There are a lot of people who, for reasons having to do mostly with politics, are delighted to see North Dakota’s oil boom fade. They resented the success and prosperity Bakken area oil and gas development brought to the state, and now that plunging oil prices have depressed that activity they delight in promoting the doom and gloom.
It doesn’t help that North Dakota is facing something of a double whammy, economically speaking. Low oil prices combined with low agriculture prices mean the state’s two largest industries are taking a big hit. Even so, things aren’t as bad as some are making it out to be. Certainly this isn’t a repeat of the 1980’s oil-and-agriculture bust as this article from John Hageman illustrates.
And there are a lot of positive stories from the oil boom still playing out. Stories about how the oil boom has changed the trajectory of people’s lives.
For instance, this Chicago Tribune story buried under an ugly headline strikes a hopeful tone, following up on four people from Illinois who came to North Dakota to find jobs.
Damien Williams worked in the oil fields. Now that some of the oil field jobs are disappearing he’s back in Illinois working at a brewery and making about a third of what he did in North Dakota. He’s waiting for oil prices to come back. “I’ve gotten used to the realization that Chicago’s not home anymore,” Williams told the Tribune in 2013. “This is where I plan on living the next 20 to 30 years.” That didn’t quite work out, but he’s ready to come back to North Dakota. “It’ll pick up,” Williams says, “once all this political BS is cleared up.”
Rachel Laqua moved to North Dakota and took a job with the City of Williston near the epicenter of the oil boom. Even now, post-boom, she says she likes it there. ““It feels,” she tells the Tribune, “like a town that’s kind of settled into itself.”
Amy Liebel moved to Williston to take a teaching job. She met her current husband at the school, and they now have a two year old son. “She misses home but likes the slower version of Williston more than boomtown Williston,” the Tribune reports, quoting Liebel as saying that she and her husband are now North Dakota “lifers.”
The story of Andy Turco, who left his struggles with addiction behind in Illinois to take an oil field job which led him too busy for drugs, is less positive. After Turco lost his job in the oil patch he returned to Illinois where he died of an overdose. But even in that tragedy there is a glimmer of something positive.
“It might sound odd now, his father said, but the oil boom saved Andy Turco’s life — for a time,” the Tribune reports.
At Andy’s wake, the impact of his life became clearer. A woman embraced Rick Turco and told him that Andy saved her son’s life by plucking him from a drug house and taking him to a treatment center. A bunch of his oil crew buddies drove more than 800 miles overnight to attend the memorial.
In the months since he’d returned home, other job opportunities had come Turco’s way. A company that cleaned ethanol manufacturing plants offered him a five-year contract, Rick Turco recalled. His former oil field boss, who’d also been laid off, asked Turco to help build a landscaping company.
But nothing appealed to him like oil field work, Rick Turco said of his son.
It’s a tragedy that the world lost someone like Mr. Turco. But maybe there is some solace in the fact that his life was improved by some measure by the opportunities he found in North Dakota.