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A so-called man camp for oil field workers is seen outside Williston, North Dakota in this October 19, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/Files

North Dakota ‘man camps’ battle pending ban in oil capital

WILLISTON, N.D. – Providers of temporary housing for North Dakota’s oilfield workers are fighting a plan by the state’s energy capital to evict their “man camps,” fearing it could set an example for others and add to the sector’s woes caused by a global commodity slump.

Earlier this month, the Williston City Commission voted 3-2 in favor of an ordinance that would deny “man camps” occupancy permit extensions beyond July 2016.

Should the ordinance pass in a final vote on Nov. 24, which appears likely, it would mark the first time since the U.S. shale boom began in 2008 that a community has evicted a “man camp,” though other communities in Texas and North Dakota have blocked their arrival or expansion.

Williston leaders say it is time for oilfield workers to plant permanent roots or use existing hotels for extended stays and point out to abundant new permanent housing in this city with an estimated population of about 31,000.

“The man camp industry should understand we allowed them to come here on a temporary basis,” said Howard Klug, Williston’s mayor, who favors permanent housing that fosters a more family-friendly feel and also generates higher tax revenues.

Shoring up their defenses, temporary housing companies have warned that some 200 of their employees could be laid off in the area, a step that would further hurt a local economy sagging due to falling oil prices. They also hinted that their donations to churches, schools and other community groups could dry up.

Related: U.S. oil refiners look abroad for crude supplies as North Dakota boom fades

NOT PRETTY

“We want to be part of this area, no matter how desperately some people want us to leave,” Travis Kelly, regional vice president for Target Logistics, which operates Williston’s largest temporary housing facility with 1,038 beds, told Reuters.

“It’s not a pretty industry in the public’s mind, but we have demonstrated we are great members of this community.”

While the term “man camp” conjures up images of rootless single men carousing late into the night, the facilities are heavily patrolled by security guards, do not allow alcohol or overnight guests and feel as Spartan as hospital rooms.

With mostly single-occupancy rooms, the facilities also house female workers.

Made of interconnected units that resemble a cross between shipping containers and mobile homes, the facilities have helped house the influx of workers during the shale drilling boom that made North Dakota the No. 2 U.S. oil state.

Yet the oil price slide from $100 a barrel and more in 2014 to about $40 now, has hit both the state’s economy and “man camp” companies.

Target Logistics says its Williston facility has only been occupied in 60 to 70 percent in the past month, reflecting a broader trend in the oil and gas industry, which has been hit by layoffs to the tune of more than 230,000 around the world, according to staffing firm Swift Worldwide Resources.

There are roughly 3,000 man camp beds today in Williston and the city charges the facilities annual fees of $400 per bed, rather than property or lodging taxes. Williston stands to lose out on at least $1.2 million annually should the ordinance pass.

Officials are betting that by closing the man camps, Williston’s hotels – now about half-empty – will fill up and boost the lodging tax revenue.

Operators of Williston’s four man camps have lobbied the city’s five commissioners at public hearings and letters published in the local newspaper.

They warn that by shuttering their facilities the city would lose not only jobs but also those who have made significant contributions to the local community.

For example, Target Logistics, a privately held company, donated $17,000 four years ago to create the police department’s K9 dog unit alongside other donation that Target executives told Reuters will not be repeated should the ordinance pass.

Privately held Black Gold Oilfield Services LLC declined to comment on the vote. Oilfield service provider Halliburton Co , which runs a Williston camp for some employees, said that form of lodging was crucial.

“The company still relies on temporary housing for rotating crews that are needed to support our customers’ activity,” said Halliburton spokeswoman Susie McMichael.

Man camp operators also point out that even as Williston rents have come down by a third in the past 12 months and many apartments built during the drilling boom now stand empty, they are not for everyone.

With layoffs still looming over the state’s oil patch, some oil workers are reluctant to sign long-term leases.

“All beds are not created equal,” said Peter Eberle of Reliant Asset Management, which operates a 228-bed Williston facility. “We provide a service for a special kind of worker.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Terry Wade and Tomasz Janowski)

This article was from Reuters and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

61 comments

  1. No wonder major oil companies are pulling out; it’s way to expensive to do business in North Dakota.

    • you have obviously never been in Alberta! haha

    • No I haven’t but I heard it isn’t any better than North Dakota but there’s cheaper oil plays in the U.S.,other then North Dakota that yield bigger profits. A lot of companies have been uprooting and moving to more lucrative oil plays. I can’t believe they still have oil sand mining going on right now, the operational cost must be astronomical.

  2. Williston leaders have businesses that they are looking after. What they should be protecting is the oil companies interests

  3. If they close the man camps, not only will they lose those oilfield workers that do not want apartments or hotels, they will also lose the camp employees that shop in their stores and eat in their restaurants. How is that helping their economy?

  4. Well, who else can they gouge for extended stays in all the hotels they slapped up over the last 5 years that are now nearly vacant??
    Just sayin.

