Western North Dakota Struggles with Oil Fracking Boom

Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, North Dakota’s oil boom has brought new jobs and tax revenue to the state. Yet in spite of that good news, many long-time residents of western North Dakota are wary of the upheaval that has accompanied the fracking rush, and are questioning whether western North Dakota’s traditional farming and ranching culture can co-exist with the industry.

“They’re consuming all of our resources,” Dan Kalil, chairman of the Williams County Commission, recently told NPR. “They’re consuming all of our people looking for jobs. All the employee base is used up. Our roads system is being used up. All our water is being used up. All our sewage systems are being used up. [They’re] overwhelmed. All of our leadership time as local public officials is consumed with this.”

Williams County sits in the Bakken oil field, one of the biggest energy plays in American history. According to NPR, the industry believes that at least 2 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken field could be accessible via hydraulic fracturing. There are 201 oil drilling rigs already dotting the Bakken field, more than anywhere in the U.S. other than Texas, NPR said. Some estimates predict that western North Dakota could eventually have as many as 48,000 new oil wells, with drilling expected to go on for two decades.

While most of the country has struggled to emerge from recession, North Dakota boasts an unemployment rate of just 3.5 percent thanks to the boom. Kalil told NPR that the rush has brought roughly 20,000 new residents to Williams County virtually overnight. Yet despite the benefits fracking has brought to the area, many long-time residents are having their patience tested

“What we have now is the complete industrialization of western North Dakota. To expect a county of 20,000 people to overnight absorb another 20,000 people is ludicrous,” Kalil said.

According to NPR, a staple like milk can fetch as much as $7.00 per gallon. Truck traffic is almost constant now through many of the area’s small towns, tearing up local roads. .

“Just about anybody I talk to that’s a neighbor — and some of them are getting wealthy — are sick of it. It’s never going to be the same in this country, and they’re starting to realize that we had it kind of good, even though we weren’t No. 1 in oil and we weren’t the No. 1 state economically,” Rancher Donnie Nelson told NPR. “We had a good life up here.”

According to NPR, many residents of western North Dakota would like to see oil development proceed at a slower pace, in order to temper the disruption it has brought to their communities. Unfortunately, only the state government has the power to put the brakes on fracking in North Dakota, and politicians there are unwilling to interfere with the boom.

“At 11.5 percent of every dollar per barrel of oil going to the state, the state is reaping the benefits of this boom. There’s not much interest in slowing that down,” Kalil said.

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