North Dakota’s oil boom is creating a ‘man rush’

The incredible eruption of oil and gas production in North Dakota is leading to one of the fastest population rushes in U.S. history — and it’s mostly men flocking to the wells and pipelines in the Bakken formation.

The number of men in North Dakota has grown 14 percent in just the past five years, from 322,965 in 2009 to 370,001 in 2013, according to the Census Bureau. Over the same time period, the number of women in North Dakota grew by 9 percent, or 30,000.

Graphic: Pew Research Center
Graphic: Pew Research Center

That means North Dakota’s “man rush,” as a new Pew Research Center report dubs it, is drawing more people than a similar boom fueled by Alaska’s energy boom. In the 1970s, when construction began on the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Alaska’s population grew by about 110,000 in a single decade.

Alaska’s population was smaller then than North Dakota’s is now, meaning the rate of growth was faster. But by sheer numbers, North Dakota is on pace to grow more this decade than Alaska did during its boom.

But oil can’t compete with silver, apparently. Discovery of major silver mines around 1870 drew a boom that increased Colorado’s population more than four-fold. Just 23,743 men lived in Colorado in 1870, the Census Bureau reported; by 1880, that number was up to 130,060.

The Census Bureau doesn’t have accurate numbers for what’s probably the biggest population boom in American history, the California gold rush of 1849. California didn’t become a state until 1850, when the Census Bureau pegged its population at 92,597. By 1860, the population grew to 379,994.

Improvements in technology have fueled the boom in North Dakota’s Bakken oil field. A decade ago, in June 2004, the state produced just 2,532,565 barrels of oil. In May of this year, the last month for which figures are available, the state produced ten times more oil — 32,228,691 barrels.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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