North Dakota: The Oil and Diversity Capital of America

 

WILLISTON, ND – I’m reporting here from the oily beating heart of the Bakken Formation, which is producing so much domestic energy that the state has just surpassed third-place Alaska in production and is setting its sights on number one Texas.  I’m here doing research on a future novel.  The place smells like…money.

First, a few facts:

— 35-40 trains up to one mile long leave here every day. Every tanker car is filled with oil. (Why not via pipeline? Ask the EPA).

— The unemployment rate is 0.4%. That’s zero-point-four percent. You can sit back down now.

30 million barrels of oil are coming out of the ground each month and the success rate of each new well is over 95%. It’s all fracking. And not a single accident or environmental disaster has occurred.

— The Williston area has grown from 12,000 people five years ago to somewhere around 45,000 today. Nobody knows the true number. It may be 60,000. Over 10,000 men (and it’s mostly men) bunk in temporary “man camps” surrounding the town.

— The local Wal-Mart pays its employees $17 an hour and subsidizes their housing. McDonalds pays $15 per hour plus benefits, and has only recently been open seven days a week due to their inability to hire enough people.

— The local newspaper offers $250 signing bonuses to carriers provided they’ll deliver papers for a specified length of time.

— Every new business builds adjoining housing units so employees have a place to stay.

— The Bakken oil field is so huge and so productive it looks like Chicago or Minneapolis at night from space.

— Williston is currently #1 in sales of Carhartt work clothing and 2013 Chevy Corvettes.

I could go on but I won’t. And not everything is peachy. Every single day, the train arrives at the Amtrak station and unemployed people disembark and start walking toward the small and old-fashioned downtown. Some have only the shirts on their back. Housing costs are through the roof (houses rent for $1,000 per room). A small used-to-be farming village an hour from Williston sees 8,000 big trucks drive through their main street a day. Ranchers complain of horses dying from dust inhalation from the traffic on the dirt roads. There is not a single psychiatrist (I’m up in the air whether that is good or bad).

Something else is happening and it’s especially noticeable to the locals and anyone visiting, like me. North Dakota has long been one of the whitest states in the union. It was also one of the oldest and it was losing population every census. Officially, it’s 47.2% German, 31% Norwegian, 5% American Indian, and the rest largely Northern European. We used to call everyone we knew from North Dakota a “Scandi-hoovian.” The black population was less than 1.2%.

But the boom has changed all that. Yesterday, in a tour through Wal-Mart, I saw many  African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and multiracials.  The nice hotel I’m staying at is managed wholly by a family of black Americans from Detroit.  

Suddenly, Williston, North Dakota, is Diversity City!

No one created a program or made a law. No one shamed employers to agree on a quota. No one enacted regulations to right wrongs of the past. No one put in a scheme to redistribute income from the rich to the poor.

What happened was growth, opportunity, and prosperity for those willing to relocate and work hard. 

And everyone showed up.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @SEnkey

    It’s almost as if some invisible hand put all these things together… Wait I sound like a crazy person. Now I remember from the last round of Presidential debates, this is all thanks to President Obama. Thanks Obama! 

    Next Press Release from POTUS: 

    “I was in the dark as anyone that the free market was so active in ending the recession for these folks. Rest assured I would not have gone out and promised a new normal if I had known these things. Let me be clear, I am not stupid.” 

    • #1
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    @user_140230
    C.J. Box:

    And everyone showed up.

    Everyone except women from what I’ve heard. How bad is the M/F ratio?

    • #2
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    @DocJay

    I have a friend in on the boom there with some office buildings and some oil rights. He’s having a yabba dabba do time.

    • #3
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    @WhiskeySam

    I have a friend who had struggled with employment here in VA who moved up there a few years ago.  He’s been working up there making good money and living in “man camps”.  Anyone who is willing to work will find work, and good paying work, in ND right now.

