Veteran muckraker Mark Ebner of "Hollywood, Interrupted" has a knack for producing beautiful writing from ugly subjects. Scientology, pit bull fighting, celebrity scandals, scam artists… you name it, he's investigated it.
Now, Ebner travels to a town several hundred miles north of Deadwood, South Dakota. In a state wracked by joblessness, this little enclave is home to a new gold rush: Fracking.
It's a long read, filled with detail about the lives of workers in "man camps," and the hookers, strippers, and service industry workers that attend to the laborers' needs. Snip:
In a country with an unofficial underemployment rate of 20%, the tiny railroad whistle-stop of Williston, North Dakota near the Montana border (population 17,000 and spiking) is currently at capacity: There's not a motel room to be had in the city, housing prices are double what they were a year ago ($300,000 for a two-bedroom home), and the daily onslaught of new arrivals is reduced to living in their cars, RVs, sporadic tent cities or the rapidly proliferating "man camps" – clusters of trailers in an open field that pack in oil patch workers dormitory style, sometimes six to a room. Access to running water and simple sanitation is so rare that public businesses have had to lock their bathrooms to discourage makeshift sponge baths or the dumping of wastewater. Meanwhile, throughout the region, fast food professionals can make $15 an hour and waitresses start at $25 an hour, with a bonus if they'll stay in the job for at least six weeks. (Pizza Hut brought in campers-vans just so its counter help could afford to live there.)
But mainly what they need are truck drivers: The same 18- to 25-year-old demographic that's economically the hardest hit everywhere else, with nothing more than a high school diploma and a Commercial Driver's License, are here racking up six-figure fortunes. (Williston boasts a 4% unemployment rate.) As one local developer put it, "I think they should round up all the Occupy Wall Streeters and bring them up here. Come up here and occupy these jobs. There are jobs everywhere."