07/02/2012 08:38 AM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
HAMILTON- More and more Western Montana residents are heading east to work in the Bakken oil fields, and that's prompted the University of Montana is adjusting to make sure they have some training … Click to Read More and see additional updates
07/02/2012 08:38 AM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
HAMILTON- More and more Western Montana residents are heading east to work in the Bakken oil fields, and that's prompted the University of Montana is adjusting to make sure they have some training to get those jobs.
The Bitterroot College of U.M. is starting a new class this month called "Bakken Oil and Gas Field Basics" to give people a "primer" on the boom impacting northeastern Montana and northwestern North Dakota.
The course is being designed for anyone who'd like to get a career start in the oil industry, or simply wants to know more about the Bakken oil and gas boom. The class will cover topics like oil-patch terminology and the fundamentals of oil and gas geology. It's the same course that was originally offered at Dawson Community College in Glendive.
The one-day class will run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and can be taken on Friday, July 13th or Friday, July 20th. The class costs $55 for people registering by July 6th and $65 for late registration. The class will be held in Classroom 1 at 274 Old Corvallis Road in Hamilton.
Call (406) 357.0100 for more information or click here.
06/18/2012 08:44 AM by Dustin Klemann - MTN News
WILLISTON, ND- The Bakken oil boom is arguably one of the most discussed topics continuing today with issues of violence and obscene amounts of money usually fill bylines and news stories.
But Williston, North Dakota and its surrounding areas are growing at such a rapid rate that town officials are collaborating on how to evolve the infrastructure. It is no secret oil field workers travel across the country and that can be seen in the area's acute housing shortage.
Companies like Target Logistics have constructed work camps for employees to live to try to combat the issue. Their campus gives workers a space to live and build a community among other colleagues. But camps of RVs still populate the Sydney and Williston areas.
Housing isn't the only obstacle the town needs to deal with as the Williston area is still in a state of flux. They outgrew their proverbial rural clothes but they aren't in search of a new identity.
The average salary for oil field workers is $71,000, but Williston is receiving only .01% of the revenue generated by the oil fields. Crowley Fleck Attorney Garth Sjue says there are other pressing issues that need to be addressed.
"Daycare, housing, another problem is we don't have a lot of people to fill service industry jobs."
There are plenty of challenges ahead. For example, surrounding businesses need to be creative to assert themselves in the local economy. Williston's infrastructure is a work in progress and analysts say the town three to five years away from stabilizing.
Sanderson Stewart Chairman Rick Leuthold says this oil boom is still an opportunity of a life time. " It's unique; it's something we've never seen in history before and it takes some broad, big thinking...think as big as you can and grasp the challenges there and you'll be very successful."
06/12/2012 02:25 PM by Blake Ellis - CNNMoney.com
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Voters in North Dakota, where the economy is swelling with money from the oil boom, are going to the polls Tuesday to possibly get rid of property tax in the state.
North Dakota boasts the lowest state unemployment rate in the country and has become the nation's second-biggest oil producer. As a result of the energy rush, government coffers are flush with revenue.
The proposal, known as Measure 2, would amend the state's constitution. If it is approved, North Dakota would be the only state without a property tax, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group that advocates for lower taxes.
Property tax is assessed based on the estimated value of a property. It is typically the source of a steady stream of revenue to fund government projects. At the same time, anti-tax advocates often identify it as a burdensome hit to homeowners.
Charlene Nelson, head of Empower the Taxpayer, the grassroots organization pushing Measure 2, said eliminating the tax is something her organization has been gunning for over the past five or six years.
Nelson said the tax is unfair and pushes many local citizens out of their homes because they are on fixed incomes or have lost their jobs. The state government has plenty of money to offset the $800 million in annual revenue that will be given up if the property tax is abolished, she argued.
The economic boost of the new oil boom makes this the perfect time for North Dakota to finally approved the measure, she said.
"This oil boom is bringing between $4 million and $6 million every day into the state coffers and that's over and above all the other growth in other revenues," said Nelson. "The oil boom could pay for the property tax in one month."
While tax revenue at all the states grew an average of 4% last year, North Dakota's revenue surged 44%, according to Joe Henchman, vice president of legal and state projects at the Tax Foundation. From 1997 to 2011, the state's tax revenue has increased about 10% per year, while nationally it has risen about 4% per year.
The $800 million the state would forgo in annual tax revenue represents about 23% of North Dakota's state and local tax revenue, according to the Tax Foundation.
Local governments opposed to the measure worry the revenue hit would jeopardize funding for school systems, infrastructure projects and other key programs.
But Henchman said the state government would likely intervene with aid to fill holes left in local government budgets.
"The state government is awash in money," said Henchman. "They never went into the recession, never had budget problems -- things have been going pretty well in North Dakota, so now they're saying, 'Hey, we have all this money, what should we do differently?' "
A number of states have discontinued income tax when they had another revenue source they could rely on instead. Alaska and Texas, for example, did this when they realized they generated enough tax revenue from oil, he said.
While the measure's fate at the polls is unclear, Henchman said it's more likely to get support now than it would have a few years ago because of the oil boom. "Now, North Dakota has the revenue to eliminate a major tax," Henchman said.
But Connie Sprynczynatyk, executive director of the North Dakota League of Cities and an opponent of the proposal, said there is no guarantee that the oil boom revenue is here to stay.
"This measure takes the most predictable source of tax funding for local services and replaces it with among the most volatile of tax revenue sources," she said. "We don't control the price of a barrel of oil, the world market does ... so the revenue is great right now, but we don't know what it will be two years from now."
TM & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
05/30/2012 09:34 AM by Melissa Anderson (MTN - Helena)
HELENA- The Bakken Oil boom in eastern Montana and western North Dakota has employers looking as far away as Helena to fill positions.
The Taco John's store on Prospect Avenue in Helena is advertising management careers at its North Dakota stores on its billboard.
Megan Grundstrom of Preferred Restaurants Group, which owns several Taco John's in Montana and North Dakota, says they are in need of workers, especially managers.
Grundstrom said that she was talking with the manager of the Helena restaurant, and she recalled, "And what he was seeing in Helena is that there's a lot of management candidates that are coming into his store and looking for a job. And while he doesn't have anything in his Helena stores, he thought why don't we do interviews here and see if some of these people would like to go east to North Dakota where there's plenty of jobs."
Grundstrom says they have bumped up their service wages to keep up with the inflation in the area, but says it's difficult to compete with the oil fields wages.
Click here to see available Taco John's jobs in the Bakken region.
05/21/2012 06:39 AM by David Jay (MTN - Billings)
BILLINGS- The Bakken oil boom has added thousands of oil jobs including some in Billings.
Sanjel in Billings provides drilling companies with coil tubing, fracturing and pump services and the company has trained about 1,200 workers since 2010, with about half of those go to work in the Bakken.
The training involves one week in the classroom and a week working the equipment and many of these trainees have never worked in an oil field or with machinery.
"We've got accountants, they've owned their own businesses before, auto cab, truck drivers," said Dan Gopperton, a coil tubing trainer with Sanjel.
He added that safety is the main reason for the training.
A recent group of trainees will take a week off before moving to their jobs in the Bakken or in Texas.
Oil exploration in the United States is providing Sanjel with opportunities all over the country and since 2010, Sanjel has increased its work force 400 percent, from 300 to 1,500.
05/03/2012 09:44 AM by Jay Kohn (KTVQ Billings)
BILLINGS- One year ago we took a trip into the Bakken oil fields to bring back the story of the huge oil boom gripping the Williston Basin.
We learned about horizontal drilling and how the new technique known as "fracking" has fueled a new oil rush that is changing lives and landscapes in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Montana News Station's Jay Kohn headed back on the road to Williston to experience the Bakken Boom a year later.
Taking a trip into the Bakken oil fields these days is a dangerous venture as semi-trucks rule the road, and they are everywhere. Local officials report that trucks now makes up at least 30% of local traffic.
City and state officials are scrambling to get a new truck route in place, but that's easier said than done. Meanwhile, Billings resident Rick Leuthold's development company Sanderson Stewart is helping Williston officials deal with the sudden boom that has transformed their town into the fastest growing city in America.
Over at the city's public works department, Monte Meiers's top concern is pretty basic as the sewage plant is over its capacity. But the city has been entangled in water and legal issues with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, issues that have meant months and now years of delay.
The Bakken oil boom created more than 12,000 jobs in the Williston Basin from 2010 to 2011 and this year another 10,000 jobs will be added. But it's a pace that has local officials here running on empty.
Williston native John Schmitz has an interesting perspective on what's happening to his hometown. He grew up in the area and his first job was working as a rough neck on an oil rig. Today he owns his own oil company and just happens to own land where the new truck route is headed.
Officials warn that as crazy as things are in Williston right now it's bound to get even crazier as the oil boom continues.
04/11/2012 01:46 PM by Brittany Wooley (KTVQ Billings)
BILLINGS- A natural gas company plans to build a 1,300 mile pipeline to transport crude oil from the Williston Basin in North Dakota to the crude-oil market hub in Cushing, Oklahoma.
The estimated $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion pipeline would pass through eastern Montana and Wyoming, transporting up to 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
ONEOK plans to begin construction on the Bakken Crude Express Pipeline in late 2013, pending permits and regulatory requirements.
A company spokesperson said the project is slated to for completion by 2015. The construction of the pipeline goes along with the company's 500-mile natural gas line currently under construction that extends from Montana to Colorado.
04/06/2012 07:18 AM by Drew Trafton (KTVQ Billings)
SIDNEY- The Bakken oil boom looks like a golden opportunity-especially if you are searching for work from an outsider perspective.
However, if you live in one of the more than 70 communities supporting the boom, you might see things in a slightly different light.
"We want to be good neighbors to oil and gas," said Sidney, Montana mayor Bret Smelser. "But we just don't have the tools in the chest to do it."
The communities are facing doubling populations within a few short years and a severe lack of infrastructure to support a rapidly growing population.
