Life in a modern boomtown is living on the frontier but with a smartphone. “Capitalism on crack” is the way historian Clay Jenkinson referred to it – everyone taking what they can get, as fast as they can.
I spent nearly a year in an oil boomtown: from summer of 2013 to winter of 2014, I worked in the Bakken oil patch out of Williston, North Dakota. At the time, politicians, geologists, and much of the national media claimed the town would be booming for decades to come. They were all wrong.
North Dakota began to boom in the midst of America’s forever wars, when technological advancement in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing made a formerly impenetrable seam of crude oil suddenly recoverable.
Williston, a rural community in an Indian service area with ties to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, found its population ballooning. Most of those coming to town were men looking for work. Much of the hiring by oilfield companies was pitched toward veterans, but in the wake of the 2008 crash, anyone who could swing a hammer had a shot at landing a job. Williston was swamped by out-of-work carpenters, plumbers and contractors of every stripe.
At the beginning of the boom, many oilfield jobs had provided signing bonuses, housing and per diems to the ever growing migrant workforce – benefits trumpeted by the oil industry, the media and local lawmakers. By the time I arrived, however, the perks had mostly dried up. I wasn’t the only guy late to the party. read more…no pay wall….