Mount Shasta High grad praised for work in progress

Cody Lakin
Blaire Briody. Photo by Will Christiansen

Blaire Briody, a Mount Shasta High School graduate, was the finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for her upcoming nonfiction book, “The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown.”

An award winning journalist, Blaire is now living in Sonoma County working as editor-at-large for the Fiscal Times. She said she heard about the oil boom in North Dakota in 2013. She was living in New York, reporting on business news, in particular the recession, tent cities, and foreclosures. She read a news article about North Dakota and how, at the time, it had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, which she said was interesting to her for that fact alone.

“I read about people sleeping in Walmart parking lots despite all having jobs.” People were flocking to the state because of the oil boom. “It reminded me of the gold rush,” she said. “I learned that it had to do with oil, and fracking, and at the time it wasn’t getting coverage. I wanted to spend time on the ground.”

The research process, which consisted of following the stories of five different people and their experiences in Williston, North Dakota, took about two years. She is now working on revisions for her book and is hoping for a 2017 release in spring or summer.

She said she has been learning throughout the process of writing the book while dealing with her extensive notes and interviews, organization, and forming her own comments and narrative.

“For me it’s so much about the people going through this,” she said about the book and the experience of research and writing. “There’s a lot of sadness there. Things happening with farmers and their lands; the tensions between newcomers and locals; the living conditions for everyone there.”

The Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, for which she was a runner-up, is for nonfiction works that are judged to be significant on topics of political, economic, and social concerns and, in Blaire’s case, an important work of journalism. It is an award given to aid in funding and completion of a work-in-progress.

Her book deals with the transformation of Williston, North Dakota, brought about by the oil boom, and the fracking that is going on there. The judges praised her work as “hard-hitting and unblinking,” while stressing its relevance and importance.

“I knew very little about this industry before I began this story,” she said. “I tried not to come into it with any expectations, even with fracking, which is very controversial. I grew up in Mount Shasta and want to protect beautiful places and communities like it. I went in with an open mind about fracking and oil production.”

Her experiences, she says, have shown her how complex an issue fracking is, and with definite criticisms of it, and with having seen its impact firsthand, she sees no absolute yes or no answer.

When speaking of what she hopes the book’s impact will be, Blaire said, “I hope readers learn and think about some of the consequences of America’s choices regarding oil. People only think about oil really when filling up their cars, or when prices go up at the gas station.” She hopes that learning about personal experiences, like the ones recounted in her book, not only educate people, but inspire empathy.