Posts Tagged ‘watford city’

Oil Country: A View From The Air

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Take a tour of oil country with photographer Ben Garvin.

You may also listen to an interview with Ben on the audio player (above). To view the photos full screen, click on the rectangle in the bottom right-hand corner of one of the photographs.

Photo by Ben Garvin

Ben Garvin's Bakken Aerials

They’re Like Packs of Wolves

Friday, March 21st, 2014

When Nathina St. Pierre moved to Watford City, North Dakota, she received lots of attention from men. “It was flattering at first,” she said. But it never stopped. Everywhere she went, men of all ages hit on her. The sexual harassment became worse and worse. So St. Pierre took action. This is one story of the oil boom, as told to photojournalist Ben Garvin and produced by Black Gold Boom’s Todd Melby.

Related content: “A Scary Place for Women,” Black Gold Boom’s most popular video. By Ben Garvin.

A Fresh Start

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Elsie Ejismekwu is a trucker and cabbie in Watford City. Divorced and a mother of five, she moved to the Bakken for the work, which pays more than most other places in America. Says Ejismekwu, “I wanted a fresh start so I came to North Dakota.”

Story and photos by Todd Melby

Made possible by a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council

Truck View - Watford City

Coco and Elsie

Jessie Veeder’s Boomtown [video]

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

In this Black Gold Boom video, singer/songwriter Jessie Veeder reflects on how the oil boom in western North Dakota has affected her hometown.

I Miss My Wife and Kids

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

Brian Martindale drives truck in North Dakota, but his family is back home in Minnesota. Martindale is married with three young children, all under the age of seven.

Audio portrait by Todd Melby

Photo and video by Ben Garvin

Black Gold Boom public art campaign debuts

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Veeder poster

Black Gold Boom’s public art campaign has begun.

Four large-scale photographs are now on display in Watford City, North Dakota. The photographs feature people living and working in oil country who were featured in Black Gold Boom stories. To date, we’ve posted photographs of singer/songwriter Jessie Veeder, fire retardant clothing salesman Bryan Johnson, trucking supervisor Richard Karpe and oilfield hand Geoff Swenson.

You can see the photographs here:

• Meyers Department Store, Watford City

• McKenzie County Farmer, Watford City

• Long X Trading Post, Watford Ctiy

• B & J Distributors, Watford City

In December, Black Gold Boom added large-scale posters at these additional businesses:

• Books on Broadway, Williston

• Tioga Drug, Tioga

Each photograph also includes a QR code that provides a direct link to that person’s Black Gold Boom story.

So what the heck is a QR code?

A QR code is a set of high-tech squiggles in the shape of a square. Each QR squiggle square is unique, kinda like a digital snowflake. If you own a smartphone you can take a picture of the QR code and it will take you to a website. Or in the case of Black Gold Boom’s public art campaign, the QR code takes you directly to SoundCloud’s mobile site, where you can listen to that person’s Black Gold Boom story.

Karpe poster

Johnson poster

Swenson poster

Roughneck Family [video]

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Tait Salzer has been working on a drilling rig for less than a year. Still, he says the guys he works with are family.

Photo and video by Ben Garvin


A Rig Will Make You or Break You [video]

Monday, August 20th, 2012

William Scherf, an oil roughneck, says working on a drilling rig will “make you or break you.” Find out why in this Black Gold Boom video by Ben Garvin.

Correction: The city mentioned at the beginning of this video is Watford City, not Watford. Black Gold Boom regrets the error.

Oil Patch Crime: How Bad Is It? [audio + video]

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

This story contains both audio and video elements. The radio story (click orange button to listen) includes interviews with Nathina St. Pierre (with gun, above), the North Dakota attorney general, Stanley police chief and the Dunn County sheriff. The video story focuses on St. Pierre’s struggles with sexual harassment in Watford City, North Dakota.

When Nathina St. Pierre goes jogging in the oil patch, she never goes alone.