Montana U.S. Senator Max Baucus stopped in to a few of those communities on Wednesday to make a check presentation and offer a few ideas which might lead to solutions when it comes to funding problems.
04/02/2012 06:25 AM by Tara Oster (KPAX News)
STEVENSVILLE- The first trip to the Bakken area on North Dakota by a Bitterroot business was cancelled on Sunday because of lack of reservations.
But, president and former truck driver Bill Lawrence says as soon as he cancelled the bus, the reservations started flooding in.
He's hopeful the coming weekends will bring more interest from Bakken employees and their families.
Lawrence had said their first chartered trip was set to run from Lolo to Williston, North Dakota with stops planned in Butte, Three Forks, Bozeman and Billings.
R n' R Stage Lines is brokering with Tucker Transportation to charter Montanans from western Montana to the Bakken area, which includes Montana, North Dakota, and Alberta.
03/23/2012 04:32 PM by Robin O'Day (KPAX News)
STEVENSVILLE- Two Bitterroot men are riding the Bakken oil business boom by helping employees get across the state and into North Dakota to clock in for work.
R 'n' R Stage Lines is brokering with Tucker Transportation to charter Montana residents into the Bakken area, which includes Montana, North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.
President, and former truck driver, Bill Lawrence says many employees are working long shifts and then driving back, sometimes up to 12 hours to get home, which can be very unsafe.
He says many Bakken employees and their family members are eager to hop on board,
"There's a lot of people working there, we've had a lot of phone calls. Everyone is supportive, people say it's a great idea and why didn't somebody think of it earlier."
Lawrence says their first chartered trip is set to run on April 1st out of Lolo. It will make stops in Butte, Three Forks, Bozeman, Billings and then arrive at their final destination in Williston, North Dakota.
One-way trips are $150 and round trips are $300.
03/23/2012 06:45 AM by Jay Kohn (KTVQ Billings)
BILLINGS- Continental Resources Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm doesn't look like one of the world's wealthiest men, but Forbes Magazine lists him as the 33rd richest American.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer introduced Hamm on Thursday night as the man who owns more oil in the ground than any other U.S. citizen.
It was Hamm who developed the Elm Coulee oil field near Sidney, the first significant discovery of oil in the Bakken formation.
The self made billionaire started his career in Oklahoma in the 1960's, beginning with a $1,000 loan and a single truck for his oil field services business. Continental Resources Inc. is the 14th largest oil company in the nation.
Hamm says the Bakken oil play has produced so many millionaires that it's hard to count them all.
Delivering the keynote address Thursday night to the Montana Ambassadors annual dinner, Hamm said the Bakken is a "world class" play that has sparked a renaissance in the American energy industry.
He says with an estimated 24 billion barrels of recoverable oil, the Bakken has the potential to fuel America's push for energy independence, something he believes can be achieved within ten years.
The theme of the Ambassadors meeting this year is "Imagine the Possible" and apparently that's something Harold Hamm has been doing his entire career.
02/27/2012 12:12 PM by Steve Hargreaves (CNNMoney.com)
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The United States is undergoing an energy boom - but the oil and gas industry says it could be much, much bigger.
How much so?
A study last year commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute said that if every piece of federal land -- excluding national parks -- was open for drilling, North America could produce an additional 10 million barrels of oil a day by 2030.
At today's consumption level, that would eliminate the need for any other imports.
And the additional drilling would create 1.4 million jobs and $800 billion in tax revenue, according to the study.
"It's time our national energy policy let America take advantage of this opportunity," API President Jack Gerard said in a press release at the time.
API represents big oil companies like Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, and the study was conducted by energy consultants Wood Mackenzie.
But oil production on that scale would come with trade-offs.
There would be drill rigs off beaches up and down the East and West Coasts, as well as near the Florida Keys. Wilderness areas in national forests and Alaska would be crisscrossed with roads.
Canada's oil sands, which critics are bitterly opposing on the grounds that they would exacerbate global warming, would be fully developed. Hydraulic fracturing would occur in watersheds nationwide.
"We don't think the country would benefit at all," said the Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program at the Sierra Club.
Manuel noted the huge amounts of tourism dollars that beachside drilling could put at risk, as well as the loss of wildlife habitat. Plus, he doubted the industry could get another 10 million barrels a day even if it could drill everywhere.
And even all that additional oil may still not bring down gas prices.
By 2030 the world is expected to consumer over 100 million barrels of oil per day, and it's unclear what impact an additional 10% would have on prices.
Plus, OPEC could decide to cut production by 10 million barrels a day, leaving the overall supply picture unchanged.
For these reasons, even API won't say what type of impact this might have for consumers.
Even without additional drilling, the United States is an energy powerhouse, and is becoming increasingly more so.
As of the end of 2011, the United States was producing 10.4 million barrels of oil a day, according to the Energy Information Administration. That's more than Saudi Arabia's 9.8 million barrels per day.
The U.S. figure includes liquids from natural gas wells, gains made in the refining process and ethanol production -- all of which can be used to make gasoline. Saudi Arabia does not make a comparable number public.
On a pure crude oil basis, Saudi production stands at 9.8 million barrels a day while the U.S. is at 5.8 million barrels per day.
The Obama administration can take some credit for the increased production, but high oil prices and new technologies are the bigger drivers.
Oil that didn't make business sense to drill for at $30 a barrel becomes viable at $60 or $100.
And the industry has been increasingly coupling the ability to drill horizontally with the expanded use of hydraulic fracturing, also knows and fracking, which has increased the production of both oil and natural gas.
Many fear the process of using pressure, water and chemicals to ease extraction is contaminating the ground water. Some want it banned altogether.
The amount of acreage available for drilling under the Obama administration has actually declined compared to what the previous administration offered. But Obama has allowed drilling in the Arctic to move forward and done little to restrict fracking.
During this election season, Americans will likely hear from forces on both sides pushing for either a more or less aggressive approach to drilling.
And as the easy to reach oil runs out and new sources become increasingly hard to get, Americans will have to decide what trade-offs the nation wants to make.
TM & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
02/24/2012 09:56 AM by Drew Trafton (KTVQ Billings)
BILLINGS- Would you like a job in the Bakken oil fields? That was the question posed to more than 50 people who turned out for a meeting on Thursday afternoon at the Garfield Community Resource Center in south Billings.
The meeting, the second of its kind in a little more than a month, was a partnership between the resource center, Billings Job Service and Montana State University-Billings.
John Keebler, an employment specialist with Billings Job Service, says that many of the people in Billings looking to get involved in the Bakken are interested in trucking driving jobs.
However, those jobs require commercial driving licenses, which many of the people interested in driving who come to the meetings are lacking.
"This is reality," said Keebler. "The companies might be looking for certain levels of training, and if you don't have it there are organizations which are here in town that can help you with that. Job Service can help you, the Educational Opportunity Center, your community college is here- the College of Technology- and they can help you with that."
Commercial driving licenses have become increasingly popular in Montana as the Bakken oil fields continue to develop.
At the SAGE Truck Driving School (which has campuses in Billings, Missoula and Kalispell), enrollment has doubled in the past year and school officials estimate that around 80% of those receiving their commercial licenses from the school end up finding jobs in the Bakken play.
Billings Job Service says there are financial aid programs available to those who are seeking training in various job fields.
You can learn more if you visit their website by clicking here.
02/21/2012 08:38 PM by Amanda Venegas (KTVQ News)
BILLINGS- The alleged kidnapping and killing of Sherry Arnold has rocked the small town of Sidney and the crime has jolted concerns about the need for more law enforcement.
The crime has many people feeling weary of their safety and realizing that Sidney is not the same place it once was. The town has experienced an influx in population and traffic of people from across the country going to and from the oil fields.
A study by the Montana Department of Transportation department showed in 2011 more than 11,400 semis, trucks and vehicles traveled through the Truck Route in Sidney every day. That's an increase of almost 4,000 vehicles in one year.
Sidney's Police Chief says he has eleven officers patrolling the town and has seen an increase in crime.
Sidney mayor Bret Smelser recently spoke with Montana's News Station about the crime. He expressed frustration at not having the financial resources to get more law enforcement.
"This is just a wakeup call for everybody out there that seems to think we are all swimming in oil money when we are not. The cities and towns don't have anything and yet we are receiving all these impacts. We've just received the most severe impact of the oil boom that we could have and that was the death of Sherry," said Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser.
Sidney's population is expected to double over the next five years.
02/17/2012 11:04 AM by Katy Harris (KAJ News)
KALISPELL- From the pristine valley to the grimy oil fields. That's a choice some Flathead Valley residents have to make as they leave their loved ones hundreds of miles away and going search of good paying job.
The sluggish economy in the Flathead has some residents turning to the Bakken Oil field in North Dakota to keep their families afloat. Reporter Katy Harris went on Special Assignment to chat with two families who have turned to oil to survive.
Imagine growing up with your dad leaving home and working hundreds of miles away in North Dakota for weeks on end. For one Flathead valley girl, that's her reality.
"I would rather him be here and for us not to be comfortable and cut things out, instead of him being gone," Elisabeth McLellan told us.
But on the other hand there are people like John and Gina Hale who say the money is worth being away from home.
"It's just nice to pay all the bills and have money left over to do whatever or pay off debt. It's just nice to have that money and it's definitely worth it for the time that he's gone," Gina Hale explained.
The Hale's are expecting their first child and are getting accustomed to life with John gone for two weeks every month to work on an oil rig. His prior job was working in construction before working in North Dakota, but the crash of the housing market left John scraping the bottom of the barrel to pay bills. That's when he decided it was time to head east.
"I know it was a lot more stressful before I went over there, money wise. Over there I know I'm going to get 90 hours a week. It's just a consistency," John Hale said.
And then there's Kent McLellan who worked as a paint contractor for over 30 years. When the economy took a nose dive and painting all but dried up, he needed a new job quick and he's now a truck driver in the oil fields.
