Life in a fracking boomtown: man-camps, meth labs, strippers, and the gas gold rush


37 Responses to “Life in a fracking boomtown: man-camps, meth labs, strippers, and the gas gold rush”

  1. michael b says:

    Yep, been there and left.  Lot’s of stories and people there.  Regardless of how you feel about fracking and oil production, it really is a unique situation.  I would have stayed had I found somewhere to live.

  2. Bookburn says:

    That hits awfully close to home; I might make it required reading for high school seniors.

  3. Nylund says:

    I actually haven’t ever stopped by an “occupy” event, but my guess is that a great deal of the occupy folk aren’t too keen on things like fracking, oil industries, etc.

    I don’t know if that invalidates a point.  Sometimes, if you really need money, you gotta take whatever work is available.  At the same time, I’d never begrudge a person for not taking a job that went against their deeply held convictions.

    • ymendel says:

      As I understand it, the point of Occupy isn’t so much “I’m broke because I can’t get a job no matter what I do” as it is “I’m working/have worked what should be considered a reasonable amount (or maybe even much, much more) and barely make a living while the nobs at the top (like, say, oil industry magnates) are rolling in dough and controlling the system to keep things this way”.

      • Eric Rucker says:

        But the mainstream media, especially the media popular in backwaters, claims that they’re just trying to camp for free when they have nothing to complain about, or if they are unemployed, they’d rather complain about not getting a job, rather than actually getting one.

        Which is a popular strategy by the guards of prisons, to keep the inmates from working together.

  4. yearofplentycard says:

    “It’s like every other boom that’s happened since the Gold Rush,” says Sara. “It brings out the assholes of the earth.”

    Watched the Frontline thing on the mortgage crisis, then read this article.  That line hit me right between the eyes.

  5. qandnotp says:

    Williston is my hometown, and it’s strange to keep seeing it in national press. The boom is quite a mixed blessing out there. My family haven’t had to deal with too many of the downsides (yet), but they’re obviously there. Anyway, I think that comment about the Occupy folks kind of misses the point, right? I take it that the Occupy movement is about increasing pressure to hold Wall St accountable for wrecking the economy. It’s not like the protestors are out there wandering around looking for work, and all they need is a bus ticket out to western North Dakota. 

    • John Gathly says:

       Exactly!  Occupy isn’t about getting a specific group of kids jobs, it’s about reforming the entire system that creates massive inequality, including lack of jobs.

  6. kekko says:

    That town is going to end up like Wigfield.

  7. RembrandtQEinstein says:

    “In a state wracked by joblessness”? Actually, North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. This has been a consistent feature of the state for a long time. I’m sure this is helping keep it low, but it was never high.

  8. TrollyMcTrollington says:

    Gramp’s voice in the back of my head says:
    “Sounds like a damn good ROI, son.  Much better than graduating with 100K in debt and a useless BA in Underwater Basket Weaving, or it’s equivalents, Art History or Philosophy.”

  9. justawriter says:

    ” this potential windfall has been sitting for half a century like dinosaurs’ blood beneath a thick layer of marine shale, waiting for the magic bullet to arrive that could liberate it”
    Dude, what did that poor metaphor ever do to you? No need to torture it. I don’t know whether I would call his writing beautiful or overwrought.
    I’m another local who’s been writing about North Dakota for a long time. I don’t mind all the authors who have the sudden urge to visit the state like the ones I’ve interviewed from as far away as Germany and Australia. But I do wish they would take the time to get the details right, like the fact that North Dakota has always had a low unemployment rate (mostly because anyone with any ambition leaves the state) although underemployment has been a chronic problem. The flood of money is  the big difference for the state now (aside from the housing shortage), as is the suddenly competitive job market. As recently as 2008 we’ve had state legislators argue against a minimum wage increase on the grounds that “$8 an hour is a good wage.” I just hope that when the boom eventually and inevitably fades, the good wages stick and we don’t go back to being Mississippi with better roads.

  10. One of the cable channels had a 4 or 5 part series about a year ago called “Boomtown”,  about the effects of the fracking boom on the tiny town of Parshall, ND. Definitely a mixed blessing.  Most of the landowners owned just the land and not the mineral rights,  so not alot of local people were seeing the money tree shake. Lots of money was coming in, but so was crime, and the roads were getting ripped to shreds by the constant truck traffic. The town was making lots of money selling their water, but the farmers were wondering what they were going to do after the town had drained the reservoirs down below where their wells reached.

    Overall it seemed like they were going to end up like most lottery winners. Party like a rock star for a while, and then live with the mess after the party moves on.   

  11. All of this happens because North Dakota is small, so the effects get magnified. Putting 8,000 more people in a town of 9,000 has a very different impact than putting 8,000 people into a city of 500,000.

    The unemployment numbers, housing prices, and all

  12. Guysmiley says:

    I’m from eastern ND and have family there. They look at it like a loud obnoxious party. Mostly they’re just glad it’s all on the opposite side of the state from where they live. Western North Dakota has always been a meth haven, now it’s a fossil fuel funded meth haven.

  13. jandrese says:

    In a lot of ways this looks like a classic case of the “mineral curse”, where the land you are sitting on is high in some natural resource, so a big company moves in, employs a lot of people in low skill jobs encouraging said unskilled workers to move in, and then when the minerals dry up they leave and the town is saddled with a whole lot of jobless people with no skills.  Worse, thanks to a combination of local corruption and the tax structure, the town usually doesn’t see much money from those operations and spends a lot on extra services, leaving their finances a mess, which is only compounded when the jobs suddenly depart and unemployment spikes. 