“I carry a .22 pistol,” she says. “I have an eight-inch blade, a taser and pepper spray. I don’t leave home without one of the few — if not all of them. Ever.”

That’s because when St. Pierre runs on the streets of Watford City, she receives lots of unwanted attention from men. She says they gawk. They whistle. They catcall. Sometimes, they even rev their engines.

“They’re like packs of wolves,” she says.

St. Pierre is 21 years old. She moved from Florida to North Dakota two years ago.

“It was flattering at first to have people hitting on me all the time,” she says. “It was almost like, they really thought I was pretty. After about three months of it and it was everywhere I went, the grocery store, you can go into the gas station, pumping gas, you could be walking. Every man — it didn’t matter how old he was, it didn’t matter — they’d hit on you. They’d say something. They’d hoot and holler out the window. It was everyday. Every time you turn around.”

She’s not alone. A Watford City mother of two young children recently complained about similar catcalls in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

St. Pierre, like an increasing number of oil patch residents, has state-approval to carry a handgun. Concealed weapon permits in the five biggest oil-producing counties jumped 57 percent last year. Data for the first two months of this year suggest another rise in concealed weapons permits in oil country in 2012.

So, the fear of crime is on the rise. But does the fear match the facts?

Says North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem: “Crime is up in the oil patch.” He says some areas, especially the major oil producing counties of Williams and McKenzie, have seen big increases in the number of rapes, aggravated assaults and motor vehicle theft.

But Stenehjem also says that the chance of being the victim of an aggravated assault — a felony that’s tripled statewide — is about the same in western North Dakota as it is elsewhere. Here’s Stenehjem at a recent press conference discussing crime in the state: “While it is certainly accurate that crime is up and up considerably in a worrisome way in some of those counties in the oil patch, the major reason that is happening is the population is up.”

A demographer working with Stenehjem estimated the population in western North Dakota’s oil counties and used that data to compare crime rates between the oil patch and the rest of the state. Based on those calculations, the attorney general says a person is less likely to be raped in the oil patch than elsewhere in the state. For aggravated assault, the chance of being a victim is about the same.

“The likelihood of being a victim of a crime out there isn’t really not that much greater than it is in any other part of the state,” Stenehjem says.

But the crime reports the attorney general is using are missing data.

Many law enforcement agencies in those 11 counties simply didn’t report crime data to the state. Dunn and Divide counties didn’t report data in 2010 or 2011. McKenzie County reported only partial data in 2010. In addition, at least four local police departments — Stanley, Tioga, Killdeer and Powers Lake — didn’t report crime details in one or both years.

The state doesn’t penalize local law enforcement agencies for not reporting data. However, if they don’t report, police and sheriff’s offices can’t apply for state grants.

In an interview with Prairie Public, Stenehjem says the missing data might affect his conclusions about crime in the west being no worse than elsewhere. “We can’t be sure when we don’t have some of the information,” he says. “We can only report the statistics that we have.”

I’m in a police cruiser with Stanley Police Chief Kris Halverson. He’s showing me the flashing light panels on the car’s visors. “If you push you ‘em down then that’s the red and blues and this one is the red and white,” he says. “That’s my lights for stopping them.”

Stanley, North Dakota is a fast-growing oil patch city that’s home to lots of new people, a growing suburban-style housing development and a big oil-to-rail transfer facility. Halverson hasn’t reported crime data to the state in recent years. One reason is lack of time. Despite Stanley’s booming growth, he’s been the only guy on the job for weeks at a time. Today, Halverson’s department totals two officers. Next month, it increases to four. Halverson did share several years worth of crime stats with me.

Here’s are the details:

Felonies, including rape and aggravated assaults aren’t happening in Stanley or haven’t been reported to police. About the worse that can be said is that there’s a big increase in drunk driving and simple assaults.

But drive a couple hours south and things aren’t so peaceful.

