WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — After running more than a marathon every day for 13 days straight, a University of North Dakota student has finished a journey from Grand Forks to Williston aimed at raising awareness about oil's environmental impact.
Exhausted 22-year-old Grand Forks native Caleb Kobilansky "danced, screamed and ate Pringles" when he finally made it to Williston, the de facto capital of the state's oil boom, on Friday. 21-year-old Tom Fisher trailed Kobilansky on a bicycle for the second half of the trip hauling supplies.
Kobilansky had originally planned to run 360 miles, but says he ended up running farther.
Running entirely on back roads, Kobilansky found himself jogging along semi-trucks on dusty oil field roads during the last legs of the trip.
"It was terrifying," said Kobilansky. "Our eyes were hurting pretty bad from all the dust they kicked up and we were coughing — it was definitely pretty dangerous."
Kobilansky and Fisher deemed the final approach to Williston too dangerous and hitched a ride in from the nearby town of Epping according to their trip's Facebook page.
Living in Grand Forks, the two said they knew oil was transforming their state. But their city is closer to Minneapolis than the oil patch.
"There's a huge disconnect," said Kobilansky.
While the eastern part of the state has seen the economic benefits and population growth from the oil boom, it does not feel the impacts that oil patch towns do. Oil patch towns are struggling to keep up with the growth and have to put up with negatives such as oil field truck traffic and natural gas flares that blight the countryside.
The two had been to western North Dakota before, but not since the oil boom truly took hold of the area around six years ago. Kobilansky and Fisher said the run from Grand Forks to Minot was the North Dakota that was familiar to them: Farmland on the prairie. But after Minot they started seeing the oil pump jacks, drilling rigs and orange flames of natural gas flares that now characterize the west.
"To me it evoked this almost visceral response seeing flaring going on in peoples' backyards basically," said Kobilansky.
Natural gas is a byproduct of oil production. It is valuable, but without capture mechanisms in place, it is burned off by producers. Currently North Dakota flares more than 30 percent of the gas produced in the state. The nationwide flaring rate is around one percent.
The pair filmed their journey and hope to release an online documentary to raise awareness about oil's impact and encourage North Dakotans to protect the environment.
"We all need to join together in solidarity so we can put measures in place to protect it," said Kobilansky.