North Dakota's Big Break - OZY | A Modern Media Company

North Dakota's Big Break

North Dakota's Big Break

By Anne Miller

Oil field workers with Wisco work on a rig in Tioga, N.D., Nov 6, 2013. Back in 2008 the North Dakota oil boom started its ongoing period of extraction of oil from the Bakken formation. The amount of jobs the oil boom has provided North Dakota has helped give it the lowest unemployment rate in the United States and and gave it a billion dollar surplus. Photo Ken Cedeno
SourceKen Cedeno/Corbis


Because the fracking boom might be changing the population dynamics of some of America’s quietest states.

By Anne Miller

In the past few years, you may have heard plenty about fracking — the name for hydraulic fracturing, the process by which we mine the earth for natural gas resources. It’s not without controversy, to say the least, but one of the biggest arguments in favor of fracking is simple: States where it blows up tend to go boom, moneywise.

As it turns out, one of the states experiencing the economic impact the most — along with Texas and Pennsylvania — is North Dakota.

The U.S. Department of Commerce says that last year North Dakota swelled with a 7.6 percent growth in income. But the boom is also a demographic one. The state played host to the nation’s fastest growing countyWilliams County, N.D., grew by a whopping 10.7 percent last year, the largest increase in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Two of the five fastest-growing metro areas in the nation call North Dakota home, too: Fargo and Bismarck.

And North Dakota also had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation in March: 2.6 percent, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics for February. By comparison, Texas, another relatively booming state, had a 5.7 percent rate. 

North Dakota can pin its fracking success on the Bakken formation, a subterranean oil and natural gas deposit in rock that modern technology has made tappable in the past few years, sparking a frenzy of investment and jobs. A GED and a trucker’s license, and you could be making $30 an hour, with benefits. 

Fracking isn’t objectively the nation’s savior. In addition to its being geographically dependent on underground sources, opponents question the practice’s environmental impact. Fracking — short for the practice of fracturing rock with high-pressured liquid in order to release the oil and natural gas — has also been linked to contaminated drinking water from underground wells near sites.

And just because there’s money and people doesn’t mean there’s enough room for everyone — urban development hasn’t kept up with the boom. Rents for a two-bedroom apartment will set you back $2,500 a month — those are near New York City prices. Ditto for food. One local mom has some choice words for the area’s shopping economy (or lack thereof).

But whether you like it or not, there’s a call emanating: Go West(ish), young man. Just study up on your Coen brothers first.

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