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Housing & Other Shortages of North Dakota's Bakken Oil Boom

By Phil Butler | February 25, 2013

A terminology some thought was dead and gone in the United States, "oil boom" just faded into the sunset or the American psyche. The Bakken Oil Field in North Dakota has changed all that though. The largest oil discovery since the 60's, Bakken oil production has transformed far frozen North Dakota into a veritable "boom" region. With this boom economy comes many hurdles and many responsibilities too.

Tankers at Bakken Oil Fields - courtesy Bakken Oil Facebook

Tankers at Bakken Oil Fields - courtesy Bakken Oil Facebook

With oil production at Bakken having skyrocketed from a few thousand barrels a day, to just under three quarter of a million, the Bakken boom has had both positive and negative effects. One huge problem, and a bit of a boom in itself, is the property  shortage caused by the influx or business.  is the largest oil discovery on American soil in the last 40 years. A surplus of jobs is not something American's are used to hearing of late either, but the "gold rush" situation in North Dakota has caused a vacuum. As a workforce and industry arrays all around the Bakken boom, finding places to stay or even open businesses has become difficult.

Flaring of Bakken wells

Flaring illuminates the North Dakota sky - courtesy Ceres

Now Bakken Housing Group is addressing the oil industry employee housing situation. News of their construction of housing facilities for workers and families. But the news of these moves is not all good news. If you can imagine this part of America as not much changed from your visual memory of The Great Plains from movies, the image above from Ceres shows how illuminated Bakken is from space because of "flaring". A place literally in the middle of nowhere is as bright as most US cities. The Bakken fields actually produce more natural gas than can be consumed or distributed  The burn-off of this gas causes major problems with air quality, not to mention being massive waste.

Some say the Bakken "gold rush" will end just like the San Francisco rush of 1849 did, with the majority of miners and businesses going bust. Add to this the environmental and other impacts that may spell disaster in the end, and North Dakota may have been better off without the shale field. National Geographic covers the massive transformation the "boom" is having on the state. No one in this part of the country envisioned a continuous stream of tanker trucks in and out of the area (no pipeline), nor the prefabricated worker dorms, or their next door neighbor's yard with drilling going on in it, or, or, or.

North Dakota oil boom

Courtesy The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute

Some predict the boom will last 100 years, others say a bust will come sooner. The main problem with North Dakota's treasure trove of late is environmental in nature though. Things there are simply moving too fast for foresight to reign in the mistakes. The chart above shows production wise, just how fast things are moving,

While the Bakken boom is driving a fairly massive economic development, it's the "smartness" of the growth that is of major concern. And Hydraulic fracturing, the method used to extract the oil from the shale beneath North Dakota, is as controversial a methodology as ever. The stain on the ecology of this part of North Dakota will likely be immense and maybe unrecoverable. Contamination of groundwater, air pollution, and other considerations seem to have been scarcely noticed, with the need for economic relief so dire.

Temporary worker living

Signature of a boom economy - Bakken Oil Facebook

Finally, what most people fail to realize is the drilling phase of this type of exploration is labor intensive. However, once the Bakken Field goes into a so called "production phase" (PDF), labor demands will drop by 90%. This is the main reason most experts predict a "bust" for at least employment and added stimulus to the local economy. The problem arises in the hasty buildup of housing and infrastructure now, atop the needs of the communities there in the mid term, 10 to 15 years down the road. "Boom" economies are oh so wasteful and inefficient.

Still, the opportunities and the relative new breath of enthusiasm this Bakken Oil Field has created for many Americans cannot be understated here. The video below from the Bakken Dispatch reflects a great deal on this, and on the way Americans have always pondered their dreams. Hazards exists, and have always existed in the realm of exploration of any kind. The best anyone of us can expect is that due diligence and long term thinking be put into the mix. And lastly, abuses like those reported by the Bakken Watch organization cannot be overlooked or taken too lightly.

Phil Butler is a former engineer, contractor, and telecommunications professional who is editor of several influential online media outlets including part owner of Pamil Visions with wife Mihaela. Phil began his digital ramblings via several of the world’s most noted tech blogs, at the advent of blogging as a form of journalistic license. Phil is currently top interviewer, and journalist at Realty Biz News.
  • 3 comments on “Housing & Other Shortages of North Dakota's Bakken Oil Boom”

    1. Basically excellent article - however, data and assumptions used is from 2009 (production phase pdf) and very outdated (that is for the bust cyle) and also the more current assumptions are much higher in in terms of how many people are needed...


    2. Like with any hot topic, shale has conflicting points. Many people claim that it is not safe to use hydrolic fracking, but reports from the DEP state otherwise. According to only 3% of PA's state-wide NOx emissions came from shale last year. However, it was a very short term study, and it is impossible to tell exactly what kind of impact it has until we get a long term one. Until laws get passed, we do not even know about the positive impacts that it can have on the economy either. Without the large contracts to export, we are sitting on our products.

      1. @Dan. Exactly right there. With conflicting stories all around us, it is hard to know which way is actually up these days. For me personally, I looked at some video of trucks dumping along the roads, some other shabby industrial practices, and was instantly reminded of just how unscrupulous workers and corporations can be. Like you say, there are two sides always.

        I think the rush there will be a very good thing for a lot of people, but it seems like after so many similar massive buildups, that we could do this one right. Somehow;, many really doubt that is going to happen. Let's hope the doubters are wrong.


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