By Catherine Kim
and Jessica Hopper
hurt hard by the ailing economy are flocking to Williston, N.D., where
an oil boom has turned a sleepy prairie town into a place producing
thousands of jobs.
"There's opportunity here and that's what we
all need is opportunity," said Williston Mayor Ward Koeser. "It's kind
of been an oasis for the country. You know, there's a lot of jobs here,
good paying jobs in the oil industry."
Williston is situated on
the Bakken formation, an oil field that some say will produce the
biggest boom in North America since the 1960s. Koeser said that his town
currently has 2,000 to 3000 jobs and they haven't been able to fill the
openings fast enough.
"A lot of jobs get filled every day, but it's like for every job you fill, another job and a half opens up," Koeser said.
job on an oil rig can pay as much as six figures. The starting salary
for truck drivers is around $80,000. While the nation's unemployment
rate is 9.1 percent, Williston's unemployment rate is less than 1
Locals say job seekers from all 50 states are heading to
the North Dakota town, becoming modern-day pioneers. The town's
population has nearly doubled from 12,600 people to 23,000 people.
Parker hitchhiked from Yuba City, Calif., to Williston. When NBC News
spoke to him, he had just $12 in his pocket. Parker, a paving stone
layer by trade, has been out of work for two years.
"One of my goals is to make my daughters proud
of me," said an emotional Parker. "I want to make them proud because I
worked a good job for 10 years and then for it to go away it's just, it
just gets to me a little bit."
is one of a dozen people NBC News saw setting up camp or living in
their cars in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. Williston's
housing construction hasn't caught up with its rapid growth.
Parker said the town feels "like the old gold rush town."
was discovered in the this part of North Dakota 60 years ago, but it
was only recently that oil producers have found a way to get at it more
effectively. After drilling about two miles down, they drill
horizontally for another two miles through the bed of rock where the oil
is trapped. Using a technique called fracking - water, sand and
chemicals are shot into the rock formation from that horizontal pipe to
create cracks and fractures. From those openings, comes the oil. Those
in the oil industry say the tight rock that traps the oil, also prevents
it from escaping into the water table during the fracking process.
Dakota is currently the fourth largest producer of oil in the United
States, but that is projected to change soon. A spokesperson for North
Dakota’s Mineral Resources Department said that oil production in the
state is expected to surpass Alaska and California by 2015 which means
North Dakota will be the second largest oil producer in the country
Along with the bounty from the oil boom, come some stresses
and strains. A sewage system that's running at full tilt, truck traffic
congestion, an influx in 911 calls-those are just a few of the headaches
that keep Mayor Koeser up at night.
There is such a large influx
of people that thousands are staying in 'man camps'- shipping containers
converted into housing units for the workers new to town. When more
teachers were hired to deal with the rising number of students, an
apartment building had to be built to house the new teachers, Koeser
"When we have as many people come here everyday looking for
work, where are they going to live," Koeser asked. "How are we going to
get water to them and sewer to them and a road to them and power to
them and all those sorts of issues. Yeah, it's putting a tremendous
amount of pressure on the infrastructure."
Of all the stresses, the biggest strain on the community is truck traffic, the mayor said.
really stressing us, the traffic, a lot of accidents," said Koeser.
"In a small community, you're used to getting from one side of town to
the other in just a few minutes, that's no longer the case."
surplus of people living in the town coupled with the traffic accidents
has led to a drastic rise in calls to 911. Koeser said that the police
receive at least 10,000 more calls a year than in pre oil boom times.
keep in mind, you've got, you know, probably 9,000 men living in man
camps around the city, not in the city limits, but living around the
city and what do they do at night when they're done with work? They
come to town and find a bar and want to have a good time, and sometimes
get in trouble," Koeser said.
But that means more jobs: the town is adding six new policeman and three dispatchers this year, the mayor said.
with the headaches, Koeser said he and Williston's other residents are
lucky that the town has become an oasis for job seekers.
lived here most all of my life and I love it. And although we're really
being challenged right now, with those challenges come some great
opportunities," he said.