to this town in northwest North Dakota, a remote part of a remote state, to capitalize on the oil boom that has transformed the landscape and local economy. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of workers and those seeking employment in the county has more than tripled, from 15,000 to nearly 50,000.
DENTON, Texas — Alyse and Lance Ogletree moved to the Meadows at Hickory Creek, a subdivision of modest houses in this fast-growing city 40 miles north of Dallas, in the fall of 2011. They found the home prices attractive and thought the well-regarded school district would be a good fit for their son, Kyle, who had suffered brain damage after contracting encephalitis when he was 8 months old.
Before closing the deal, Alyse, an electrical engineer in her 20s, asked the salesperson about storage tanks she’d noticed in the field several hundred feet behind the house. The salesperson said they were water tanks, Alyse recalls. She took this to mean the tanks had something to do with the drinking-water supply.
What the Ogletrees didn’t realize was that they were purchasing a home in a neighborhood near several of Denton’s more than 270 gas wells. They also didn’t know that in Texas and many other states, buying a home doesn’t necessarily entitle the owner to the resources beneath the property. That means energy companies can in some cases drill the area for gas without the homeowners' consent.
Flaming water: Texas homeowner takes on a gas company
by Alex Halperin // April 27, 2014
WEATHERFORD, Texas — Steve Lipsky, an entrepreneur and businessman, lives to the west of Fort Worth in a sprawling Mediterranean-style dream house. Since he found methane contaminating his water well, he has waged a legal battle against the gas company Range Resources.
In 2009, Range drilled and fracked two gas wells approximately 2,000 feet from Lipsky’s home. Later that year, Lipsky says he started noticing that the water from his well was slimy and fizzy. The next year he began trucking in his family’s water for about $1,000 a month. The methane levels in his well have risen to concentrations nearly three times higher than what’s considered explosive, according to recent test Lipsky helped pay for.
In December 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency administrative order requiring Range to fix the situation. The next day, the Railroad Commission of Texas, a state agency that regulates the oil-and-gas industry, said it would hold a hearing on wells in the area.
According to Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry group, gas companies in Texas are “very highly regulated.” But fracking opponents say the Railroad Commission acts as the industry’s handmaiden.
Last month, Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman lost in the Republican primary for Texas attorney general; his campaign website says he “repeatedly stood up to President Barack Obama and his job-killing policies, suing Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency seven times.”
Saving a music label after Sandy, record by record
by Alex Halperin // October 28, 2013
NEW YORK — Miriam Linna and Billy Miller's apartment in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, where they live surrounded by punk records and walls covered with concert posters, was spared the worst of Superstorm Sandy.
But their warehouse, where the couple stored the inventory for their 25-year-old company, Norton Records, wasn’t so fortunate. The storage space, in the low-lying Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, harbored more than 250,000 records, decades of personal correspondence, plus, Linna said, "paperbacks, all of our original art, master tapes, personal effects, two pinball machines, my drums."
The couple could see the water level rising as they drove down the slope toward the warehouse.
A man from their landlord’s company greeted them at the building.
"It's really bad," he warned.
The building had lost power but Linna unlocked the door to their storage area and shined a lantern in. It was a "complete disaster," she said.
Before the storm, Linna and Miller had sandbagged the space, but these precautions couldn't withstand the six-foot-high surge of water that tore through the room.
"We knew there was major-league trouble," she said.
They soon learned that their insurance policy considered Sandy an "act of God" and wouldn’t cover their damages.