Reading an article recently about fracking in North Dakota piqued my interest and sent me down an internet rabbit hole. It’s a fascinating story.
Hydraulic shale oil fracturing (more commonly known as fracking) is having a dramatic effect on the U.S. energy industry. As a result of fracking U.S. domestic oil production continues to skyrocket and experts are predicting that the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer within the next few years. U.S. oil exports are four times greater than they were a decade ago, shrinking the trade deficit.
North Dakota is at the epicenter of the fracking explosion. Last year it passed Alaska to become the second largest oil-producing state in the country and some experts predict that within twenty years it will surpass Texas.
Fracking has brought an astonishing economic boom to North Dakota. Thousands of new wells are being drilled every year. Fracking is estimated to be responsible for creating 2,000 new millionaires per year in the state. In a recent post I mentioned the skyrocketing prices of farmland in the Dakotas. Many landowners are receiving royalties of $50,000 to $100,000 per month. The average annual income in Montvail County has doubled over the past five years and is still rising. It is now among the top 100 counties in the nation in income per person. The state tax surplus for this year alone is close to $2 billion.
Of course booms like that come with a price, overcrowding highways, schools and hospitals and driving up prices for everyone.
Describing the fracking boom town Williston, a journalist wrote: “There’s not a motel room to be had in the city, housing prices are double what they were a year ago ($300,000 for a two-bedroom home), and the daily onslaught of new arrivals is reduced to living in their cars, RVs, sporadic tent cities or the rapidly proliferating “man camps” – clusters of trailers in an open field that pack in oil patch workers dormitory style, sometimes six to a room. Access to running water and simple sanitation is so rare that public businesses have had to lock their bathrooms to discourage makeshift sponge baths or the dumping of wastewater.” Another reporter describes the effect on Watford City in similar terms, “A population that in the past two years has soared from about 1,700 to at least 6,000 and perhaps as many as 10,000. A housing shortage so acute that men—and it’s still mostly men—are forced to sleep in their trucks or in overpriced motels; pay “gouge-zone” fees to park their campers, RVs, and house trailers; or live in one of the expensive prefab, dormlike “man camps” that serve as instant but sterile bedroom communities for towns and work sites. Streets clotted with noisy, exhaust-belching tanker trucks, gravel trucks, flatbeds, dump trucks, service trucks, and—the personal vehicle of choice in the oil patch—oversize, gas-gorging pickups. More crime, more highway accidents, more medical emergencies. People on fixed incomes forced to move because they can’t afford steep rent hikes. Overtaxed water and sewer systems. Prostitution. Registered sex offenders at large in the community.” A resident of Stanley commented, “When I graduated in 1970 my class had 70 students. Now the high school gets 120 to 130 new students each year.”
Obviously there are also concerns about the environmental consequences of fracking. Many worry about contamination of the water supply, seismic dispruption and the emission of vast amounts of carbon. So much natural gas is being flared off the wells that from space North Dakota is lit up like Chicago these days.
Recently some reports have come out questioning the previous estimates on of the amount of oil that can be extracted from beneath North Dakota. Whatever the amount, it is finite. All booms end eventually.