The drilling rigs puncture the horizons and tuck into the valleys of the bald North Dakota landscape. Their steel towers have taken root on a tableau of badlands and treeless plains that extends for more than 100 kilometres.

They are like steeples in the French countryside, erected in ever greater numbers, more every month, by an industry whose only deity is oil. Near many are the flares, the votive candles of the hydrocarbon age, where natural gas not worth enough to save is burned in enormous fireballs, some the size of small cars so brilliant they blind drivers at night.