"We basically spent our savings; we basically used everything that we had you know? And now we needed to make some decisions in life quick," Kent recalled.
Families like the Hale's and McLellan's might have ended up in dire straights without job opportunities in North Dakota and one Flathead Valley economist says families making sacrifices and sending loved ones east is doing wonders for our economy.
"You're typical family, the majority of their paycheck comes back to the Flathead, and they make their house payment or pay their rent. They buy groceries, they put tennis shoes on their kid's feet, they go to the movies, they go out to dinner, and they put gas in their tanks," Client Development and Resources for Montana Manager Kim Morisaki observed.
"A lot of the families that I know if it's a husband going for two or three weeks the wife
actually buys all the groceries he needs here. Maybe cooks stuff for him, packs him up and sends him over so yeah it's got a major ripple effect on our economy," Morisaki concluded.
While the oil boom continues, families like the Hale's and McLellan's can only be together part of the time.
"The difficulty is you're not involved in life; you're not involved in their lives. You miss that. You miss what they're doing, you miss the school, you miss the activities, and you miss their accomplishments," Kent said.
But it's a sacrifice Kent McLellan is willing to make in order to keep his family housed, fed and clothed.
The Bakken is responsible for tremendous job growth and that's a significant factor in today's tough economy. North Dakota's unemployment rate is currently the lowest in the nation and the demand for workers of all types shows no signs of letting up any time soon.
02/16/2012 05:13 PM by Katy Harris (KAJ News)
The economy is recovering slowly and many Flathead Valley residents are turning to the North Dakota oil fields to find work and pay their bills.
A representative from Montana West Economic Development says that there is a trend of young adults leaving the Flathead Valley and moving over to North Dakota for work.
This can somewhat harm our economy by leaving unpaid rent and less money filtering into restaurants and shops. But there is also a trend of a people leaving their families here and going to work in North Dakota.
Client Development and Resources for Montana manager Kim Morisaki says this can actually be very beneficial because their paychecks are coming back here to make their house payments and support their families.
"You're typical family, the majority of their paycheck comes back to the Flathead, they make their house payment or pay their rent. They buy groceries, they put tennis shoes on their kids feet, they go to the movies, they go out to dinner, they put gas in their tanks. A lot of the families that I know if it's a husband going for two or three weeks the wife actually buys all the groceries he needs here. Maybe cooks stuff for him, packs him up and sends him over so yeah it's got a major ripple effect on our economy."
Morisaki says she knows that several Flathead Valley construction businesses have picked up good paying contracts in North Dakota to build houses because of the high demand.
02/09/2012 07:20 AM by Drew Trafton (KTVQ Billings)
BILLINGS- A drive through northern Richland County will let you see a lot of nothing and since it's February, you'll probably see a lot of nothing not doing much moving. Unless, that is, you happen to drive by Continental Resources' hydraulic fracturing site about 45 miles northwest of Sidney.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as ‘fracking', is a process which expands fissures and breaks up rock thousands of feet to a few miles below the surface of the earth where pockets of natural resources are being sealed up tightly by non-porous rock.
In order to expand the rock and move the resource to a desirable location for extracting, companies like Continental Resources uses a mixture of millions of gallons of water and millions of pounds of sand to accomplish the mission.
The sand used in the process is very expensive, as it has to be of a particular size, shape and strength. But because of the strict regulations, only a handful of places on earth produce the sand.
On a tour of the fracking site on Tuesday morning, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer told representatives from Continental Resources he has people working on finding sand which could be used from Montana, all of which could be sold for three times cheaper because the sand wouldn't have to be imported from a different state.
Throughout the tour, Schweitzer continually made it known that he was more than just in favor of the process continuing in Montana.
"You've got a little more conducive rock out there (North Dakota), and you've got the deep end of the swimming pool and we're the shallow end of the swimming pool, but we still want to get as much of that production here in Montana as possible," said Schweitzer.
That statement might make those opposed to fracking in Montana squirm. One of the controversies surrounding the process involves a gel which is part of the water and sand mixture.
Opponents of fracking say that the chemicals in the gel can cause the mixture to become hazardous and leak into drinking water and can be demonstrated by numerous viral videos online.
Continental Resources says the gel is mostly made up of a plant which is grown in India, and Schweitzer says that the gel is completely safe.
"Whatever toxicity that gel has is nothing compared to what it looks like at 9,500 feet," said Schweitzer. "99.2% of everything that's pumped into those wells is just sand and water."
But regardless of the controversy, the governor says the process has opened the door for Montana to play a much larger role in the Bakken.
"Not only has it markedly increased the oil production in Montana, it also increases the rate at which we can extract that oil from those oil and gas wells," said Schweitzer.
But the Bakken boom isn't only bringing an economic spike to eastern Montana. The city of Sidney is facing accelerated growing pains, as population projections show the community will double in size, from 5,000 to 10,000 people within the next three years.
Unfortunately for the community, the recent death of Sidney School teacher Sherry Arnold proved how painful that growth can be.
"The best way to say it, you know, is that wolves follow the herds," said a native Montanan working at the fracking site. "And there's a herd of people coming in."
Following the tour of the site, Governor Schweitzer stopped by Sidney City Hall where several prominent community members were waiting for a moment of his time-all wanting to discuss how the small city will handle the oncoming herd.
"Staffing is an issue for us, housing is an issue for us," said Dr, Daniel Farr, the superintendent of schools in Sidney. "Plus, with 758 projected students coming in the next two to three years, facilities become an issue for the community."
During the open forum, Sidney mayor Bret Smelser handed Governor Schweitzer a list of more than $40,000,000 worth of infrastructure improvements the city will need to sustain the growth.
"I'm going to take these back to our budget, and find ways within current statute to see if we can get some money out of this as quickly as possible," said Schweitzer.
But for now, the Bakken play in eastern Montana presents a double-edged sword as the price of economic development is coming at a cost for communities like Sidney.
02/08/2012 07:38 AM by Drew Trafton (KTVQ Billings)
SIDNEY- Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer traveled to Sidney on Thursday to get a first-hand look at how the Bakken oil boom is affecting Montana.
The governor visited a hydraulic fracturing site, commonly known as fracking, where Continental Resources, the largest owner of wells in the Bakken play is currently at work. The tour showed that the Bakken is definitely making an economic impact on Montana.
There are many Montanans who were working in the oil patch that a few years ago were working in a field completely unrelated to oil and during the tour, we learned how fracking extracts natural resources, as well as the various controversies surrounding the process.
But the biggest problems surrounding the Bakken in Montana were uncovered when the governor dropped by Sidney City Hall where was confronted with well-over $40 million worth of infrastructure needs which are facing Sidney due to the boom.
"The projections here in Sidney is that the population will grow from 5,000 to 10,000 people in a very short period of time. Imagine if the city of Billings grew to 200,000 people just in the next few years. All the new streets that need to be built, all the new water and sewage facilities that need to be in place. The new schools that have to be built. And it all has to be built in the next few years," Schweitzer commented.
Just how Sidney is going to address that all too real scenario and what we can learn from North Dakota will be featured in part two of our special series.
01/24/2012 08:04 AM by Dennis Bragg (KPAX/KAJ Media Center)
MISSOULA- The latest analysis of the economy by the University of Montana finds the state slowly recovering from the recession. But the report finds the oil boom impacting Eastern Montana as a definite bright spot.
UM prepares the Economic Outlook report every year at this time, with the school's Bureau of Business and Economic Research analyzing the trends and data. UM economist Patrick Barkey says the newest report shows Montana's economic recovery from the recession has been slower than expected.
"The big news in Montana continues to be the slow recovery from the recession," said Barkey, the bureau's director. "While the 2011 data show some gains, statewide growth in real non-farm earnings has fallen considerably short of the 2.6% increase we foresaw happening a year ago. The Montana economic recovery thus far remains stuck in the starting gate, actually slowing down from the 1.5% growth rate of 2010 to register a rather disappointing 0.7% growth."
But the report finds the "second big story" is the boom in Eastern Montana's energy industry with oil, gas, coal and wind. BBER Director Emeritus Paul Polzin says the growth "stalling" isn't the same across the state.
"In general, the far eastern counties of the state are seeing surging growth due to Bakken-related oil activities, while the most western counties have not yet begun their climb from their recession troughs. Specifically, here in the Missoula-area the recession was long but not particularly severe. We don't yet have final numbers for 2011, but there is a good chance they will show another year of decline, making four straight years of negative growth."
Polzin says since the economic growth cycle peaked in 2007, Missoula's economy has declined just under 5%. He says developments such as the closure of Smurfit-Stone's Frenchtown Mill have "exacerbated the other recession effects."
And it's not just Missoula County slogging through the recession's aftermath.
"The recession hit Ravalli County hard," Polzin said. "There have been four straight years of declines and the overall decrease of 11.4 percent is the largest among the state's major counties. Declines in construction and real estate were particularly severe. The latest data do not even hint of the beginning of a recovery."
Barkey and Polzin will present their findings in presentations in nine Montana cities in the coming weeks, starting in Helena today, Great Falls on Wednesday and Missoula Friday. Presentations will follow in Billings and Bozeman next week with additional stops in Kalispell, Lewistown and Havre.
In addition to economic forecasts this year's seminar will include the insights of keynote Tom Richmond, administrator and petroleum engineer for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas focusing on the prospects for the state's growth in the energy sector.
Below is a list of when meetings to discuss Montana's economic outlook will take place:
01/08/2012 06:32 PM by David Jay (KTVQ News)
BILLINGS - A Billings businessman says oil companies have 18,000 jobs in the Bakken, but the challenge is getting the word to prospective employees. That's one of many issues mentioned at an economic roundtable on the Bakken boom, on Friday.
Synergy Station President and Co-founder Kendall McRae said many in the Bakken need to connect with businesses in Billings. McRae realized this when hours of research turned up just 3,000 of the 18,000 jobs.
All the people at the round-table talked about the need to plan and prepare for the boom that has is heading west.
