When we lived in North Dakota 16 years ago, the whole state had this love/hate relationship with its population.
On the one hand, they wished they had more people, larger cities, more economic development. On the other hand, they really liked being the small town state, a place where all of its inhabitants could comfortably fit into the combined space of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Back then, the state was dying, you see. They were losing anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people per year, and the addition of the two of us was a drop in the bucket.
Since then, the state has boomed, thanks entirely to the vast oil field that has been sitting under the western half of the state. Finally financially viable thanks to technology and higher oil costs, companies are now able to go in and extract oil from between layers of rock, simply by pumping in a slurry of water and sand and forcing the oil out.
So they’ve got the money they want: I’ve read stories from farmers who have sold mineral rights and now are swimming in cash they never imagined. Plus the state has the growth they want. Towns have suddenly grown in population, but most don’t have housing to put these workers in. But in a few cases, there have been good stories: Stanley, a town that sits just northwest of where we lived for the first year out there, was excited to have a developer come in and buy land and work quickly to build a relatively large apartment building. And to help speed the process along, the developer offered to build the road to the building for the city, so that he wouldn’t have to wait for them to get the infrastructure to him.
But then there’s the down side. There is no vacant housing out there west of the prairie, so scores of people are sleeping in their cars and trucks. Most of the workers are men. Most are pretty rough and tumble kinds of guys. Most are far away from family. So payday frequently turns into drunken brawls at local bars in Williston, Stanley, and other towns in the northwestern part of North Dakota.
So now they’re learning about what larger cities have to deal with: increased crime, and needing a larger police force.
In reading the region’s papers, there are stories about increased violent crime, prostitution, theft–all things that were virtually non-existent before this oil boom.
It makes me remember when we first got out there and still locked the doors on our car when we parked it. Everyone laughed at us and joked about not being able to get out of our city habits. Most even never locked their houses. Recent developments make me wonder how much of that has changed.
But they’ve got their wish, right?
See you tomorrow.