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Mike Kopp// Shale Plays Media

From boondocks to boomtown: how shale oil is changing North Dakota

Across the state of North Dakota, things are changing quickly. Large swaths of land that used to be occupied by nothing more than honest midwestern dirt and prairie grass and being built over with hotels, gas stations, malls, man camps, and luxury extended stay accommodations. And whether you’re a local or not, the swiftness of change is totally shocking.

What’s the cause for this explosion in growth? Shale oil production bears most of the responsibility.

Starting around 2006, shale production exploded across the country, especially in North Dakota’s Williston Basin and the Texas Eagle Ford shale. Reduction in equipment and drilling costs played a small part in the beginning of the boom, but horizontal drilling was the real game changer. It began allowing producers to exploit shale oil deposits with fierce efficiency, deposits that were considered to be of mediocre value in the past.

Just eight years after the boom was sparked, the United States eclipsed Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer.

And while shale oil is certainly revitalizing the nation’s economy as a whole, it’s the states housing shale deposits that are feeling the economic boost the most.

A New Frontier on the Midwest

It didn’t take long for word of the increasing economic opportunity in North Dakota to spread. Before long, people were relocating to the state from all over the world. Due to the nature of the work, it’s no surprise that most of these job seekers were men. According to the Pew Research Center, North Dakota now has the densest population of men (51%) out of any state aside from Alaska. Furthermore, the overall population of the state has spiked precipitously between the beginning of the boom and today, from 649,422 in 2006 up to 723,393 in 2013.

Of course, when all these new residents arrived in the state, which scant had enough infrastructure to support even a small population increase, local demand for housing skyrocketed, as did demand for almost all other everyday commodities.

As a result of this injection of fresh, prosperous consumers, the North Dakotan economy took off on an upswing that’s still swelling today – all during the severest instance of economic distress the United States has experienced since the Great Depression.

North Dakota now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, a shockingly low 2.6%. Even more amazing, the state’s gross domestic product is soaring at 26% above the nation as a whole.

In the midst of what is now being called the “Great Recession,” North Dakota has risen up and started leading the country down the road of economic recovery. While other states are suffering from unemployment and economic stagnation, North Dakota is experiencing problems in the inverse – too many employed citizens to house properly and not enough infrastructure to bear the weight of extreme economic stimulation, for example.

Even though the shale boom has come with it’s challenges, they’re challenges that North Dakota is happy to work through. And given the alternative, it’s not hard to understand why.

Learn more about the economics of the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota by reading into the graphic slideshow below:

Info-graphic courtesy of Aries Residence Suites.


  1. When obama is gone hopefully we can start real economic growth

    • Pure Truth and Logic

      Suckers!!! With the drop in oil prices double digit unemployment, high crime, and an overextended government building infrastructure for all of these opportunists beckons.

  2. Someone told me it was all the windmills obama built . So there!

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