McRae said the 'boom' has already affected Billings.
"We began to say, hey this is nuts, what can we do to help that, understanding that it was coming this direction," said McRae, "let's start something that we can kind of try to get some order in that, but still allow the businesses and people, there's a tremendous amount of opportunity."
McRae was one of several who spoke Friday, at the round-table sponsored by the Billings Chamber and Senator Jon Tester.
01/07/2012 10:07 AM by David Jay (KTVQ Billings)
BILLINGS- The challenge for Billings businesses is how to tap into the Bakken Boom. That was the main topic of discussion Friday as Montana Senator Jon Tester held a roundtable discussion with Magic City business leaders.
The Senator and the Billings Chamber of Commerce organized the roundtable and much of the focus was on the need to plan and prepare for the opportunities.
The oil exploration has already helped many businesses in Billings as hotels have more customers than two years ago and tourism has increased.
Homes occupied in Billings increased to 95% and vehicle sales have gone up for many dealers as some companies transport employees from Billings to the Bakken.
Tester says the economic boost will be greater by preparing for the impact heading toward Billings.
"If we're smart about this and we communicate and we think long-term and short-term, we can have some real positive things happen here and across eastern montana," Tester said. "We tend to focus on the challenges, but the fact is, with those challenges, come great opportunity."
"If people want to explore an opportunity in the Williston area and in the Bakken, there are opportunities to be found," said John Brewer, president and CEO of the Billings Chamber of Commerce. "It's just a matter of how quickly a company wants to grow and how much they want to look at doing business in Billings and outside of Billings."
Some of the negative impacts mentioned at the roundtable include colleges.schools losing students and Billings businesses losing workers to the higher paying jobs in the Bakken.
12/06/2011 07:07 AM by Blake Ellis (CNNMoney.com)
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- For the past few years, the northwestern corner of North Dakota has been viewed as a rare pocket of opportunity in an otherwise dismal national economy: oil is flowing and jobs are plentiful.
Thanks to the billions of barrels of oil estimated to be lying in the region's Bakken formation, jobs are plentiful there and many workers are earning six-figures or close to it.
Yet, there's a dark cloud hanging over this bright spot in the nation's economy. Boomtowns like Williston and Watford City, which are located at the epicenter of North Dakota's black gold rush, can fall as quickly as they rise. Any number of factors -- from a dive in crude prices, discoveries in other parts of the country or changes in energy policies -- could cause these towns to go bust.
And when America's newest boomtowns do implode, "[i]t will leave devastation behind," said Clay Jenkinson, director of the Dakota Institute. "Whenever this ends -- whether it's five years or 35 years -- everyone is going to hit the exits ... you could have the worst case of sudden desertion of an energy field in history."
From boomtown to ghost town: Greg Robson, a resident of Palisade, Colorado since 1974, has seen just how quickly a town's fortunes can change.
His town, along with the surrounding area, has gone through cycles of booms and busts for decades. Most recently, when natural gas prices nosedived right around 2008, drilling companies began fleeing the area.
Artificially high real estate prices plummeted and unemployed residents are being forced to default on their mortgages -- leading to a surge in foreclosures. And the high school graduates who skipped college to work in oilfields and earn fat paychecks are now being abandoned.
"Big energy companies don't give a rat's ass about them," said Robson. "So, there they are, our community's youth, without a higher education to fall back on, up to their eyeballs in debt, and too young to know they should have put some money away for these types of situations."
Robson, an architect, has had to lay off his one employee and move his office into his home. But at least he has work.
North Dakota's bust: 'Much more severe': When the bust rears its head in North Dakota, a similar backlash is likely to play out, but many fear it could be on a much grander scale given the enormity of Bakken oil play, Jenkinson said.
"Other places go through minor booms and minor busts along with the business cycles of the industry, but this is different ... these guys in the fields are hitting oil 100% of the time," said Jenkinson.
Anywhere from 4 billion to hundreds of billions of barrels of extractable oil lies under the Bakken formation, which is enough to keep the economic flurry going for a while.
However, a collapse in world oil prices or a big oil discovery somewhere else could put a quick end to North Dakota's riches, said Jenkinson. And since North Dakota isn't as desirable as Colorado or Texas, the ramifications of a bust are likely to be much worse, he said. "The minute it's over, people are going to get the hell out," said Jenkinson.
Gene Veeder, head of job development for McKenzie County, which is located in the heart of North Dakota's oil action, said the towns make building and infrastructure decisions on the assumption that the boom will last between five to ten years. And they expect -- and hope -- that 20% to 30% of the workers there will stay to maintain wells after the boom ends.
However, Jenkinson estimates that less than 1% of the newcomers will actually stick around.
That could leave a town like Williston, N.D. looking like a virtual ghost town. If the 15,000-person town of Williston scrambles for the next five years to build up the infrastructure to accommodate the more than 35,000 people who are likely living there right now and then the boom ends, the town is going to be left with empty schools, hotels, apartment buildings, restaurants and other infrastructure that it just can't maintain.
Déjà vu: To make matters worse, this isn't the first time an oil bust has wreaked havoc on this region.
At the beginning of the oil boom in the late 1970s, local community members convinced Toby Holm's mother and father to build a 200-person trailer park to help house all of the workers flocking into the town.
"It was a huge endeavor and my mother worked until her fingers literally bled," said Holm. But the money flow stopped abruptly about five years later, and the trailer court that once boasted a 200-person per trailer waiting list was down to just five trailers. What had become a lifeline for Holm's parents was repossessed.
The latest boom has only resurfaced these painful memories, as more workers enter the town looking for homes. "Now they are opening up her old [trailer park] again. I can tell this is killing her and my father."
TM & © 2011 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
11/07/2011 10:36 AM by CNN Wire Staff
WILLISTON, ND- Mercy Medical Center, the only hospital in Williston, N.D., had to double the number of seats in its waiting room six weeks ago.
It also had to hire security guards to ensure the safety of incoming patients this year, a precaution that has become necessary: emergency room visits have increased 50% in the last 12 months and wait times now average at least a couple hours.
The explosive growth in the small towns surrounding the Bakken oil formation, has led to a surge in accidents and patients, putting an incredible strain on local medical facilities like Mercy.
"Growth here is happening so fast you really can't stay ahead of it," said Matthew Grimshaw, CEO of Mercy Medical Center. "The best we can do is keep things within our field of view and react as nimbly as possible."
Mercy is the only hospital within a 40-mile radius, so it fills up with people from all over the northwestern corner of North Dakota.
11/05/2011 11:29 AM by Judy Slate (KBZK Bozeman)
WILLISTON, ND- When the housing industry in Bozeman crashed, many businesses went out of business. But now, some local companies are saving themselves, hitting pay dirt hundreds of miles away.
"Every day, we feel lucky," said Brett Walker who is doing business in North Dakota.
Walker hasn't always felt this lucky. He's the owner of Walker Excavation, a Belgrade company that just two years ago was in trouble, a victim of Bozeman's building bust.
"We had no work, and so we took a gamble on coming out here," he said.
"Out here" is Williston, North Dakota where an oil boom is drawing people from all over who are looking for work, including Montanans, specifically several Bozeman area residents who are seeking new opportunities.
"I refer to it as the wild, wild west, because it's pretty much a free-for-all," said Larry Powers who works in North Dakota.
It's a free-for-all that's attracting workers, entrepreneurs and businesses from across Montana.
"There's a lot of people from Bozeman here. I see people from Bozeman every day," said Tony Cattaneo who, with his wife Tahnee, just opened a business in the old service station in Williston, North Dakota, making boxed lunches for oil workers.
Meanwhile, Walker Excavation started operations in Williston about 18 months ago.
"Is this something you would have ever imagined for your company?" asks a reporter.
"No, no. We were a small residential and small commercial dirt company in Bozeman. I never dreamed we'd be this large, do this amount of work," Walker said. "North Dakota will be what saves us, our company."
This is the fourth part of a four-part series on the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota where many people from the Bozeman area are traveling to find work and sometimes reinventing themselves to fill a niche in this fast-growing area.
11/04/2011 09:54 AM by Judy Slate (KBZK Bozeman)
WILISTON, ND- You may be surprised at how many people from across the Gallatin Valley are heading to North Dakota for work. With all of those people heading east, the ones who are able to find a place to spend the night in Williston, North Dakota are considered lucky.
Larry Powers and his roommates work for Williams Plumbing and Heating, a Bozeman company that is doing work in Williston.
"The economy in Bozeman is so slow, Montana in general, and there's a lot of work in North Dakota," Powers said.
There's a lot of work to be had in Williston and it's attracting a lot of people from across Montana and across the country. Finding a job there is easy; it's finding a place to stay that's the hard part.
"Housing is huge," said Chris Traeger, CCS human resources coordinator.
City officials and companies are struggling to put a roof over workers' heads. "The biggest challenge we face is where to house them, there's no extra housing," Traeger said.
Campers are everywhere. There are "no vacancy" signs at hotels. There are many hotels are being built in Wiliston, but some of them are already sold-out. In some cases, companies purchase and entire hotel that is under construction to house their employees.
Other types of housing are being built too.
Brett Walker of Belgrade's Walker Excavating provides trailers and manufactured homes for his employees in North Dakota. But most of the oil workers live in "man camps." Wherever you go there, "man camps" dot the horizon.
There are more than 9,000 man camp units right now in the Williston area. The men share the units and many abide by strict rules, including no women or alcohol.
One worker, Glen, and his friends live in a house, sharing a bathroom between four people. But they feel lucky they found a house. It may be small, but it's better than the alternative, they say.
"We'd been living in camper for two and a half months," he said.
Of course for an actual house, they pay a premium, $4,000 for a month. For $4,000 a month you'd being living large in Bozeman.
"In Bozeman you'd be living tall," Glen says.
Housing is by far not the only problem facing Williston. The town has grown so quickly and the infrastructure has basically stayed the same. The city was just awarded a $12 million grant to make improvements.
