While North Dakota has ridden the shale boom to the nation's lowest unemployment and a rush of activity for local economies, residents with long memories are cautious, having experienced boom-bust cycles in the oil patch in the past.
The state's gold rush-like economic buzz sparked a report in Monday's Los Angeles Times, noting that North Dakota is struggling to come up with the housing and other temporary resources needed to handle an influx of 35,000 new workers that have driven the state's unemployment rate down to 3.5%, the lowest in the nation along with neighboring Nebraska (4.2%) and South Dakota (4.6%).
"There is no place like it anywhere in America," wrote Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Larry Oakes in a report published by the Times in California, which has the second worst unemployment rate in the nation at 11.9%.
New workers are arriving daily from places like Minnesota, Texas and both coasts, according to the report, which cited North Dakota's $1 billion budget as an indication of what has come from the advent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling technology unleashed in the Williston Basin. But the economic bonanza is putting pressure on limited public education, safety and housing resources.
Current statistics indicate that the boom is not letting up, with nearly 200 drilling rigs punching 100 new wells monthly and more than 16,000 new job openings, up nearly 50% since this time last year. If drilling continues at the pace currently projected, North Dakota, a state with 647,000 people, could have 45,000 wells within the next 20 years, supporting up to 45,000 long-term jobs, assuming a 30-year average life expectancy for each well.
But local residents who remember past boom-bust periods are increasingly skeptical, according to the news report. They point out that it takes on average 100 workers to drill a well, but only one to operate it once it is producing.
For now Williston and other parts of North Dakota are coping with the influx of oil/gas industry workers by setting of "man camps," or crew camps, which house about 20,000 workers in locations spread across 17 counties.
With slightly less than 15,000 residents identified in the 2010 census, Williston is listed at the ninth largest city in North Dakota, but with the shale boom it is viewing itself as "the oil capital of the nation," according to local officials.