An illustrated guide to oil drilling on the Blackfeet Reservation

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The images that jump out the most show a drill pad located a half-mile from the new Browning High School, adjacent to residential homes and the Lodgepole Gallery and Tepee Village, and with Glacier National Park in the background. There's an aerial shot that puts the proximity of the pad in perspective. Two on-the-ground photos put Glacier's Summit and Littledog peaks firmly in the backdrop.

You can see these images—as well as many others—on a new interactive project created by East Glacier-based photographer Tony Bynum. In 2010, Bynum started to document where drill sites and fracking activity popped up across the reservation. The pads would go up for a couple weeks at a time, then disappear. Before they were gone, Bynum would take a shot—and take the time to set up the shot to show just how close the drilling was to surrounding landmarks.

"There's really no other way to show, and no one else showing, the rest of the country and those who care about this place, what is happening here," he said in an interview last week.

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Media outlets have covered the drilling activity on the reservation, but Bynum says nobody had a firm record of just how much was happening, and where. He decided to put his images together with an interactive map designed by Stacy Dolderer, and to add to it over time.

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"The first images are of a relatively intact landscape followed by photos of 'progress,'" writes Bynum on his website. "Drilling, drillers, the local economy and the social impacts over the lifetime of the project will follow. The photographs will be used now to help educate people about this threatened region. At the same time, the project will build a digital archive for future generations who can better understand what the land looked like before and during the period of disturbance."

Bynum says he's not interested in playing politics. He has more than 20 years experience in environmental policy, including a stint as Senior Indian Program Manager at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., but has no intention of pleading with the reservation or oil companies. Instead, he's hoping the data he puts together will better inform those in the area.

"If nothing else, it might cause more people to ask questions and show them that someone is paying attention to what they're doing," he said. "My goal is to provide the imagery and information so people can develop their own informed opinion. It's a record that I hope will speak for itself."

Images courtesy of Tony Bynum and tonybynum.com

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