In the fourth part of our series, we'll introduce you to a Belgrade businessman who credits North Dakota for saving his company.
This is the third part of a four-part series on the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota where many people from the Bozeman area are traveling to find work and sometimes reinventing themselves to fill a niche in this fast-growing area.
11/03/2011 09:28 PM by Judy Slate (KBZK Bozeman)
WILLISTON, ND- This is the second part of a four-part series on the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota where many people from the Bozeman area are traveling to find work and sometimes reinventing themselves to fill a niche in this fast-growing area.
Starting a new business can be risky, especially with today's economic challenges. But there is one place where many local entrepreneurs are heading, a place where success is as close to a sure thing as it gets.
Tahnee and Tony Cattaneo are starting over. They've just opened a business in the old service station in Williston, North Dakota. They are making boxed lunches for oil workers.
"It's 24/7 here. They can't get away from work, so for us to deliver them a nice lunch, it's going to help them a lot hopefully," Tahnee said.
In Bozeman, Tony was a contractor. "Everybody was doing well, the economy, the bottom fell out," he said.
"What we were doing there, construction, we were starving. Either stay in Bozeman and starve to death or try something new," Tahnee said.
They're not alone. Williston's booming economy is attracting people from across Montana. "Every time I come here, I see someone else from Bozeman," Tahnee said.
The box lunches are made in the back half of the building. The other side of the building is going to be a restaurant also run by Bozeman entrepreneurs.
"It's going to be a roller coaster ride," restaurant owner Aaron Parker said.
Right now, Parker runs Frank's in Bozeman. But the allure of big money in Williston is irresistible. "There's a lot of opportunity for us to do well in Williston," Parker said.
The new restaurant will be called Three Amigos. Parker and his two business partners hope money made in Williston will help Frank's
"Hopefully soon, some day making Franks a bigger success with the money that we hope to put into it from Williston," Parker said.
For Tahnee and Tony their hopes are simple. "We'd like to recover from the past few years, literally zero income, get retirement again get some money saved," Tony said.
In the third segment, reporter Judy Slate will look at the biggest challenge facing workers in Williston, North Dakota, finding a place to live. Plus, you'll meet a Belgrade businessman who credits North Dakota for saving his business.
11/03/2011 09:34 AM by Judy Slate (KBZK Bozeman)
WILLISTON, ND- Imagine traveling hundreds of miles to find work, well that's the reality for many people in Montana who are going all the way to North Dakota.
It all comes down to oil. Williston, North Dakota and the surrounding areas are experiencing a huge oil boom, thanks to the Bakken oil patch. All that oil means jobs, jobs many people can't find closer to home.
"We basically separate the small particles out of the drilling fluid," said Mike Ruthford who is working in North Dakota.
Ruthford is a long way from his roots. He used to be in construction, working jobs all over western Montana, including Big Sky. Now is has a new business - CCS.
"Working in Western Montana, jobs got slow," he said.
So he headed to Williston, North Dakota where he spends much of his time on a trailer. "I check the tanks make sure they stay at a constant level," he said.
For Mike and thousands like him, work in the oil field is lucrative. "I work two weeks on, one week off and I make double what I was making in construction," he said.
Oil in Williston is nothing new. What is new is the technology called fracking, allowing them to take the oil out of the shale.
The Williston area has 200 oil rigs in operation, a record number. "Never seen anything like it," human resources director at CCS Chris Traeger said.
Traeger has been working in Williston for more than 25 years. "I get about 500 calls a week and anywhere between 150 and 200 job applications that come in every week," she said.
Many of those are from Montana. "They understand the cold climate, issues with working outside," she said.
But the jobs in the Williston area are not just oil jobs. "Anywhere you look, people are building, moving dirt, putting in pipe," said Larry Powers who is working in North Dakota.
There are "help wanted" signs everywhere.
"It's hard - the hardest part is being away from your friends and family for 2 weeks at a time," Ruthford said.
"I usually go home every three to four weeks," said Glen who works in North Dakota.
Glen leaves his wife and two children behind to go work in Williston. "Oh it's tough, but you do what you have to do," he said.
You hear that a lot - "do what you have to do" - leaving home in search of steady, good paying jobs.
"We have a lot of oil to pull from the ground, experts say it a 25 year run, at least," Traeger said.
It's a run that is guaranteed to keep Montanans like Ruthford willing to leave home employed.
"The oil field goes 24 hours 365," he said.
Editor's Note: This is the first part of a four-part series on the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota where many people from the Bozeman area are traveling to find work and sometimes reinventing themselves to fill a niche in this fast-growing area.
11/02/2011 01:59 PM by Rebecca Jarvis (CBS News)
(CBS News) There's a natural gas drilling boom under way in this country across 36 states. Much of that exploration is due to a horizontal drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But the drilling is not without controversy, due to safety concerns.
On "The Early Show," CBS News business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis took a close look at some of those concerns.
Over the last five years, Jarvis reported, natural gas production has grown 48 percent annually, with new wells going up nearly every day. But that boom has raised concerns about the safety of ground and drinking water, and fracking's impact on our environment.
It's a debate that's playing out in town halls and legislatures across the country: whether or not to drill two centuries worth of natural gas reserves, buried thousands of feet below ground.
Five years ago, Carol French and Carolyn Knapp's families each leased their Pennsylvania dairy farms, hoping to cash in on the boom. Since 2005, 3,893 wells have been drilled in the state.
Carolyn Knapp told CBS News, "I lived here all my life, there was drilling, wells drilled in our area. And we did not see the massive trucks or the fracturing equipment, the industrial equipment that we see today."
Knapp said of the decision to drill, "It was a way that we could pay our taxes that year and be able to continue to operate, and it was just a little extra money."
But their land was never drilled. And now, French and Knapp say they're unhappy with the outcome and the long-term impact on the landscape.
Knapp said, "A lot of the land that would have years and years of agriculture use is now being turned into either a gas pad, a road or impoundment pond."
French added, "Money cannot satisfy my thirst and the money cannot keep my soil pure."
The controversy is over how the gas is extracted.
A cased vertical well is dug thousands of feet below ground and then turned horizontally. A high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals is then pumped into the well to break up the shale formation. And bring the gas to the surface.
In the process, traces of frack fluid filled with metals and chemicals have risen to the surface, prompting concerns about ground and drinking water contamination
French said, "We have eight wells within a mile radius of this farm. And with the activity on the last five wells, when drilling or else when fracturing the well, our water went to -- let's say putting -- a real white soap in it and it has that pearly look. It would last maybe a day or two."
Aubrey McClendon, chief executive officer of Chesapeake Energy, told CBS News, "Even the allegations of ground water contamination, you can count on one or two hands. The actual incidents we think are -- are zero."
Chesapeake Energy is the nation's second-largest natural gas producer. McClendon insists the practice is safe and vital to beating our dependence on foreign oil.
"So," Jarvis asked, "are you saying when cameras capture people who have problems with their water in their home near these fracking sites, or when they have a well that's dark and doesn't look like water anymore, that's not real?"
McClendon said, "No, it's very real and points out a huge problem, which is the lack of quality control in water wells. Anybody who has a water well, we test around us. And we find fully half of those wells do not meet EPA standards for drinking water quality. And that is the story."
Jarvis said, "You're saying you're unfairly accused?"
"Absolutely," McClendon said. "Now we have been responsible for some instances of what's called gas migration where our activities -- not fracturing, just our drilling activities -- have apparently forced some gas to the surface in people's water wells. And this has happened -- somewhere around a dozen to two dozen times."
In the HBO documentary "Gasland," homeowners in Colorado demonstrated how dangerous methane in their water supply could be.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Environmental Protection Michael Krancer tells CBS News, "If we have migration issues, and we do have one or two in the commonwealth that we're working on, we deal with it and we hold the companies responsible."
Krancer, chief regulator of natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania, says it's difficult to prove that the methane contained in drinking water is a direct result of drilling.
He said, "We've had shallow gas formations here for centuries. And that has caused, for a long, long time, the ability of methane to migrate into private water supplies, so it would not be unheard of at any time in the last 100 years for a person in our commonwealth to be able to do a dramatic lighting of their faucet on fire."
But it's not just water supplies that have been affected. In April, a Chesapeake well in Leroy, Pa., suffered a blowout. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, frac fluid spewed into the ground uninterrupted for nearly 12 hours. Its investigation found that some of the fluid "entered ... Towanda creek," which feeds the Susquehanna River.
Chesapeake Energy disputes the findings and temporarily shut down production to evaluate what went wrong.
McClendon said, "Pennsylvania has a very distinct and unique local geology, which we didn't fully understand when we started to drill, but we quickly..."
Jarvis interjected, "You understand it now?"
"Absolutely, McClendon said, "And we've worked with the -- DEP, the Department of Environmental Protection -- up there and we understand it. We've now cased our wells in a different way and -- and life moves on. And..."
Jarvis said, "So do you see it ever happening again? Or do you..."
McClendon said, "Oh, you know, look..."
Jarvis said, "Will have to..."
McClendon said, "I'll never say -- any -- anytime you do something industrially, there's always a chance that something goes wrong. ... So, I'm never going to say never. But I think we have rooted out the cause of our initial problems in Pennsylvania. And we fixed them."
Earlier this year the Obama administration ordered the Department of Energy to conduct a safety review of the industry. According to the department's August 2011 report, there are four major areas of concern: "possible pollution of drinking water...," "air pollution," "community disruption," and "adverse impacts ... on communities and ecosystems..."
McClendon said, "The report is actually pretty helpful. And I think it's great news because what they didn't say, what they didn't find, what they couldn't find is that there was some massive problem with regard to fracking."
Carolyn Knapp and Carol French disagree. They are now traveling the country to educate the public about what they describe as the potential risks and rewards of a future filled with natural gas.
Knapp said, "When you think about the possibility of waking up one morning and finding out that you can't drink your water anymore, I think that's a big impact."
