The Downside of a Williston Basin Boomtown

Written By Brianna Panzica

Posted June 5, 2012

Williston, North Dakota has become an oil boomtown ever since the Williston Basin and Bakken Shale formations have become viable sources of natural gas.

The abundant resource is both a blessing and a curse to the once-small town that has grown to become a burgeoning resource center—and is still growing larger.

On the upside, the abundance of oil in the town has brought plenty of wealth into the city. It is now the nation’s second-largest producer of oil, and the average salary is $80,000.

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But the population has doubled, and this continuing growth is happening quicker than the city can make room.

This issue, among others, was presented at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference the week of May 21. Mayor Ward Koeser addressed the conference, highlighting housing, infrastructure, and traffic as the main problems. And all of these are directly tied to the population spike.

Though the city has spent enormous sums of money simply trying to construct housing, it has not been enough. Right now, Williston is the worst city in the United States for rent inflation and shortages on housing.

One oil worker told NPR that even many RV parking spaces cost anywhere between $1,000 and $1,200 a month.
If there were housing more readily available, people might have the means to afford it. Williston’s unemployment rate is just above 1%, and there are still 3,000 jobs available.

But when a one bedroom apartment can go for $2,300 and people are struggling just to find a place for their RVs, having a job doesn’t necessarily help.

In March, North Dakota’s governor Jack Dalrymple hired Wayne Biberdorf as the state’s “energy impact coordinator.” He acts as a mediator between the governor and local officials to compile information and concerns surrounding the oil boom.

The goal, Mayor Koeser says, is to prevent the city from falling apart:

“We hope the day comes that people look at Williston…and say, you know, we’re gonna go out to Williston to visit, that’s a great community.”

Right now, the trucks and traffic and temporary housing are pushing some established residents away. But city officials are looking for a plan to continue the oil profits and make the city appealing once again.

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