While much of the states of Montana and North Dakota are mired in the depths of a recession and reporting record unemployment, there is an area that has jobs to spare and money to burn. In the areas surrounding the Bakken Oil Fields, unemployment is reported to be less than 2.4 percent. When compared to other areas of Montana and North Dakota that report unemployment of over 14 percent, the difference is striking. An estimated $1.5 billion is being spent per month to drill for oil and natural gas in the Bakken Oil Fields. This amount of money means jobs not only in the oil industry but also in the support industries that grow up around the industry.
The Bakken oil boom continues to set records. 2011 saw many records both within the oil industry and outside of the oil industry decrease. A record 201 oilrigs were operating in August of 2011. 6,202 oil-producing wells were operating in North Dakota in 2011. Retail sales in the oil field region are up 39 percent from the same time last year. Retail taxes in the city of Williston and Tioga saw an increase of 139 percent. The neighboring community of Stanley saw an increase in retail taxes of 127 percent. These records will likely all be broken in 2012 as the oil boom grows ever stronger.
The boom surrounding the Bakken Oil Fields is on par with any boom seen in American history. The roads are clogged with trucks, workers arrive in droves, and the region's newfound oil industry seems to double and triple in size over night. In fact, there is so much traffic on the roads in an out of the region that Silver Airways is now considering adding a direct flight to Williston ND, from Billings. Williston is a town that recently had a population below 14,000. Now, it will have direct flights to its small airport. Such is the nature of a boom.
Local businesses throughout the region not directly connected with the oil industry are seeing the benefit of the boom. The local rental market has seen an astronomical rise in rents. A two-bedroom, two-bath home can now expect to rent for over $3,000 per month. Motels, hotels, and RV Campgrounds are turning people away. Truck stops have been forced to increase in capacity. Not to mention the effect on the retail and restaurant industry. The effect of the boom in the local economies is truly astounding, but it comes at a cost.
The needs of the growing population are quickly outstripping the existing infrastructure. As more demand is put on roadways, sewer systems, and emergency services, towns are beginning to cool on the prospect of continued, exponential growth. Many long-term residents are expressing a desire to slow growth until a plan can be put into place to accommodate the increased population. Western North Dakota and Eastern Montana fear their small towns could follow the path of Williston and Stanley. These towns have benefited for the economic boom, but the rapid growth, in some cases doubling in population in under a year, has led to chaos and overburdened public services.
Even despite the problems associated with the Bakken Oil Boom, the benefits gained seem worth it. The boom has revitalized struggling towns that earlier were seeing their young people leave for better opportunities elsewhere. If the civic leaders and the oil companies can work together to formulate a plan for planned sustained growth, the boom could eventually transform into an industry that will last for decades to come.