Following the April blowout Chesapeake Energy hired a firm to investigate the environmental damage. It found minor impact to the land, no private water wells affected and minimal impact to the tributary and Towanda creek.The Pennsylvania Department of Energy is currently reviewing it.
Separately, just last week, the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission issued a report asking the state of Pennsylvania to slow down new drilling permits and create stricter protections for air quality, and surface and groundwater.
© 2011 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
11/01/2011 09:02 AM by Blake Ellis (CNNMoney.com)
WILLISTON, N.D. (CNNMoney) -- Jim Stout, an English professor at Williston State College in Williston N.D., started losing some of his best students to the oil fields last year.
It was too hard to compete: The students could either spend thousands of dollars on a college education or earn $100,000 a year working on the rigs, performing maintenance on oil wells or driving trucks.
"At some point they decide, 'Well, college will always be here ... but the oil boom won't,'" he said.
One engineering student dropped out of college last winter to take a job boiling the water used in hydraulic fracturing. In just two weeks, he made $5,000, according to Lance Olson, a science instructor at the college.
While some students leave the college altogether, others take the bare minimum of courses necessary in order to qualify for campus housing and still be able to work. So class time often comes second to their day jobs.
"One of my students working in the oilfields habitually came in late, and started to fall asleep in class," said Stout. "I asked him what was going on, and he said, 'I'm putting in 90 hours a week because the overtime pays so well ... to be honest with you, I'll get what you cover from my friends in class, but don't count on me staying awake or getting to class on time.'"
Only about one-third of Williston State College students graduated from the two-year associate's degree program last year, said Mike Hillman, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs with the North Dakota University System. That rate has stayed around 35% to 40% for the past few years, but Hillman said he expects it to plunge even lower this school year as students exit early for jobs.
"A lot of students are getting a few credits they need -- like one or two welding courses -- and entering the labor market," said Hillman.
A student body in flux
As the latest class drops out to pursue big money on the rigs, there's a new wave of students enrolling in Williston State. In fact, enrollment has hit a record 993 full-time and part-time students, a 6.5% increase from 2009.
With so many new workers flocking to Williston for jobs at the oilfields, these new students realize that getting a two-year degree in petroleum production, welding or diesel technology (all areas of study offered at Williston State) could help them get to the top of the oil industry pecking order and qualify for the best-paying jobs, he said.
But there may be another reason Williston's enrollment is starting to grow: housing.
With thousands of workers flocking to Williston looking to cash in on the oil boom, there's a severe housing shortage in the area. And any rooms and apartments that are available are extremely expensive -- except if you live at Williston State where family housing runs about $715 a month and single or shared rooms cost $1,750 a semester.
But even Williston's campus isn't big enough to handle the influx of students. The biggest classroom is made to fit 40 people, but now they are squeezing 50 students into them, said Stout. Classes are even taking place in closets, he said.
Professors reaching the 'breaking point'
And as the classes grow more crowded there's another challenge that's popping up: The oil fields are taking some of the college's professors and staffers, too.
Since spring of 2010, Williston State has had a 25% employee turnover rate. Recently, two diesel technology instructors were among a handful of teachers who quit to take higher-paying oilfield-related jobs, said Stout.
Hiring new teachers -- or any other school employees -- is extremely difficult, because of the housing crisis.
"We've had people offered faculty positions turn them down because of the cost of living," Stout said. "I'm one rent raise away from having to leave."
Some of Stout's students have been trying to convince him to work for one of the oil companies -- the last offer was to drive a truck 12 to 18 hours a day and get paid nearly $100,000 to start. Stout admits he's been tempted to make the switch: The lure of doubling his $56,000 a year salary is hard to resist.
Yet, Stout said his "call is to teach," and that's what he'll do -- whether it's in Williston or somewhere where it's more affordable to live.
And as hard as Stout tries to stick it out in North Dakota and change students' lives with his teaching, he may be forced to give up on college, too.
"I love the people and I love the job ... And those of us that leave have to go back into the rest of the world where the economy is not booming, and that's a challenge," he said. "But I'm reaching the breaking point."
© 2011 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
10/28/2011 07:44 AM by Bob Ellis (CNNMoney.com)
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Workers are landing jobs that pay six-figures in the oil boomtowns of North Dakota. But the abundance of jobs and money comes with some steep trade-offs, including a lack of housing and extremely harsh winters.
At 3.5%, North Dakota's unemployment rate is the lowest in the country. (Nationwide, the rate is 9.1%). But among the small towns that lie along the Bakken oil formation, like Williston, Watford City and Belfield, unemployment is just 1.5%.
Many of the highest-paying jobs are at oil companies, where workers make an average salary of about $100,000, often with little-to-no experience or need for a college degree.
Halliburton, Continental Resources, Hess and Whiting Petroleum are among some of the biggest players in the area. And jobs include everything from working on a rig to hauling crude and equipment in trucks to helping with administrative work, said Shawn Wenko, workplace development coordinator for the city of Williston.
But it's not just the oil companies that are hiring. The oil boom has brought such a big influx of people that every single industry -- from hospitality to retail -- has been hit with overwhelming demand as a result.
Driving down Main Street in the more than 20,000-person town of Williston, N.D., which has the highest average salary in the state of a little more than $57,000 and about 2,500 job openings at any given time, you'll see one hiring sign after another.
At fast-food chains, the going rate is about $15 an hour. Hair salons, pharmacies, banks, hospitals, gas stations, bars and clothing stores are also desperately looking for employees and paying a pretty penny to keep them from defecting for the oil fields. Even the local strip club is booming, with dancers making up to $3,000 a night.
"If someone doesn't have a job here, they don't want to work," said Wenko.
To find a job in Williston or any of the nearby oil towns, including Stanley, New Town, Tioga, Dickinson or Minot, check out North Dakota's official job service portal, JOBSND.net, or visit job portals or Craigslist.org where there are several local postings.
But before picking up and moving across the country, there are a couple things to remember.
Many of these jobs -- especially those working for the oil companies -- require grueling hours and physical labor -- from lifting equipment to getting dirty performing maintenance on oil wells. As a truck driver or oil field worker, in order to earn all of the coveted overtime pay, many employees only get 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night and then have to go straight back to work.
"We work insane hours," said Benjamin Lukes, who gets an average of four hours of sleep a night as a hydraulic fracturer in Williston but earns about $100,000 a year -- thanks in large part to overtime. "Over this two week cycle, I've worked 220 to 230 hours. We get more overtime than straight pay with all those hours, and that's where the tradeoff is."
But perhaps one of the biggest issues for workers here is housing. Those who don't line up a place to live before moving out to North Dakota typically find themselves homeless after they arrive.
The thousands of workers and job seekers that flocked to the oil patch have led to a housing shortage in many of the towns in the area, forcing many newcomers and workers to sleep in their car (or in an RV) in the local Walmart parking lot or at a rest stop or campground. It's a grim prospect no matter how you slice it, but even more grim as the North Dakota winter -- with its close to negative 40-degree temperatures -- fast approaches.
If you do find an apartment, it will be pricey. The surge in demand has caused rents to triple in some cases. Single-bedroom apartments are currently going for more than $1,500 a month, while two-to three-bedroom apartments are renting for upwards of $3,000.
Often times, however, you won't find a place to live until you find a job. Some of the oil companies have built "man camps," or dorm-style housing facilities (some of which are made out of cargo containers), for their workers, but there aren't enough rooms for everyone.
In any of these living situations, it's not easy to bring your family along for the ride. So many workers end up leaving their loved ones behind.
There is also a question of job security. It's hard to know just how long the oil boom will last. Some estimates say the boom could go on for another three decades, while others say it could just be a matter of a few years before declining oil prices or a new regulatory environment could put an end to the boom that has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal job environment.
© 2011 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
10/26/2011 12:08 PM by Blake Ellis (CNNMoney.com)
WILLISTON, N.D. (CNNMoney) -- As oil companies pump more and more crude out of the ground and workers from around the country arrive to cash in on the black gold rush, a new wave of crime has taken over the once quiet towns of Northwestern North Dakota.
Within the last few months, a Watford City pharmacy was robbed of $16,000 in narcotics, four people were stabbed at a local strip club in Williston, a semi truck crashed into an RV full of people sleeping and the first prostitution ring in decades was busted.
Last year, the number of criminal incidents reported to the Williston Police Department nearly tripled to 16,495. But that's only a fraction of the lawlessness the police have seen this year.
"The numbers we are seeing for this year will blow these out of the water," said Lieutenant David Belisle.
In a single month this summer, the department received 1,000 calls -- compared to the 4,000 calls it received in the three-year period between 2007 and 2009. This year, 9-1-1 calls to the department have already more than tripled last year's call volume, he said.
Thefts at residences and retailers -- especially jewelers and convenience stores -- have jumped precipitously, with police responding to 40% more burglar alarms last year than the previous year.
Many of the thieves are looking for prescription drugs like Oxycontin -- which are being stolen from residences and drugstores.
Josslyn Finck, the manager of Barrett's pharmacy in nearby Watford City, said someone recently torched the steel door of her pharmacy and stole $16,000 of narcotics in the middle of a power outage. Before this year, small incidents of shoplifting -- like someone pocketing a Chap Stick -- were the only crimes she had encountered.
The break-in at Barrett's was one of a string of similar incidents at pharmacies that began this year, said Detective Lieutenant Mark Hanson, who has worked 34 years as an officer and was born in Williston.
According to the police department, prescription drug abuse and prescription forgery are on the rise and a growing number of oilfield employees are failing their urinalysis tests.
Alcohol-related incidents are also surging. And since oilfield employees work around-the-clock shifts, police have to remain constantly vigilant.
"Our D.U.I.s are ranging throughout all hours of the day, our alcohol-related assaults are ranging throughout the day, our foot pursuits and vehicle pursuits are ranging throughout the day," said detective David Peterson.
Assault and battery incidents in Williston rose 171% to 38 charges last year. Two years ago, there may have been three-to-four violent crimes a week. Now, it's an average of two or three a night.
