'Boomtowners' looks to the human side of North Dakota's oil fields

Wed May 6, 2015 8:26am EDT
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By Ernest Scheyder

WILLISTON, N.D. (Reuters) - Aiming to show the human side of North Dakota's oil industry, the Smithsonian Channel's "Boomtowners" chronicles the highs and lows of transplants to one of the nation's fastest-growing economies.

Producers of the show, which airs the third of six episodes this Sunday night, deliberately sidestepped any focus on the environmental concerns of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial technique that uses high-pressure water laced with sand and chemicals to coax oil and natural gas out of the ground.

Instead, "Boomtowners" tells the stories of some of the thousands of people who relocate to rural North Dakota for a fresh start in the oil boom, where roughly 1.2 million barrels of crude are extracted each day.

"This is a character-driven series," said David Royle, head of programing and production at the Smithsonian Channel, a joint venture between the museum and CBS Corp. "Coming through this whole thing is a sense of the pioneer spirit, which is a truly American phenomenon."

The show, which uses drone-mounted cameras for unique shots of the North Dakota landscape, tracks eight groups of people, including an itinerant evangelist working as a safety inspector and a lesbian couple running a trucking company.

Rather than gawk or patronize, "Boomtowners" often is at pains to accurately depict life in a region many consider forlorn.

"I think people have begun to realize that what we're doing here is not reality programing of the kind that takes place in Swampland, Louisiana," said Royle, in a reference to A&E Network's "Duck Dynasty."

"Being the Smithsonian Channel has its advantages," he added.   Continued...

An oil well is pictured at sunrise in the Bakken oil fields near Sidney, Montana in this November 2014 handout photo. REUTERS/Smithsonian Channel/Handout via Reuters