Dunn County, which is home to dozens of drilling rigs, also hasn’t reported crime data for two years. But in an interview with Prairie Public, Sheriff Don Rockvoy says it’s on the rise. “Our crimes now we’re seeing now are pretty good vandalism with oil field equipment, huge increase in domestic violence situations. We’re seeing lots of assaults, [aggravated] assaults,” Rockvoy says.

In other words, fights — usually between guys at closing time.

“Where we’re seeing those coming out of bars,” Rockvoy says. “Of course, with an [aggravated]  assault you have to have a broken bone or weapon used. There are some pretty tough characters in the area. We are starting to see some pretty nasty fights.”

When Rockvoy was appointed sheriff in 2009, Dunn County employed just four officers. The influx of newcomers — accompanied by increased traffic and crime — prompted Dunn County to add seven more officers, a nearly tripling in staff. Crime here isn’t as bad as in bigger oil patch cities, but Rockvoy worries it might be.

“Williston is seeing it. Watford City is seeing it. Dickinson is seeing it. With the higher crimes and more of them,” he says. “Definitely, I’m not going to forget about it in Dunn County. I hate to say it. Will it happen? It’s probably a pretty good chance.”

— Todd Melby and Ben Garvin

Photo by Ben Garvin


Tattoo Your Ride, Not Your Hide

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

James Goeres sells pickup truck stickers from a mobile home. His motto: “Tattoo Your Ride, Not Your Hide.”

Jessie Veeder’s Boomtown

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Not too long ago, Jessie Veeder returned to her family ranch near Watford City, North Dakota. Soon, change started to arrive. Oil wells and pipeline construction began dotting the landscape. And people from all corners of America arrived to work. So the singer/songwriter decided to write about her transformed hometown. Listen to Todd Melby’s portrait of Jessie Veeder, which includes Jessie’s performance of “Boomtown.”

To read more about Jessie Veeder’s new album, go here.

— Todd Melby

Photos by Ben Garvin (top) and Todd Melby

Truck and a Big Rig

Pipeline, Alternative View

Chug and Jessie

Highway of Hope

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

The first time I met Adell Hackworth, she was lounging atop her food truck. It was a Sunday (a rare day off), so the Tennessee woman had pulled out a ladder and climbed aboard. A friend joined her and they watched big rigs rumble past their perch. I spotted the pair, pulled over and asked for permission to join them. Like just about everyone else in oil country, Hackworth says she’s here to make a buck. That’s why she calls Highway 85 — the narrow ribbon of road between Alexander and Watford City, North Dakota — the Highway of Hope.

“Everybody that comes down this road, they’ve all got a story and all got a bunch of dreams,” she says. “Everybody’s up here to start over.”

— Todd Melby

Photo by Ben Garvin

Born To Be A Roughneck

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

In cities, people express their style any number of ways, including personal appearance. A man might favor a certain brand of shirt or get his hair cut just so. Style in the oil patch of western North Dakota, is well, uniform: Jeans or overalls, shirt and a ballcap.

So where does personal style come into play?

The pickup truck sticker.

The pickup truck sticker is like a bumper sticker, only it’s placed on the back of a pickup window, not on a bumper.

Since arriving in the oil patch, I’ve become obsessed with these pithy stickers and have snapped lots of photos of them. And if the owner is around, I ask about his sticker.

Like other day in Watford City, there was this sticker on a black truck driven by a burly guy with a thick moustache. It read: “I Came For The Cash Cause I’m Oil Field Trash.” The owner of the sticker was Richard Karpe of Oklahoma. His sticker is a standout in the patch. I’ve seen it and a slightly different version — “Oil Field Trash and Proud” — on several vehicles.

I asked him what he liked about the “Oil Field Trash” sticker. “Just the saying of it,” Karpe says. “Everybody likes it.”

One day while filling up with gas at the Cenex in Watford City, I saw a guy with three stickers on the rear window of his silver Chevy. He wouldn’t give me his name, but he told me he works on a drilling rig. “It’s hard, dirty work. But all and all, it pays big money. Why not do it?” he says.

