But the oil rush has also brought soaring home prices, makeshift camps for workers, overbooked hotels, and an explosion of heavy truck traffic and crime. Towns are gritty and cheerless. Stacks of pipe lie along the roads, waiting to be buried.
Consider a few recent news items:
The number of oversize and overweight trucks using roads and bridges in the Oil Patch more than doubled over the past three years; the state issued 236,530 such permits in 2011. McKenzie County, with about 7,000 residents, needed nearly $200 million to repair roads damaged by the truck traffic. It is one of four North Dakota counties that rank among the nation’s 10 fastest-growing counties, according to a May 15 Wells Fargo Securities economic report.
Williston public schools are trying to figure out how to cope with 1,200 additional students expected next year. The Bakken Breakout Weekly, which the Bismarck Tribune launched in print and online last year to keep up with and get ads from the boom, reported that the 43 day-care centers in Williams County stopped taking names for waiting lists and in some cases stopped answering phones.
Construction contractor permits have doubled since mid-2011. Dickinson, a town with fewer than 20,000 people, just approved the construction of work camps for 3,000 people.
Felony cases in the Southwest Judicial District soared 85 percent from 2006 to 2011.
A treasure trove of oil
For many energy and national security policymakers, the Bakken boom is welcome news. North Dakota has overtaken Alaska as the nation’s second-biggest oil producer. Some oil executives believe North Dakota sits atop more than 25 billion barrels of recoverable oil, as much as the proven reserves under the rest of the nation. In 2008, after boosting previous estimates 25-fold, the U.S. Geological Survey said the Bakken formation held 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable reserves. Last year, however, the USGS said new technical information called for a revision, which might ratchet the estimate higher.
“I tend to look at the big picture, that’s what I do,” said Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, the biggest holder of oil-exploration prospects in North Dakota. “The Bakken is the biggest field found in over 40 years in the world. Certainly the largest found in America.”
Higher production here and in similar geological formations elsewhere, such as in Texas, could sharply curtail oil imports, reducing U.S. reliance on foreign sources, even if it does not bring oil independence, as many of its boosters claim it can. And while oil prices are set globally and might remain high, an increase in domestic production could help keep more of the money Americans pay for petroleum at home. The oil output from North Dakota kept roughly $15 billion from pouring out of the country over the past year.