NORTH DAKOTA OIL

Past decisions led to current issues

It was very sad to read about the changes to the small towns in North Dakota brought on by the fracking boom (“Cast adrift on an ocean of oil,” Dec. 22), but that boom was in large measure a consequence of the Obama administration’s continuing failure to approve the Keystone oil pipeline. Oil from fracking is the alternative to the pipeline, which is being built anyway, except now going west to supply oil to China. This is but another reminder that government actions, not fully thought out, in the name of the environment have unintended adverse consequences.

DAVID TEICHER, Plymouth

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I spent most of 2012 working on hydraulic fracturing crews in the area around Williston, N.D., and have been following the Star Tribune’s series “Life in the Boom.”

I did not meet anyone in our workplace who was out there to get rich. All of us were faced with the economic realities of the decade: falling real wages, limited opportunities, unaffordable health care and rising retirement costs. As much as many of us wanted our families to be near us and to be a part of a real community, the workplace made it impossible.

We frequently worked 200-plus hours in a 14-day period, with some shifts lasting 22 hours. Even at that, to rent a modest home would consume more than half our income.

The powers that be decided to grant so many drilling permits, and that required so many workers; hence, the hopeless conditions. The lack of opportunities for laborers in the general economy is so great that multinational companies are guaranteed a steady stream of applicants. Each week, our company took on 10 to 20 new workers. Each week, that many would leave with fatigue- wracked bodies.

And that is not the full extent of the toll.

DAVID BANTA, Cloquet, Minn.

INFLUENCE

The playing field is way beyond level

As a retired businessperson and long-term environmental activist, I have really appreciated both of Bonnie Blodgett’s recent columns in the Star Tribune (“Public, private sectors run together in agribusiness,” Dec. 22, and “Agriculture’s deal with the dark side,” Dec. 2). The changes in corporate size and influence remind me of Teddy Roosevelt’s fights with the Rockefeller combines and other monopolies of his day. In the formative years of what morphed into the environmental movement, one of the battle cries was about “foxes in the chicken coop” (co-opted interior and agriculture leadership).

This has happened again. Corporate power and influence has grown without any sense of reason, leading to a very unlevel playing field. All balance is away from “the people.” Add to that the many citizens who simply are not paying attention for various reasons, and we achieve rapidly declining biodiversity. The “dots” between agriculture, mining, domestic energy and financial collapse are there for anyone interested to connect. I am very doubtful that even our beloved Minnesota is capable of anything even close to adequate regulation.

It is sad for me to say these things. I loved being in the insurance business. I’ve seen the joy that a free-enterprise system can bring to a culture at multiple levels — but money, our cultural drug of choice, embraces the following:

1) If a little bit is good …

2) a bit more would be better, and …

3) a lot more would be a lot better.

Most excesses ultimately lead to severe problems, and, often, almost equally injurious reactions.

DAVE ZENTNER, Duluth

HOMEOWNERSHIP

To push too hard is a return to risk

While I offer hope and congratulations to the single Andover mom who realized her dream of homeownership (“A home for the holidays,” Dec. 22), I can’t help thinking that this will not end well. According to the figures in the story, after her down payment, she financed $342,000. Using an online mortgage calculator with 4 percent as an interest rate, I came up with a monthly payment of more than $1,600. According to the Anoka County website, taxes on her property would be about $4,800, or another $400 monthly.

This doesn’t include home insurance; a car payment; feeding and clothing her children; costs associated with getting to and from work, or the myriad other costs involved with homeownership. Then I searched for pay for Metro Transit drivers (her job) and found an average salary of about $34,000. Even if she works tons of overtime, these numbers do not add up.

My questions: As she emerged from credit problems, bankruptcy and credit counseling, did her credit advisers express reservations at her buying such an expensive home? Even though she nearly doubled her income working overtime, is it wise to purchase a home based on income that may not be permanent? What banker would allow a worker with a base pay of $17 an hour to buy a $350,000 house? Surely there was a plentiful supply of suitable but less expensive homes.

While I wish her the best, my fear is that this will be a story of being “house-poor” — of someone who spent beyond their means, unable to keep up with the associated costs, and who will ultimately lose her dream.

JOHN G. MORGAN, Burnsville