Posts Tagged ‘williston’

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

Then Came The Bust

Monday, July 27th, 2015

In the summer of 2015, North Dakota’s rig count dipped to 73, the fewest number of drilling rigs working in the state since 2009. In this post, we’re highlighting a series of stories focused on how people are coping with the downside of the boom. In “Going Good, Then The Rig Count Dropped,” (above) we hear from Steve Brown, owner of a water hauling company who is struggling to keep his small business from going under.

In “This Is Our New Home,” (below) we meet Kendra Hill. She moved to the Bakken with her husband a few years ago. Thanks to a high-paying oilfield job, the young couple could afford to start a family and buy a house. No matter what happens in oil country, they’re planning to stay in North Dakota.

(A 2016 update, courtesy of Reuters: In North Dakota’s Oil Patch a Humbling Comedown)

In “Hoping The Downplay Hurts The Greed,” (below) Don Williams offers up an unexpected side effect to the oil patch slowdown: lower prices. When the boom was churning at full speed, rents were too darn high. And now? Williams still has job at transload company in Ross, North Dakota, and things aren’t so expensive.

In 2015, Marketplace’s Annie Baxter also produced several stories on the downturn. Listen here:

Oil downturn takes men out of ‘man camps’
The oil economy, as measured in hot dogs and U-Hauls
North Dakota oilfield slowdown ripples across businesses
North Dakota oil town: Is it a bust or slowdown?

Fight Night in Crude Country

Friday, October 10th, 2014

A visit to the Williston Basin Blowout, a night of mixed martial arts fights in Williston, North Dakota. For 30 bucks, attendees witnessed 10 fights.

Photos by Ben Garvin

Child with Beer Cans

Smash to the Head

A Fighter Awaits Destiny

Ripped Body

Honoring America

Bikini Girl Enters The Ring

Lisa Westberg Peters: Fractured Land

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Lisa Westberg Peters is a children’s book author who began investigating the Bakken boom after oilfield royalty checks began pouring into her mother’s mailbox. Peters’ grandfather, Oscar Westberg, purchased several parcels of farmland near Tioga, North Dakota, nearly a century ago. Today, that investment is paying big dividends.

But Peters wondered: Did Oscar buy that land as a short-term business bet or a long-term oilfield gamble?

In a conversation with Black Gold Boom’s Todd Melby, Peters discusses her book, “Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil,” and how her family’s history and North Dakota’s decades-long search for oilfield riches intersect.

Minnesota Historical Society Press, publisher of “Fractured Land”

Photo by Ben Garvin

Made possible by a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council

Stuffed Shirts v. Blue Collars

Monday, August 25th, 2014

People who hate it, call it “pollution.” People who love it, call it “rollin’ coal.” We’re talking about the plumes of black smoke that come pouring out of some diesel pickups. These pickup truck owners are retrofitting their rigs to allow for unburnt diesel fuel to spew from a tailpipe or vertical stack during a fast acceleration. When smoke pours from a pipe or stack, the unburnt diesel is thick and black. An interview with Mark Pyatt of Killer Diesel Performance about the young men and women who love to roll coal in oil country.

Top Photo: Calvin Fields in Williston, North Dakota.
Bearded Man Photo: Mark Pyatt in Williston, North Dakota.
Other Photos: Calvin Field and friends in Williston, North Dakota.

Story and Photos by Todd Melby

Made possible by a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council





The Other Boomtown Hamm

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Billionaire oilman Harold Hamm has made a name for himself in the Bakken. As CEO of Continental Resources, his company is the biggest oil producer in western North Dakota. But he’s not the only Hamm in town. A man named Phil Hamm lived in Williston before the boom came to town. He stills lives there today. In this interview with Black Gold Boom’s Todd Melby, it’s clear he’s got something to say about the changes the boom has brought.

Made possible by a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council

Stan Reep’s Milkshake

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Imagine you owned mineral rights in western North Dakota. And crude oil was stuck inside rock under the land where you owned those rights. You’d be rich, right? That’s what one Williston man thought too. Then the state came along and took that oil. Black Gold Boom reporter Todd Melby has the story of one man’s fight for oil he believes is rightfully his.

