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North Dakota Oil Boom Causes Growing Pains

September 20, 2012, 9:59 PM by Kelly Bartnick

North Dakota Oil Boom Causes Growing Pains

Williston, North Dakota sits on the Bakken formation, which contains so much oil, North Dakota now produces more barrels a year than Alaska, second only to Texas. But the flood of people to the region has created big issues.

Lines in Williston start at the airport and don't stop.  Planes are filled with prospectors looking to pick up new properties.

“I've got people who fly in on jets just to meet with me. I'm not that big of an ego guy, but it's just that weird. Back in the day if someone flew into town in a Cessna we thought we were golden then,” Williston Community Development director Tom Rolfstad said.

Rolfstad says people are knocking down his door, trying to get in on the ground floor of oil development.

“We did seven hotels last year., might have ten more in the ground this fall,” Rolfstad said.

And it might be a cliché, but the crude oil really is North Dakota's Black Gold, even if not everyone is cashing in.

“There are some people making great money and God bless them. But there are people that this has literally disrupted their life so much I don't know if they can rebound, and some people are actually leaving,” Williston city commissioner Tate Cymbaluk.

Cymbaluk says the state has stepped up to help with infrastructure issues. Developers are coming too.

But building here comes at a price. Available land is tight, labor is harder to find and building costs are 30 to 40 percent higher than normal.

“We're telling developers to come in with their finances in place, bring in their own workforce and jump into it,” Cymbaluk said.

And be creative. There’s a new hotel going up in what used to be a super store parking lot.

The oil field has money to burn, so they get what they want in terms of development and leaving cities to wait. 

“I just don't have time to call anybody back. If they haven't been here and haven't seen it, they're not going to understand it. And that's what my message says,”  Rolfstad said.

Restaurants are also arriving, along with this new residential and retail parcel just outside of Williston.

The building boom is not expected to slow down for up to ten years. And the wells in the ground will flow long after that. So there is time to catch up, even if the people here want it now.

“It's just taking longer than what we locally want. But we will get there,” Cymbaluk said.

Rolfstad says companies are drilling about 2,100 oil wells each year in the region. Many companies won't expand to Williston because of the high housing and workforce prices.

Rolfstad is a scheduled speaker at the Sioux Falls Hegg Companies' Bakken Conference Monday, September 24.

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