By Taylor Brorby
Lake Sakakawea, ND — Jim and Norma Stenslie sold their idyllic Lake Sakakawea home in 2012. Many factors including truck traffic, dust, numerous oil wells and gravel pits within a mile of their home, gas flares that surrounded them, and the destruction of prairie beauty all around them, prompted them to move away from a home built of a lifetime of memories. Jim, a retired Lutheran pastor, and his wife Norma, bought their lake property on Little Knife Bay in 1969. Jim grew up in Watford City during the first western North Dakota oil boom, while Norma grew up in eastern North Dakota as a farm girl. After meeting at Concordia College, the two married while Jim was studying at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Jim was serving American Lutheran Church in Stanley during the second oil boom.
In 1999 the couple retired to their lake cabin, remodeling to help host their growing family of children and grandchildren. The two enjoyed reading, hiking, fishing, and skiing and looked forward to their family visiting.
Then the oil rigs came.
After telling their children the news of their decision, they looked for a quiet and clean small town in which to make their new home. Norma said “We were tired of the sadness and anger we felt over what was happening all around us. Other than the money, I can’t think of one good thing this boom is bringing to North Dakota. The boom is out of control. Our leaders haven’t foreseen all the things that needed to be done. People say it will go back to normal eventually. Normal is lost.”. Jim said “Our dream was always to live there until we died, but we didn’t die soon enough! Trying to get our officials to make changes is hopeless. Changing our leadership is what needs to happen.”
When asked if the Stenslie’s complaints are just “rich people problems” as Drew Wrigley, the Lieutenant Governor, told the Bowman Area Chamber of Commerce, Norma says, “This is losing something precious (the land), it was like living in paradise for us. It’s now paradise lost; it’s not coming back.” Jim said, “It was like we were living in an occupied country and we are now refugees.”
Jim and Norma found the quiet and clean new place they looked for in the small town of Napoleon. They miss their cabin and all their friends left behind and worry about their health and safety.
As the Stenslies find their place in a new community, the Bakken oil boom and state officials continue the new state motto of “Drill, baby, drill.” With more residents of North Dakota contemplating leaving the land they’ve cared for and come to love, will the state find a way to slow the oil boom?