2:06 PM, Feb 14, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The highest rents in the country aren't in major metropolises like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago--they're in Williston, North Dakota. Business Insider reports that the highest average monthly rents for entry-level, one-bedroom apartments can be found in Williston, a small town in northwestern North Dakota that's the central city in the state's oil boom of recent years. According to the website Apartment Guide, the average monthly rent there is $2,394, topping rents in San Jose and San Francisco. Fourth on the list is another town on the edge of the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota, Dickinson, where rents average at $1,733.
I spent a week in North Dakota last year reporting on how the oil boom is changing the social landscape in the region, as well as how the boom's economic opportunities have transformed the state into the frontier for America's new pioneers. The topic on everyone's minds in Williston and its environs, I found, was how expensive housing was:
Coming home years before the oil boom, Sanford was an anomaly. Most in his generation stayed in Fargo or Phoenix or Denver, working good jobs, raising their families, and not thinking twice about moving back to western North Dakota. Beyond the romantic notions of small-town life and refuge from the hustle and bustle of the big city, there was nothing there to come home to—no jobs, no industry, no future. The population of Watford peaked at just over 2,100 in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1990, it had fallen to fewer than 1,800 people and by 2000, fewer than 1,500.
By 2010, as the oil boom began to spread to the smaller towns like Watford, nearly as many people were living there as had been 20 years before. And today Watford City is bigger than it’s ever been, close to 2,500 people. Sanford says a lot of thirtysomethings originally from the area are moving back as he did, but plenty of new faces are coming, too, looking for a place to live in the middle of the oil patch. That’s created some tangible problems, like a housing shortage. New apartment complexes and single-family homes are starting to be built around town, but supply is far behind demand. Sanford says rents can reach $3,500 a month—prices more like those in a big city than in rural North Dakota. Locals rent out rooms in their houses to newcomers. “There’s not enough motels,” he says. “So every available bedroom becomes a motel room. Everything’s a hundred bucks a night.”
Sometimes, there just aren't good housing options for people who find work, even with higher-than-normal wages:
It takes a while to get back on the highway, with one big rig after another zooming down the tired asphalt, their tanks filled with oil, rushing eastward to distribution centers in Minot, Bismarck, Grand Forks, or Fargo. Meanwhile, I’m headed west, toward Williston, the alpha boomtown and the heart of the Bakken. The signs of development begin miles outside of Williston city limits, chiefly in the form of brand-new, full-service truck stops. Ten miles from the city center there’s an extended-stay hotel that offers rooms with full kitchens for $599 a week. That’s high, but so are the salaries. At the new, massive Walmart down the street, there’s a help wanted sign offering entry-level jobs with starting wages at $17.50 an hour. Restaurants, bars, hotels, gas stations, retail shops all line the main drag into town, each with its own “Help Wanted” sign. There’s work here, if you can find a place to live.
It’s not unheard of for men to sleep in their cars in a lot behind a truck stop, using the facilities to steal a shower when they can. There are also the infamous “man camps,” some of which are exactly what they sound like, tent cities on the outskirts of town. They house temporary workers, roughnecks who took the tough jobs on the drilling rigs and need a place to park their carcasses at the end of the day. But as demand for temporary housing rose and locals became weary of the unsightly settlements, the man-camp professionals came in. Companies like Target Logistics manage collections of modular homes for oil workers and other temporary laborers, complete with full board, on-site laundry and canteens, and 24-hour security. In North Dakota, these man camps can house anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand workers. When the temporary jobs dry up, the companies pack up the supplies, put wheels under the trailers, and move on to the next boomtown.
12:00 AM, Jan 25, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
There is something about the energy business that is conducive to the creation of myths. So Roger Sant, a long-time and highly respected participant in the energy policy game and in the industries that energy legislation and regulation affect, told a group of Houston oil men recently. Energy myths do die, but only to be replaced by new ones.
Starting over in North Dakota.Sep 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 04 • By MICHAEL WARREN
In O. E. Rølvaag’s Giants in the Earth, homesteader Per Hansa and his family depart from the safety of their Norwegian immigrant community in Minnesota for the open land of the Dakota Territory. This is something Americans have done for hundreds of years—leave home for the chance to start anew. Today, the frontier isn’t far from where the homesteaders of the 19th century settled. North Dakota (unemployment rate 3.2 percent and falling) is a place where plenty of Americans are finding their second chance.
Good news on natural gas is bad news for a Democratic party full of environmental true-believers Apr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By ROBERT H. NELSON
Much has been said recently about the deep tensions within the Republican party. Far less has been said about a sharp division arising inside the Democratic party.
12:00 AM, Feb 23, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
“The tectonic plates are shifting” is a much over-used expression. But when it comes to the international energy industry, the expression is apt.
5:53 PM, Dec 12, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
Yoko Ono, the wife of the late John Lennon, and Sean Lennon, the son of Yoko and the famed member of the Beatles, teamed up to send a message to New York governor Andrew Cuomo: "Imagine There's No Fracking..."
The message took the form of a paid advertisement in the New York Times:
12:00 AM, Oct 13, 2012 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
We are entering an age of energy abundance. Or not. In keeping with the great tradition of economics, dubbed by Thomas Carlyle the dismal science, let me raise a cautionary note.
The government's startlingly aggressive and dishonest campaign against natural gas. 1:43 PM, Aug 17, 2011 • By MARIO LOYOLA
If you're looking for a dramatic example of a government regulatory agency run amok, consider EPA’s arbitrary and shameful attack on one Texas natural gas company.
In December 2009, one Steven Lipsky noticed a problem with his water well at his new home just west of Dallas, Texas. He began to suspect that the source was a nearby natural gas well that Range Resources had built and “fracked” earlier that year to exploit a part of the massive Barnet Shale a mile underground.
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