Monday, January 11, 2016

Bakken drilling boom is over, but production remains strong, and that's a hope for Williston

It's a refrain heard often in rural America: "People loved to leave this town. Kids grew up and got out." This is William Yardley of the Los Angeles Times, writing from Williston, N.D., which has become a center of the oil industry: "Take me to Minot, they would say. To Fargo or Bismarck. Anywhere but this emptiness. Then the boom began, and the world came to them. Young men arrived by the thousands seeking their fortunes in the Bakken formation, an abundant source of crude oil cracked open by hydraulic fracturing and soaring oil prices."

But now the boom has gone bust, and Williston is trying to avoid becoming the next chapter in "a story that has defined the American West, whether the resource was fur, gold or timber," Yardley reports. "The city used its newfound wealth to build a $70-million high school, a $68-million recreation center, and new water and sewer systems. It renovated Main Street and created a city position for someone to write parking tickets. Highways have been widened, and an airport is under development."

Williston's hope is that oil production in the Bakken hasn't declined as fast as the count of oil rigs operating in the region, now down to 2009 levels, the Williston Herald reports. "The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that production from the Bakken, which peaked at 1.2 million barrels a day in 2015, will remain above 1 million barrels in January," Yardley notes. While drilling jobs have dwindled, production workers are still needed, but those jobs are much fewer.

As the boom goes to bust, Williston is closing the "man camps" of mobile homes for drillers coming in and out of two- or three-week rotations, which created problems. "A recent program on the National Geographic Channel, "Fracking Hell," portrayed the Bakken area as a hub of drugs and crime," Yardley notes. But developers also built about 10,000 houses and apartments, the prices of which have plummeted. The city's population is 30,000, down from a high of 36,000, but the oil boom has changed it forever. One example: the Williston Herald site has a story about the Saudi Arabian oil company. 

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