    • #4
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    @NickStuart

    Figure each of those trains is carrying 75000 bbl.

    • #5
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    @rayconandlindacon

    No government redistribution program?  How do the greedy bastards who call themselves socialists get hold of other people’s money to redistribute.  1 million dollars for me, 100 dollars for the poor.  

    Sounds about fair.

    • #6
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    @user_531302

    We have a rather large supply of bumper stickers left over from the 80s. Do you think there’s a market in ND for bumper stickers that read, “Dear Lord, if you give us another oil boom we promise not to mess it up this time.”?

    • #7
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    @CJBox

    JT: the ratio of men to women is either 10-1 or 15-1, depending on the source. As you can imagine in a place where young single men are making a hundred thousand a year with not a lot to do on their down time in the oil patch, the strippers (who fly in from all over the country) are doing good business as well.

    • #8
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    @CJBox

    Also, the State of North Dakota has a $3 billion surplus. What do you think of that, captives of New York, Illinois, and California?

    • #9
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    @rayconandlindacon
    C.J. Box: Also, the State of North Dakota has a $3 billion surplus. What do you think of that, captives of New York, Illinois, and California? · 1 minute ago

    Don’t say it too loud.  The socialists might use this as their never ending source of other people’s money.

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Member
    @

    I live an hour and a half away, and I can tell you from the local NPR station the local progressives (and the upper mid-west has a fair crop of them), are already trying to tinker with that cash-o-la…but it IS VERY interesting to hear the liberals on there tie themselves in knots over the oil money.

    But, as conservatives, we should note there are tons of problems that are coming with all the good (and there is good a-plenty), a boom is always a very mixed bag.

    raycon and lindacon

    C.J. Box: Also, the State of North Dakota has a $3 billion surplus. What do you think of that, captives of New York, Illinois, and California? · 1 minute ago

    Don’t say it too loud.  The socialists might use this as their never ending source of other people’s money. · 6 minutes ago

    • #11
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    @CJBox

    St. Salieri: Of course you’re right. There are plenty of downsides to a boom. While some get wildly rich, others get kicked out of their rentals to be replaced by oilfield workers. Organized crime is moving in.But all in all, wouldn’t we rather deal with impact of growth than be mired in national decline?

    • #12
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    @BrentB67

    Similar story in Midland the past couple of weeks.  $10+/hour job fairs at McDonalds. 

    A side note. The folks with real work ethic end up in the field so the service around town tends to be horrible at the chains. I have had to show some people how to operate a cash register just to ensure I give them money.

    • #13
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    @BrentB67
    C.J. Box: St. Salieri: Of course you’re right. There are plenty of downsides to a boom. While some get wildly rich, others get kicked out of their rentals to be replaced by oilfield workers. Organized crime is moving in.But all in all, wouldn’t we rather deal with impact of growth than be mired in national decline? · 23 minutes ago

    Edited 0 minutes ago

    No doubt. I am reading an amazing book about the history of Texas and it is a harsh reminder that we didn’t get to where we are today in relative comfort. This is a country that has grown up fast and rough.

    • #14
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    @BrentB67
    C.J. Box: JT: the ratio of men to women is either 10-1 or 15-1, depending on the source. As you can imagine in a place where young single men are making a hundred thousand a year with not a lot to do on their down time in the oil patch, the strippers (who fly in from all over the country) are doing good business as well. · 55 minutes ago

    In keeping with the non conservative stuff going on in the field this is one of the most common stickers seen on hard hats in PA, WV, OH, OK, and TX.Shale-Jobs-Single-Moms.jpg

    • #15
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    @CJBox
    BrentB67

    C.J. Box: JT: the ratio of men to women is either 10-1 or 15-1, depending on the source. As you can imagine in a place where young single men are making a hundred thousand a year with not a lot to do on their down time in the oil patch, the strippers (who fly in from all over the country) are doing good business as well. · 55 minutes ago

    In keeping with the non conservative stuff going on in the field this is one of the most common stickers seen on hard hats in PA, WV, OH, OK, and TX. · 9 minutes ago

    And in keeping with that elevated theme, there are signs up in the bars here that say, “Welcome to Williston, where even ugly women have a chance.”