"Violent crimes in our night clubs, family violence -- all of that has increased," said Peterson. "We get calls from people who are going home at night after the club has closed and they're at an intersection and somebody they don't even know will pull up beside them, maybe make a comment to them, and then physically assault them."
The lack of housing seems to be a huge driver in the uptick in violence, said Peterson.
"What we have here is a lot of people who are working who don't necessarily have their own home to go home to at the end of the day where mom and the kids are at," he said. "I think the tensions, and the stressors, are greater for that person living under those conditions."
Those tensions and stressors have also helped revived an age-old profession: prostitution.
The small towns surrounding the Bakken formation haven't seen prostitution since the last oil boom in the 1980s, said Hanson. But just this month, a prostitution ring of four women was busted through a sting operation by the Williston Police Department, and several other rings are currently being investigated.
"Where there's money and there's men around that are here by themselves -- and men do outnumber the women considerably in the area right now -- that's something that's going to happen," said Hanson. "And I expect more of it."
Reports of rape, which were rarely reported before the boom, now occur once a week in Williston, said Peterson (but he stressed that these are typically rapes conducted by someone who knows the victim).
The police department is struggling to keep up.
Last year, the Williston Police Department added five officers, bringing its total ranks to 26. It plans to add another six at the beginning of next year. But bringing in new recruits has been tough.
"It's an explosive growth rate where our administration is doing the best job it possibly can to staff for our needs, but it's a staffing nightmare," said Peterson.
Until the infrastructure catches up and the police force has the bandwidth to take preventive measures instead of simply reacting to the steady flow of criminal reports, it's hard to be optimistic about reducing the amount of crime in the area.
"It's a rat race every day, and the rats sometimes win," said Hanson. "We're almost to the point of being overwhelmed, and a lot of times we are."
Are you living in a boomtown? If you know of an area where jobs are plentiful and high paying, and resources and housing are scarce, e-mail email@example.com for the chance to be included in an upcoming story on CNNMoney.
© 2011 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
10/25/2011 01:08 PM by Blake Ellis (CNNMoney.com)
WILLISTON, N.D. (CNNMoney) -- Forget Vegas. Strippers are discovering they can make ten times as much dancing in the oil boomtown of Williston, N.D.
Thousands of men have come here seeking high-paying jobs working for the oil companies. And, at the end of the day (or four or five days when they're working on a rig), many of them are looking for some female companionship at one of the town's two strip club's, Whispers or Heartbreakers.
Word has gotten out about just how much money can be made dancing in Williston's strip clubs. The money is phenomenal, but the competition is stiff.
Whispers has received applications from exotic dancers in Hawaii, Alaska, even the Czech Republic and Germany, said Melissa Slapnicka, the co-owner of the club. She's been bombarded with so many applications that she only gives each dancer a week to try out. If they don't work out, they don't come back, she said.
"We used to have to beg people to come, and now we have to turn them away because we don't have room for all the people who want to dance," she said. "My best girls would rather dance here than in Vegas, because they make more money here."
Kit, a 36-year old stripper who has been dancing for 10 years in places like Las Vegas, Texas and California, first started coming to Williston a few years ago in between higher-paying jobs, because she had friends who danced in the town who were able to hook her up with gigs.
At first, the nightly tips were nothing special, but over the past year -- thanks to the thousands of men who have flocked here and landed high-paying jobs -- she has been making $2,000 to $3,000 a night, about the same amount she would have earned in an entire week in Vegas.
"We make more than doctors," she said. "Back in the day, it was hard to make $200 a night. It was like pulling teeth. Now you can pull in $2,000 a night."
According to Slapnicka, most of her strippers make that much in a night. Even when it's slow, they still take home about $1,500.
But even those slow nights are few and far between. Unlike Vegas, where Kit said you have to time your jobs around special events to make the best money, Williston is busy every day of the week, all year round.
"Other places, [the men] wait until Friday because it's payday, but here they don't wait -- it's payday every day," she said.
And the dancers aren't the only ones in the club profiting from the oil boom.
Slapnicka, who bartends, said she used to make $50 in tips a night if she was lucky. Now it's more like $200. "They just throw their money at you," she said.
Kit said most of her customers are married men who have moved to North Dakota without their families.
"They're just here for a little company, because they're lonely," said Kit. "They work like four days on, four days off, 24 hours, with no break, no alcohol. So when they have days off they're gonna' drink, and when they drink they want to play."
Since the club is always filled with oilfield workers, it has become a popular spot for new arrivals to find jobs on the rigs or as truck drivers.
"Guys who get off the train will come here and say they don't have a job, and I say sit here for three hours -- and they have a job when they leave," said Slapnicka. Are you living in a boomtown? If you know of an area where jobs are plentiful and high paying, and resources and housing are scarce, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org the chance to be included in an upcoming story on CNNMoney.
© 2011 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
10/24/2011 09:22 AM by Blake Ellis (CNNMoney.com)
WATFORD CITY, N.D. - For those who have spent their entire lives in the previously quiet farm towns that dot the northwestern corner of North Dakota, the discovery of oil in the Bakken formation has been anything but fortuitous.
The thousands of people from around the country flocking to these boomtowns has led to a housing shortage and an increase in traffic, crime and frustration among the locals who feel like their small, close-knit towns are now gone forever.
"At first, we were excited about the prospect of bringing in new people and money ... but it slammed us so hard, in such a little time that a lot of locals now are kind of resentful," said Deone Lawlar, a 57-year-old native of Watford City, which is located in the middle of the oil play. "Now we want our town back."
The land Lawlar's home is built on has belonged to her family for generations. Last year, the dirt trail that led to her house was extended past her home by an oil exploration company to build two oil rigs, a pipeline company and housing facilities for oil workers. Now, the once-solitary road plays host to semi trucks at all hours of the day.
Many drivers throw trash out their windows as they speed by. Lawlar said she even came home one evening to find a truck driver urinating on her lawn.
"The quiet peaceful country life as we know it is a thing of the past," said Lawlar. She and her husband used to joke that their next move would be to the cemetery. Now, it looks like it might be Bismarck.
Housing shortage sends prices soaring: If Lawlar does decide to move, there will undoubtedly be someone ready to grab up her land.
A housing shortage has sent rents soaring to levels typically seen in big cities like Manhattan and San Francisco. One-bedroom apartments can run around $1,500 a month, while two- to three-bedroom apartments are often around $3,000.
Even locals who have been renting their homes for years are getting surprise rent increases from landlords eager to cash in.
Six-figure salaries, but homeless
Kristen Pallacheck, a nurse at Bethel Lutheran Nursing Home and a Williston native, saw her rent triple this year.
"People are getting greedy, and we're losing people who have lived here their whole lives," she said. "It's hard to make ends meet, especially with two little kids. How does a nursing home keep up with the oil fields?"
Dangerous roads ahead: Along with oil companies and the workers who have flocked to work for them, have come dozens of semi trucks that are being used haul crude, water, sand and other supplies from the various well sites and rigs. Roads are getting torn apart as a result, leading to more accidents.
According to the Williston Police Department, the number of accidents it investigated jumped 30% last year to 974, and traffic misdemeanors have also increased 30% year-over-year, from 324 in 2009 to 421 in 2010.
America's Biggest Boomtown
"I drive 15 miles to work everyday with my two children and we have about at least two to three near car accidents a week," said Michelle Falcon-Nelson, who lives in Williston. "The traffic is horrible and our road infrastructure was not ready for the hundreds of oil field trucks that tear it up. This week alone, there were four semi truck accidents in four days."
But it isn't just the bad roads that have residents concerned. Crime of all types -- theft, violence, abduction, sex crimes, domestic abuse -- has tripled, with 16,495 reports of criminal activities in Williston last year.
Josslyn Finck, who has lived in nearby Watford City for eight years, said she used to feel safe because she lived across the street from a police officer. But then she found out that someone siphoned the gas out of his police car in the middle of the night. Now, she won't even let her kids play in the yard.
The Williston Police Department counts a mere 22 officers in its ranks and has been trying to recruit more men and women, but the housing shortage and the lure of big-money working on the oil rigs has made it next to impossible.
David Peterson, a detective at the Williston Police Department, said that if the town's infrastructure, including the police department's staffing, isn't able to catch up with the surging population, he would like to see an end to the wave of people coming into his town.
"A lot of people in other parts of the country are saying, 'I'd do anything for a job', and here I'm telling you I'd like to see this go?" he said. "It's because of the problems it's created with everything -- with law enforcement, with our streets, with our restaurants, with our traffic, with our housing."
Not the 'middle of nowhere' anymore: For many locals, these concerns -- along with worries about the long-term environmental impact the oil play is having on their land -- outweigh the economic boom that has been spurred by the newly-discovered oil of the Bakken formation.
"While the majority of us appreciate the additional revenue the energy industry brings to our community, the problem for a lot of us is that it's not just our community anymore," said David Rolfson, who has farmed in Watford City all his life. "We liked it better when it was 'the middle of nowhere'."
Harold Hugelen, who has lived in the 1,000-person town of Belfield for the last 40 years and owns a local bar and restaurant, said all the money in the world isn't worth the chaos that has been brought to his town.
Double your salary in the middle of nowhere
"Business-wise, it's been great -- the cash has been rolling in," he said. "We all work all our lives to get enough cash to do what we want: to retire, to have our little spot. And okay, so I've got this big pile of cash, but now I don't have this little private spot anymore, and where do I go? I can't find that anymore."
Carol Borlaug and Wanda Goetz, friends who grew up in Williston, recently decided to throw in the towel and move away from the town they hoped to retire -- and eventually die -- in.
"I will come back to be buried here; that's in my will. This is my home," said Goetz, who has lived in Williston for 61 years. "I was talking to myself this morning, and I thought, How am I gonna feel when I have to shut this door? I sold my house and have to be out by the first of November, and how is it gonna feel to walk out of that door?'"