  5. What r they going to do with all those empty buildings when the oil boom is gone… Leave the mancamps alone

  6. Why go to north dakota and get over agressively gouged when you can make the same money everywhere else and not get gouged ,,, boom towns ,,, it’s not worth it

  7. Those politicians want to force manCampers out so their donors can keep their rents high. Because “they care”.

  8. Maybe Williston needs to make it affordable for permanent housing instead of gouging people. I really feel sorry for the long time residents that didn’t make the high oil money that can’t afford to live in their hometown. The Williston leaders need to realize the cost of living is way to high with the way the boom has fallen

  9. Funny thing is that most owners of hotels and apartments don’t want oil field workers in their units

  10. Remember that time politicians got involved and fixed everything? Yea, me either.

  11. If every type of housing in Williston wasn’t extremely overpriced (even with a 1/3 price cut), there wouldn’t be a need for man camps. But who in their right mind want to hand of 7/8 of their paycheck to pay rent just because people are greedy?

  12. talk about gouging! Man camps charge twice what a hotel would cost. Big deal, they give you a sack lunch. Good riddance.

  13. –LOL- fine noise while there a slump but when the oil field revives they will be whining—
    Idiots — without the oil worhers this is a none issue and with the oil workers the good citizens will be money grubbing screing their own neighbors

  14. Hotel developers took the risk and they lost… drilling operators have the right and plenty of territory besides the city of Williston to manage the housing of their employees and contractors!

    Williston shouldn’t be involved in how companies provide housing!

  15. I drove from Minot to willistion to Dickinson… Lots of equipment in the yards and not on well sites. So sad to see more and more equipment parked every month.

  16. Guess where the refugees will end up….

  17. Either move here and make a long term investment, bring your family and make this place home OR leave. You cannot make a community out of a transient population with no ties to the region other than making money and sending it back “home”.

    • I did move here, I work in the oilfield. My apartment is in Minot because that’s where my office is. Am I supposed to rent an apartment in Williston as well? Many of us in the man camps are not out of state people. If hotels provided the same service for the price, guess what we would use them. But they don’t. A room without meals and laundry in most towns we work near cost as much or more than the camps. I’m sorry but if you were conned into investing in apartments thinking that a traditionally migrant work force was going to move here. Well. I have some ocean view real estate in Kansas to sell you

    • Must have hit a nerve, don’t see how this applies to you if you live in Minot and so is your office? PS I wasn’t ” conned” into anything, also the condescending tone of your statement doesn’t reinforce your argument.

    • I stay in the man camps for work that’s why it applies to me. As for the conned statement I will apologize for how it was worded. It was aimed at investors not you specifically. Investors by the way who from the interviews I have read do not seem to be locals, or people putting down roots here.

  18. Williston isn’t a desirable place to live by a long shot. Man camps served a great purpose for people that worked rotation like myself.

  19. Greed.
    Williston hasnt profited enough? Now the government is going to force workers out of mancamps into permanent housing or motels to keep the prices high?
    I am so sick of the government making laws to steal money from the working people in this country. From Washington D.C. all the way down to a 5 member city council with a population of 30,000. You work for the people of the city of Williston. They are your boss. Not the other way around. Greedy pigs.

  20. Who the heck cares? Its North Dakota!

  21. Maybe the hotel shouldn’t have taken advantage of everyone with charging several hundred dollars.. I hope they go upside down. Remember you couldn’t accommodate us in the beginning.. We take care of our own!

  22. Picking the wrong time for this battle

  23. The government is a big fat greedy pig

  24. It seems to me, everyone who has came here to work has taken a risk. If the city of Williston and your motel investors took a risk and are not recovering the investment that they made in putting up “too many motels” too bad.
    Take your loss and the slow down like everyone else.
    Do not pass legislation to force people to spend their money where you choose it to be spent Williston! !

  25. I lived in my car for a month !no were to live the motels were taken 210 a night .lol. for a 49 dollar room . Hee made good month those months . But yea thouse people are greedy. Karma a bitch.really – 30 degrees. Nope went south.

  26. Ps they r going to use the cAmps for prisons

  27. So mancamps were ok whilst booming… But not when slow? The ones I stayed in were well maintained and workers only worried about working to get America’s oil.

  28. The town created this problem by jacking up rates to rent and hotels. Screw them

  29. This has nothing to do with wanting to keep
    people here permanently this has to do with all the property owners that built the apartment buildings that now sit vacant due to exuberant prices for average (at best) apartments!

  30. So this is why my rent is still 2k a month…

  31. My husband has been working in the oilfields since March 2014. We live in the Tri-Cities, Washington. We want to move and put down “permanent roots”. We are, however, finding it hard to find an affordable place to live. Rents are still double in Williston than in our current city….which is a metro area of 250,000 people. It seems like the City of Williston should concentrate on making it more of a possibility for families to relocate. You can’t put down roots in shallow soil.

  32. Next will be the campers. I stayed as long as I could until I couldn’t afford to stay. Was planning on staying 10 years until retirement. I enjoyed the work and found local church to attend. So I was set.