Bacon Ends, Not Baking Hens

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

In the last 60 years, Williston has seen its share of oil booms. And with each boom, come lots of male oilfield workers. In 1952, a group of oilfield workers’ wives decided to form a social group called the Ladies Petroleum Club. They’ve been meeting monthly to share meals, play cards, host dances — all kinds of stuff. Audio portrait and photo by Laura Candler.

Photo (left to right): Peggy Heth, Donna Peterson, Linda Alton, Sylvia McCauley, Steph Eslinger and Wendy Bauste.

The Dirty Girls Aim to Clean Up Williston

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

The oil boom of western North Dakota is mostly a man’s game. The number of men working on rigs tripping pipe far outweighs the few female faces found there. But women, including Tammy Paskvan (left) and Alexandria Markham, have found opportunity in oil country, tackling jobs men don’t traditionally do.

Story by Diane Richard

Photo by Todd Melby

Williston Changes Before Her Eyes

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Beth Hafele once lived on the western edge of Williston, North Dakota. Then the oil boom came. From the third floor of her apartment building, she’s seen hundreds of houses and an oil rig pop up on the previously empty prairie. Now her apartment is pretty much in the middle of town. Audio portrait and photo by Todd Melby.

It’s Simply A Meal: Come and Eat

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

If you’re hungry or lonely on a Sunday evening in Williston, North Dakota, First Lutheran Church is the place to be. Volunteers from many churches and civic groups take turns cooking meals and providing fellowship to newcomers and those who have been in town for decades.

Audio portrait by Todd Melby and Diane Richard

Photos by Todd Melby

Cramped, Crammed, Crowded: Raising Four Boys in a Skid House

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

North Dakota’s oil boom has forced many families to make tough decisions. Shannon Atwell is living proof. Shannon recently moved her four young boys from their farm in Missouri to a cramped trailer near Williston, North Dakota. The boys’ father moved there over 2 years ago to work in the oilfields, and the family finally decided join him. This is Shannon’s story.

L to R: The Atwell family: Levi (2), Shannon (31), David (4), Jesse, Jr. (7), and Daniel (4)

Audio portrait by Laura Candler

Photo by Laura Candler

The Sound of Money

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Drilling rig

If you have mineral rights in western North Dakota, the sound of a pumpjack is the sound of money. Click and listen to the eerie sound of one pumper, located a few miles east of Williston, North Dakota.

Recording by Todd Melby

Photo by Ben Garvin

No View, No Seats: Maeda’s Tasty Tacos

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Boomtowns bring with them appetites. Restaurants catering to oil workers in western North Dakota try to meet diners’ demands. But waits are long, and so are lines for drive-thrus. One solution is the food truck. In Williston, one food truck is putting an authentic twist on Mexican takeaway.

Story by Diane Richard

Photos by Todd Melby

Oil Patch Businesses To Lose Foreign Help

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Story and Photo by Diane Richard

WILLISTON, N.D. — The oil fields of North Dakota have an unemployment rate of less than one percent. Employers here are desperate for workers. That’s why many area retailers have come to rely on temporary foreign labor to fry hamburgers and stock shelves.

But those employers will have to make new, permanent hires after September. The designated sponsor of the J1 student work visa, Maryland-based United Work and Travel, has canceled its western North Dakota program. A company spokesman said the J1 visa, intended for cultural exchange and temporary work, was not meeting its mission here.

“It’s a big deal for us. I’m very, very disappointed,” says Williston Mayor Ward Koeser. “That’s certainly not good news. I’m really troubled by that. I’m not sure what their reasons are.”

A spokesman for United Work and Travel, Kasey Simon, told Prairie Public the J1 visa is designed for businesses that need seasonal help—think summer beach resorts. The oil boom, however, presents a permanent need. The J1 visa is also supposed to emphasize cultural exchange, not raw capitalism.

“From my perspective, it’s a great program that works well,” Koeser says. “Probably there’s no place in the country where these students can have a better interaction with the natives, with people from all over the country who are coming here. So it’s a great work experience for them. I think they’re making good money. At the same time, they’re really helping out our local business.”

