It was five years ago that my brother-in-law, a life-long resident of North Dakota, told us to watch out for Bakken. “It’s going to be huge,” he said. I paid less attention than I should. Our recent 4,000 mile exploration criss-crossing North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming confirms Byron’s prediction. The Bakken oil discovery and opportunity is HUGE, indeed.
Coming from an area where 15% of the storefronts are shuttered and more than 700 union iron workers haunt union halls looking for a job, Williston and Dickinson seem like another planet. Even cities not at the center of the action, Minot, Bismark, Grand Forks and Fargo in North Dakota, Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City, South Dakota, Billings and tiny Miles City in Montana, are experiencing a ripple effect almost impossible to overstate. Unemployment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 400 miles from the Bakken epicenter, fell to 3.7% last month, while the rate for the entirety of North Dakota is less than 3%, and that state is running a $1 billion budget surplus. The McDonalds in Minot pay a starting wage of $15 per hour and water-truck drivers are earning $120,000 a year.
Houses in downtown Minot that were ruined in the flood 18 months ago and have been awaiting federal assistance before reconstruction are now selling “as-is” to corporate purchasers desperate for employee housing. This points up the major negative: housing is expensive at best, impossible to find at worst. It will be years before housing catches up with demand, so prospective residents need to be prepared or be inventive.
Farmers who have spent decades in difficult struggles with fickle markets and more fickle weather in order to grow enough cash to keep suppliers and bankers happy are now climbing the economic ladder from land rich, to plain rich, on their way to becoming big rich as royalty checks begin to flow.
Employment opportunities, which have favored the field trades for the past three years, are now opening for the services and professionals as the oil industry moves from exploration to development and corporate oil operations move personnel from Denver and Houston to be closer to the action.
Is it a boom? You bet, no question about it. North Dakota is now the nation’s second largest oil producing state, after Texas. Production has doubled in the past year and is currently outstripping delivery channels. Will it last? Also yes. The Bakken is as big as Saudi Arabia, maybe bigger. In an amazing turnabout, the International Energy Association has just recently forecast that North America (can you believe it!) will dominate growth in worldwide oil production for at least the next decade.
The demand for information workers, for lawyers, accountants, managers, bidders and all the other inside workers needed for businesses to prosper will continue to grow in the Bakken area for decades to come.
Which is more than one can say these days about New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.