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Note my “good-a-plenty” in my comments on your column.  I am in full agreement that we need growth, and there is plenty of good going on in the Bakken.  However, there is more needed to right our ship economically than this boom, steady growth built on capital invested in industry that is used to create more wealth is far better than an extraction boom alone (which also fuels local and some distant industries) for many reasons.  Booms often fuel the steady growth, but we cannot maintain our economic health solely based on extraction esp. with our current political climate, this could just as well mask national decline.

    C.J. Box: St. Salieri: Of course you’re right. There are plenty of downsides to a boom. While some get wildly rich, others get kicked out of their rentals to be replaced by oilfield workers. Organized crime is moving in.But all in all, wouldn’t we rather deal with impact of growth than be mired in national decline? · 13 hours ago

    Edited 12 hours ago

    Matthew: …and none of this bothered a single white North Dakotan in the post-racial oil fields of this great country. · 9 hours ago

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Member
    @
    BrentB67: Similar story in Midland the past couple of weeks.  $10+/hour job fairs at McDonalds. 

    A side note. The folks with real work ethic end up in the field so the service around town tends to be horrible at the chains. I have had to show some people how to operate a cash register just to ensure I give them money. · 12 hours ago

    Yes and no, some of the work at the service industries is far and away better than anything in the towns outside the boom that have local people at work at minimum wage.  I’ve seen some wonderful service, and some not so wonderful.

    • #18
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    @
    Matthew: …and none of this bothered a single white North Dakotan in the post-racial oil fields of this great country. · 9 hours ago

    Having just arrived from PA, I’m shocked at some of the old school racism in the area.  I thought it was bad in rural PA. 

    • #19
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    @KayofMT
    C.J. Box

    BrentB67

    C.J. Box: JT: the ratio of men to women is either 10-1 or 15-1, depending on the source. As you can imagine in a place where young single men are making a hundred thousand a year with not a lot to do on their down time in the oil patch, the strippers (who fly in from all over the country) are doing good business as well. · 55 minutes ago

    In keeping with the non conservative stuff going on in the field this is one of the most common stickers seen on hard hats in PA, WV, OH, OK, and TX. · 9 minutes ago

    And in keeping with that elevated theme, there are signs up in the bars here that say, “Welcome to Williston, where even ugly women have a chance.” · 55 minutes ago

    Edited 48 minutes ago

    Darn, too late for me, I’m too old.

    • #20
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    @Matthew

    …and none of this bothered a single white North Dakotan in the post-racial oil fields of this great country.

    • #21
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    @MrDart

    40 miles worth of oil tankers doing the work a pipeline is blocked from doing every day.  Why?

    Tanker cars= trains

    Trains= Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF

    BH  = Warren Buffet

    Warren Buffet = a billionaire liberal who helped an unprepared junior Senator win election to the US Presidency.

    Nah.  That can’t be right.

    Can’t wait to read this one C.J.

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Member
    @RossC
    C.J. Box:

    — 35-40 trains up to one mile long leave here every day. Every tanker car is filled with oil. (Why not via pipeline? Ask the EPA).

    Ask the EPA?  Or should we?

    Ironically what large company with a prominient Obama supporter is the owner of the largest railroad in America, BNSF?

    You can click the link below,  but I will not keep you in suspense…it is Warren Buffet’s Berhkshire Hathaway.

    Have I really gotten this cynical?

    http://www.wtop.com/628/3496366/Berkshire-Hathaways-profit-jumps-29-percent

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Member
    @RossC

    Repeat of Mr. Dart I should have seen.

    Oh well, it does bear repeating.

    • #24

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