Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism

Department or School/College

School of Journalism

Committee Chair

Dennis Swibold

Commitee Members

Nadia White, William Woessner


Fort Peck Indian Reservation, groundwater, oil


University of Montana


Conde, Kelly, M.A., Spring 2013 Journalism The Damage Done Chairperson: Dennis Swibold The water that ran from Helen Ricker’s faucet stank of rotten eggs and of chemicals. It ran orange and greasy. It stained her clothes and clung to her skin. Ricker lives on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, three miles north of Poplar, Mont. From Ricker’s home, the oil wells from the East Poplar oilfields can be seen in the distance. Her water started to change in the early 1970’s, twenty years after the first oil well was drilled. It took about that long for the contamination from poorly regulated drilling practices and leaking wells to reach her water supply. Since then, Ricker and her neighbors have struggled for clean water. Twenty years after the contamination turned Ricker’s water undrinkable, it reached Poplar. It went from contaminating the water of 20 homes, to poisoning an entire city water supply. Poised on the edge of the highly productive Bakken formation, Poplar was caught straddling two eras. As the town scrambled for a solution to their water problems brought on by oil practices from decades ago, the prospect of rapid oil production flickered in the near future. And just as the town’s water was saved by way of a new water treatment plant funded by American taxpayers, the Bakken started to boom. If the boom reaches the reservation, it means a way out of economic hardship, but for those still dealing with the consequences of the last boom, it means fresh wounds on an already scarred land. The Damage Done sheds light on the long-term effects of unharnessed oil and gas production. It also tells the scientific story of oil production and some ways the industry and regulatory agencies have changed to prevent such environmental disasters from happening in the future.



© Copyright 2013 Kelly Beth Conde