This guy — we’ll call him Montana Roughneck —has a trio of stickers that tell his life story, from birth to school to present day. His stickers read: “Born To Be A Roughneck. University of Hard Labor. That was my graduatin’. And now it’s Bleep, Fight or Trip Pipe.” Trip pipe? That’s drilling rig jargon for putting pipe into a hole or taking it out.

“I have the stickers because it warns off other roughnecks looking for trouble,” says Montana Roughneck. “It kinda shows you are a little bit of trouble.”

Although Montana Roughneck’s stickers are macho tough, he says others are even more in-your-face. “I’ve seen some pretty foul ones,” he says. “The ones I see are pretty derogatory towards women. A lot of roughnecks have those. I try to shy away from that. This is probably enough. I’ve had people that might be churchgoers that say something about my stickers the way it is.”

While I had Montana Roughneck’s ear, I asked him about a sticker I saw on a pickup parked near Williston High School. “Have you seen the one that says, ‘Welcome to North Dakota. Frankly We Don’t Give A Bleep How You Did It Back Home’?

His reply: “That would most likely pertain to Texans. Lots of Texans come up here believin’ that the Texas way is the best way. Up here, that doesn’t fly.”

A revelation! “So, how does the Texas way differ from the North Dakota/Montana way?” I wondered.

“Texans have the phrase, ‘We invented the oil field,'” Montana Roughneck says. “North Dakotans have the phrase, ‘We perfected it.’ I’ve heard that many times.”

A few days later, I sat next to a Texan at a PBR event in Williston. That’s Professional Bull Riding, not Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Texan looked the part. He wore a big 10-gallon hat and a surly expression. When I tried to make small talk, he stared straight ahead and said he wanted to get lit up. I kept my tape recorder in its case.

By the way, Men aren’t the only ones with stickers. I’ve seen ones in Williston reading “Oil Field Wives: The Backbone of the Oil Field” and “Bad Ass Girls Drive Bad Ass Toys.”

So where do these stickers come from? I’ve been in plenty of truck stop out here and haven’t seen any good ones. I asked Montana Roughneck about that. “Sticker bus right here in Watford City,” he says. “It comes through in the summertime.”

I’ll be on the lookout.

— Todd Melby

Correction: When this story was originally published, we spelled Richard Karpe’s name incorrectly. We also mispronounced Karpe’s name. Black Gold Boom regrets the error. 

Born To Be A Roughneck


Stroke Me

Welcome To North Dakota

Rebel Tinkerbell

Bad Ass Girls

Remember This One Time At Man Camp

Earth First

Oil Field Trash and Proud

North Dakota Crude

Horse Powers For Life


Big Girl Panties

I Wanna Be Like Barbie

From Worm’s Corner To The Corner Office

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

David Unkenholz works as a trust officer in Watford City, North Dakota. Many of his customers are ranchers with new oil wealth. Before he sported a tie at work, Unkenholz labored on a drilling rig. Well, for a while anyway. He spent one month working the night shift in worm’s corner, the lowest, dirtiest job on a drilling rig. The experience inspired him to enroll at the University of North Dakota, where he earned two degrees, a bachelor’s degree and a law degree.

Audio portrait by Todd Melby

Photo by Todd Melby

Shane Osborne: It Ain’t Working Out So Good

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Shane Osborne arrived in boom country looking for work. He found it. But housing is too expensive so he’s toughing it out in a trailer. Life isn’t great, he says.

Audio portrait by Todd Melby

Photo by Ben Garvin

Bryan Johnson: I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Everyone says traffic is bad in oil patch of western North Dakota. But until you see it and drive it, you really don’t believe it. Bryan Johnson is one man who has seen it and driven it. Once a week, Johnson and his business partner, Jim Bacon, make the trip from Spearfish, South Dakota to sell fire retardant clothes to oil workers in Watford City, a small town that’s getting bigger every day. Before moving to Spearfish a few years back, Johnson worked as a cop in Los Angeles. And get this: Johnson says the traffic is worse on two-lane highways near Watford City than in car-crazed Los Angeles.