    In a decade or so the area is probably going to look like South West Virginia. 

    • desperado says:

      That’s exactly what will happen.

      Even worse:  people are projecting these fields will stay active for a very long time.  

      Unfortunately, this isn’t proving to be the case.  The gas wells are going dry much quicker than anticipated (purely anecdotal, from the geologists I work with.  I have no evidence).

      So, the minor economic boost given to the area through land rights and royalties will be far shorter than they imagine, amplifying the effect you described above.

  14. jetfx says:

    This sounds an awful lot like northern Alberta (specifically Fort McMurray) 5 years ago, except ND is on a smaller scale of what went on there. With the demand for oil starting to climb again, everything is taking off here in Alberta again.

  15. Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston says:

    I like that the story got completely and totally derailed when the author met an attractive dancer at a strip club, then had dinner with her, then went into her life story, then told us about her workplace, then put up two pictures of he–

    What’s that? oil stuff?… right. oil. Nikking. Huh? Oh right. Frakking.

  16. CLamb says:

    “the tiny railroad whistle-stop of Williston, North Dakota”  Williston is not a whistle-stop (or flag stop as Amtrak calls them) but a regular stop for all passing passenger trains.  Unlike most stations on the route it even handles checked baggage and is handicap accessible.

  17. Mantissa128 says:

    I can’t believe there hasn’t been a Battlestar Galactica reference yet, so here it is.

  18. chgoliz says:

    For those who don’t know about the industry: fracking is not an ongoing job.  You go in with about 7 semi-trailers piled with your equipment, do the work for a couple of weeks, then move out to the next location, which might be a mile away or might be 50 miles away.  All the trailers (and most of the workers) go with.

    What you leave behind is a lot of frakking waste.  (And yes, that is a Battlestar Galactica/Firefly reference.)

  19. eerd says:

     Yep, I was also just going to chime in to say this is not about fracking. You could as well blame horizontal drilling. Also, it’s oil, not gas, although I guess the article writer may be using gas in the sense of petrol?

    This is why North Dakota is now the US’ third largest oil producer, possibly the second, depending on the March figures for it and Alaska.

    Still, the article was interesting.

  20. desperado says:

    But my comment was removed.

    My point was that this has been going on for decades, and is just the way the O&G Industry does business.  It’s horrible, but attacking the Head of Fracking is just allowing the O&G Hydra to keep going.

    It’s sensationalist reporting, because everyone is talking about Fracking.

  21. joeposts says:

    I guess boingboing didn’t get the memo saying we weren’t supposed to talk about Fracking?

  22. mark miglio says:

    I get your point.  Perhaps an acceptable and yet still appealing headline would be something other than, Life in a fracking boomtown: man-camps, meth labs, strippers, and the gas gold rush.  

    How’s this one? – - Do you think this would work : 

    LIFE IN A FRACKING, O&G BOOMTOWN: Man-Camps, Meth Labs, Strippers, and the New Gold Rush

  23. desperado says:

    Say there’s a Smallpox epidemic.

    In one instance, Smallpox was spread across the nation by a horde of caravanning Prius owners.

    Note that Smallpox is spreading across the nation ANYWAY, it’s just that in this single instance, a case was tied to the Prius owners.

    Which is the more honest headline?
    “Prius owners infect children with smallpox!”


    “Smallpox is spreading like wildfire!”


    One is dishonestly sensationalist, and is likely to be misinterpreted by those that don’t understand what is going on.

  24. joeposts says:

    But it is a fracking town right?

    I grew up in a town based around a single industry with many of the same, um, demographics and consequent problems. We called it a mining town, even though that put mining in a bad light in the same way tying this to Fracking does. There are steel towns, coal towns, mill towns.. etc.

    What should we do? Call a mining/fracking/coal town a “village of industrial production faced with economic, development, social and housing issues?” That’s way too Politically Correct even for this liberal socialist environmentalist. Industries are responsible for the state of their communities, whether they act like it or not.

  25. joeposts says:

    Mischaracterization in order to get more attention detracts from your credibility.

    B-but… that’s sorta how you write headlines, isn’t it? The article is called “Fracked Up!” Nobody would read it if it were called “Natural Resource Drilling in Small Town Results in Various Issues Described Below.” Editors like short, punchy headlines. And they probably wouldn’t tell you how to work your drill.

    Even BB typically eschews humdrum headlines. Look at this one, for example: Girl swallowed by pavement. And yet, she wasn’t swallowed, the earth under the sidewalk had just eroded, and she fell, and it might happen every day but it’s just rare to see on video. But BB can’t just say “Rare Video of Chinese Woman Falling Through Sidewalk Into Pit Caused By Erosion” or they wouldn’t get filthy stinking rich on ad revenue and wouldn’t be able to pay their moderators in gold bullion.

  26. desperado says:

    well, it’s really a drilling town, is the thing; but that’s not nearly as likely to get you as many eyes on the article.

    I mean, he mentions directional drilling, but only tangentially.

    And please note, I’m not saying that Fracking doesn’t deserve the bad light;  I work in directional drilling, and it really really DOES deserve it, just as DD does.

    Fracking, cementing, and drilling go hand in hand.

    But the Fracking has been isolated and put in the headline, because people are already grumbling over it.

    Mischaracterization in order to get more attention detracts from your credibility.

    I DO know what I’m talking about here.  I guarantee I know at least 1 person in the town right now, and also that the sensors and tools I help design are being used on those rigs as we speak [type].

  27. Antinous / Moderator says:

    In other news, people who don’t understand figurative speech aren’t much fun at parties.

Leave a Reply