10/20/2011 07:51 PM by Jay Kohn (KTVQ News)
BILLINGS - Thursday's Energy Hub Symposium at the Crowne Plaza Hotel drew an overflow crowd of more than 200 people, eager to learn more about the Bakken oil boom, and how they can position themselves to be part of the fastest growing economy in the nation.
Williston Economic Development director Tom Rolfstad told the gathering that Billings is perfectly situated to be the supply chain of wholesale materials needed to fuel the Bakken oil play.
He told the crowd, his impression is that "Billings Means Business", and the opportunities in the Bakken are there for the taking.
Those in attendance at the Big Sky Economic Development Corporation's annual meeting, represented nearly all facets of the local economy, from marketing, to insurance, to engineers.
Billings insurance agent Jeff Ouradnik with Frontier Insurance Solutions says he sees tremendous opportunities. "I'm planning to go see what kind of insurance we can write up there, from commercial business, to trucking, that's our interest right now," said Ouradnik.
Rick Leuthold, Chairman and Director of Business Development at Sanderson Stewart says there's enough business for everybody to get involved. His firm is already working with the city of Williston to design and build a 300-acre subdivision, an 800 acre industrial park, and dozens of other projects including water and sewer line expansion.
"A community of 15-20 thousand people could grow to 65-thousand within the next 10 to 15 years," said Leuthold. "All the services that a community needs, sustainable development, design and building an enduring community around what they already have in Williston," explained Leuthold.
Those at the symposium listened as Rolfstad outlined the long term outlook for the Bakken oil play. What separates the Bakken boom from past oil booms in the region, he said, is that there is no end in sight. Rolfstad says new drilling technologies have oil firms planning to drill for another 20 to 30 years, with each well producing for another 50 years.
Plus, all this new energy development requires energy itself. Rolfstad says right now the entire electrical grid in northwestern North Dakota and eastern Montana is being rebuilt, across miles and miles of rural countryside.
09/28/2011 06:06 AM by Blake Ellis (CNNMoney.com)
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Believe it or not, a place exists where companies are hiring like crazy, and you can make $15 an hour serving tacos, $25 an hour waiting tables and $80,000 a year driving trucks.
You just have to move to North Dakota. Specifically, to one of the tiny towns surrounding the oil-rich Bakken formation, estimated to hold anywhere between 4 billion and 24 billion barrels of oil.
Oil companies have only recently discovered ways to tap this reserve. And along with the manpower needed to extract the oil, the town is now scrambling to find workers to support the new rush of labor.
Watford City is at the center of the Bakken formation. While it is home to less than 3,000 permanent residents, there are about 6,500 people there right now, as job hunters relocate to seek out high-paying jobs.
Aaron Pelton, the owner of Outlaws Bar & Grill in Watford, said his sales have been nearly doubling every year -- and it's only getting busier. Servers at his restaurant make about $25 an hour when tips are factored in, and kitchen staff employees make around $15 an hour.
Vickie McMullen and her husband were living in one of the poorest cities in North Carolina, and they knew they needed to move to dig themselves out of debt. When they looked online earlier this year and saw the number of high-paying job opportunities in Williston, North Dakota -- less than 50 miles from Watford -- they knew it was the place to jumpstart their lives.
McMullen now works as a nanny in exchange for housing. Her husband, who worked on behavior management programs for a school system in North Carolina where he took home about $1,600 a month, found a job working in the oilfields where he makes that same amount of money in one week -- adding up to an annual salary of about $77,000.
"We want to be debt-free, so we came here to play catch-up," said McMullen. "But when I came here, I thought I was on Mars. It's just so crazy that the rest of the country has no jobs, and here's this one place that doesn't have enough people to fill all the jobs."
With oil companies paying top dollar to the new onslaught of workers they need -- doling out average salaries of $70,000, and more than $100,000 including over-time -- other local businesses are boosting their pay to compete.
Entry level jobs everywhere from restaurants and grocery stores to convenience stores and local banks pay a minimum of $12 per hour, according to the McKenzie County Job Development Authority. Truck drivers make an average of $70,000 to $80,000 a year.
Taco John's, a Western fast-food chain, has increased its pay from $8.50 an hour to $15 an hour in Williston to hold on to its workers during its busiest shifts. It's also trying to keep pace with competitors, including the Subway and Hardee's down the street, said general manager Christie Smith. The Taco John's currently has more than 15 open positions and Smith said she has only turned down one applicant this year, "because he just looked too scruffy."
If a Taco John's employee refers a friend for a job, and that friend is hired and works there at least six weeks, the employee is given a $100 bonus, and the new employee gets $150.
Heather McLaren and her boyfriend came to Watford from Fargo about a year ago. She makes $10 an hour at a local gas station and convenience store, and her boyfriend works in farming and makes $15 an hour -- up from $9.75 an hour in Fargo.
The pay bump was even bigger for Nathan Pittman, who was thinking about retiring from the trucking company he owned in Indiana, but put his plans on hold when he heard about the boom.
Pittman quickly landed at a trucking company in Watford making $20 an hour with "a lot" of overtime. In all, his salary more than doubled to about $2,225 a week in Watford.
"You can make at least a thousand dollars a week more here than anywhere else in the country," he said.
Pittman was so optimistic about the opportunities in the town that he is now helping struggling companies from other parts of the country set up shop in Watford.
"There's not a business you can start in North Dakota right now that wouldn't make it," said Pittman.
Gene Veeder, executive director of McKenzie County Job Development Authority, which includes Watford City, said he gets calls every day from developers wanting to start housing projects. But for now, good luck finding a place to live.
Among the inconveniences the boom has caused for locals -- including a higher cost of living, more traffic and higher turnover rates among businesses that lose employees to the oilfields -- there's a huge housing shortage.
"It's been absolutely crazy lately -- we just can't build fast enough," said Shawn Wenko, workplace development coordinator for the city of Williston. "We've probably seen 2,200 housing units come online this year, but we probably have demand for more than 5,000."
Wenko said one-bedroom apartments can run at around $1,500 a month, while two to three bedroom apartments are often around $3,000. Local hotels and motels are at 100% occupancy. Some companies have cashed in on the low housing supply and have built more affordable workforce units, known as "man camps", which are basically clusters of dorm-style trailers that house workers.
If you're looking for some extra cash, you could really make a killing right now by bringing an RV to the Bakken area and renting it for $2,000 a month, Pittman said.
"If you were to come up right now, you would see campers stuffed in about every corner, people sleeping in their cars in the Wal-Mart parking lot and tents popping up here and there," said Wenko. "It's best to secure housing before you come here, or else you'll be staying in your car for a while too -- and North Dakota winters tend to get pretty cold."
You'll also need to be ready to get dirty. Pelton said he sees a line every morning at the public restroom full of people waiting to sponge-bathe themselves in the bathroom sinks. Pelton even had to put a lock on the bathroom in his own restaurant because so many people were sneaking in to "wash up".
© 2011 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
05/19/2011 06:45 PM by Jay Kohn (KTVQ News)
WASHINGTON D.C. - U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says beginning this fall the U-S Geological Survey will begin to update its assessment of how much recoverable oil is in the Bakken oil formation in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
In 2008, the USGS estimated there was between 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil in the formation, elevating it to a "world class" accumulation. Now, thanks to new scientific information, the Department says a new assessment is warranted.
05/12/2011 06:56 PM by Jay Koihn (KTVQ News)
SIDNEY- You need go no further than the Richland County courthouse in Sidney to see evidence that the Bakken oil play is on the move.
At the Clerk and Recorders office, landmen scour the county's records, running title on various tracts of land. It's one of the first steps toward leasing mineral rights from landowners.
Sidney Mayor Brett Smelser, who also sits on Montana's Oil and Gas Board, says the boom has already hit the Sidney and Fairview area. In fact, he says the boom has now reached a new status.
"The boom is now an industry, and we're geared up for it," Smelser said. "Serving on the Oil and Gas Board I know that a lot of leases are coming into northern Richland County and eastern Roosevelt County."
Billings geologist Carter Stewart is convinced this boom is here to stay.
"Geologists typically try to put borders on things," explained Stewart. "We've seen people try to put borders in difference areas, and those borders keep getting knocked down. We'll find the limits eventually, but we haven't found it yet."
Perhaps the best news is the opportunities the boom creates for Montana's next generation.
Russ Atkins, Area Supervisor for Continental Resources, says his industry offers a bright future for those who can qualify.
"Do you have a clean driving record, can you pass a drug test," asks Atkins. "There''s no reason you can't make $100-thousand dollars a year. Great opportunities for young people," said Atkins.
Last year the Montana Oil and Gas Board issued 329 drilling permits in the state. Officials say they're on pace to equal that or exceed it this year.
Ten oil rigs were drilling in Montana as of Thursday, while across the boarder 161 rigs were operating in North Dakota.
A recent North Dakota State study determined that each oil rig has an economic impact of $120 million a year drilling the Bakken. That figure is based on a rig drilling 10 wells a year, with as many as 60 to 80 direct jobs connected to each oil rig.
05/10/2011 08:41 PM by Jay Kohn (KTVQ Billings)
When it comes to energy and natural resources, Montana is best known for its vast coal reserves.
But a new revolutionary oil play in the Williston Basin is turning heads and profits in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, fueling an economic boom that's the envy of the country.
The focus of the play is the Bakken shale deposit that sits about two miles under the surface of eastern Montana, western North Dakota, and southern Saskatchewan.
It's a 25,000 square mile "sea of oil" that, according to the USGS, contains as much as 4.5 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil.
North Dakota state officials believe that number could be as high as 11 billion barrels and today as many as 100 wells a month are being blasted into the Bakken formation.
Experts believe another 5,000 wells will be drilled over the next 10 years.
New Yorker Magazine recently called the area "Kuwait on the Prairie," as companies scramble to tap into the huge Bakken formation.
But the oil boom also has a downside for local residents, with restaurants packed to the rafters, motel rooms booked in advance for months, and local traffic bursting at the seams.