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.