11 Shocking Facts about the North Dakota Oil Boom
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The Fiscal Times
June 6, 2013

A quiet boom has been slowly taking place in the westernmost corner of North Dakota—one that is starting to resemble the size and scale of the 1849 gold rush.

Men (and a few women) from all over the country are descending upon the area to try and strike it rich. They’ve heard of $100K jobs for 22-year-olds with no experience, a 1 percent unemployment rate (compared to the national 7.5 percent) and people making more money than they know what to do with. What was once a sleepy region with large swaths of open space and tiny single-street towns has been inundated with thousands of workers, dozens of temporary housing camps, traffic, crime, and skyrocketing living costs.

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In 2008, oil companies discovered that by using the new drilling technology called hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) they could tap into the estimated 170 billion barrels of crude oil that sat beneath the ground in the Bakken shale foundation.


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) calls the Bakken shale foundation, stretching across 200,000 square miles, the largest continuous oil accumulation it has ever seen. Oil was first discovered there in 1951, but it hasn’t been accessible until now.

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The USGS estimates the U.S. will be able to recover 7.4 billion barrels of oil from the region and 6.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. So far, only about 250 million barrels of oil have been recovered. The region now accounts for 42 percent of the growth in U.S. oil production in recent years. Here are 11 shocking facts about the boom:

• Oil production in North Dakota has increase more than 600 percent, going from 36 million barrels of oil in 2005, to 237 million in 2012. There are now 8,360 active wells in the state, producing 783,000 barrels of oil a day. The state has gone from the No. 8 oil-producing state to No. 2 in just seven years.

• A new well costs about $10 million dollars to build in the Bakken region—about $3 million more than in other U.S. oil-producing regions like Texas. Each well is expected to generate $20 million in profits, about $4.4 million in taxes, $1.6 million in salaries and wages, and $7.6 million in royalties. 

• There are an estimated 40,856 oil industry jobs in North Dakota, plus an additional 18,000 jobs supporting the industry. The hub of the area—the 16,000 population-town of Williston—produced 14,000 new jobs alone between 2010 and 2012. The state has a 3 percent unemployment rate, and the Williston region’s is around 1 percent.

• Each well requires about 2,000 truck trips in its first year of operation. On the highway running through the area, traffic has gone from 1,400 cars a day to 14,000, and it’s currently is being expanded from two to six lanes.

• North Dakota now has a billion-dollar budget surplus. The economic impact of oil production to the state’s economy is estimated at $34.4 billion.

• The local McDonald’s can’t find enough workers so it’s offering $15 an hour and signing bonuses of $300. Local strippers claim they can make $2,000 to $3,000 in tips per night. Average weekly wages are up 40 percent since 2009.

• The number of taxpayers reporting adjusted gross income of more than $1 million in North Dakota has nearly tripled, going from 266 in 2005 to 634 in 2011, in a state with a population of 699,628. About 90 percent of the drilling in the area occurs on private land, and one retired rancher makes $80,000 a month for his small share of mineral rights.

• The population is expected to climb 50 percent over the next 20 years in North Dakota’s oil producing region.

• Over six new housing units are being built in Williston every day, with 2,000 to 3,000 being built every year, but they still can’t keep up.  Economist Nancy Hodur at North Dakota State University told Fox Business News that 14,000 new units are needed. Rent has gone from about $350 a month for a 2-bedroom apartment before the boom, to over $2,000 today.

• There’s only one hospital in the Williston area and its seen wait times quadruple—from 30 minutes in 2010 to more than 2 hours in 2011. It’s had to double the seats in the waiting room and hire security guards.

• While many say the boom will last for decades, J. David Hughes at the Post Carbon Institute, a think tank based in California, estimates the Bakken Shale oil production will peak in 2015.

Blaire Briody is heading to North Dakota this summer to write a book about the oil boom. Find out more about the project here .

Blaire Briody is a contributing editor at The Fiscal Times. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Popular Science, Publishers Weekly, among others.