These days local businesses, hub of oil country, resemble the United Nations. Students from Jamaica, Turkey, Bosnia and Macedonia take your orders, clean your rooms, fry your chicken. The students are drawn by the region’s ample jobs and high wages.

Elitsa Dimitrova — Ely, for short — works the deli at Economart in Williston. Ely is from Sofia, Bulgaria. She’s spent the last three months working here at this grocery store.

Reporter Diane Richard: “Why did you come to North Dakota specifically?”

Elitsa Dimitrova: “Money.”

Ely’s a college student back home. She came here for an American immersion—and a paycheck. She earns nine dollars an hour, almost two dollars more than federal minimum wage. That hardly offsets what she’s been paying to rent a house with four friends. Rents in Williston rival those in New York City. But that’s the only similarity.

Reporter Diane Richard: “Is North Dakota sort of what you expected from your American experience?”

Elitsa Dimitrova: “Well, not really. I expected more people. It’s like the country, countryside here.”

On this day, Ely is planning her next stops to Miami and New York.

Reporter Diane Richard: “Today’s a big day for you, right?”

Elitsa Dimitrova: “Yah, it’s my last day here. I’m excited and sad, at the same time.”

Reporter Diane Richard: “I saw your friend hugging your coworkers goodbye.”

Elitsa Dimitrova: “They made us presents, like balloons and candies and some nice bracelets. These are not just people you work with. These are friends.”

That’s exactly the sort of culturally immersive experience Mayor Koeser wants to continue to take place in Williston. He says temporary foreign workers are critical to the service industry here. In 2010, fifteen J1 visas were issued for work in North Dakota; in 2012, that number grew to one thousand.

Vern Brekhus is manager at the Williston McDonald’s. Over the past two years, about a third to one-half of his work force has been international students. His reaction upon hearing of termination of the J1 program? “Disbelief,” Brekhus says. “I was like, oh crap, you’ve got to be kidding me. This is not going to be good. From a working standpoint, it’s not good. From a business standpoint, it’s not good. The whole program is so beneficial to everyone. One of my crew members told me, ‘I will never go to Brazil. I will never go to Ukraine. Having them come here, I can at least experience their culture a little bit, and they can experience ours.’ Losing that is going to be a shock.”

Jeff Peck is one of the franchise’s owners. He’s also alarmed. “We’re heavily dependent on the program to provide the service and meet the demand that the community has encountered in the last two to three years,” Peck says. “It would be an absolute hardship if we lost our J1 students.”

Mayor Koeser says losing the student workers is a big blow to local hospitality. “It’s going to be really difficult for us,” Koeser says. “I actually envision restaurants that will have to be closed part of the time. Everybody is going to have to try to find somebody to replace them. And that will not be easy. I think that’s going to be detrimental to our community.

At McDonalds, that might mean shorter hours in the storefront and longer hours — and lines — at the drive-thru.


Wes St. Jon: The Oilfield Cowboy

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Interview and Photo by Todd Melby

Did you ever wonder what a toolpusher, roustabout or derrick hand does on an oil rig?

Wes St. Jon, also known as “The Oilfield Cowboy,” aims to tell you. Wes is a singer/songwriter from Nashville who fell in love with the oil industry while living in Oklahoma and Louisiana. He got to know roughnecks, truckers and others folks in the business. They taught him how things worked. And he wrote songs about it.

In this interview with Black Gold Boom’s Todd Melby, Wes sings a whole bunch of oilfield classics, including “Redneck Roughneck,” “An Oilfield Man’s Wife,” “Fracin’ The Hole” and “The Story of the Derrick Man, Toolpusher, Roustabout, Roughneck, Driller and The Company Man.” That last one explains the jobs.

In this music video we made with Wes, he sings about the ups and downs of oilfield life. It’s called “Boom or Bust.”

More information is available on his Oilfield Cowboy website.

They Call Us ‘The Sardines’

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

To make it in the Bakken boom, North Dakota newcomers need to work hard and make sacrifices. But what exactly are those sacrifices? Black Gold Boom reporter Todd Melby recently met Chris Larson, Jeffrey Prather and Domanick David (left to right), a group of young men who came to the oil patch looking for work. What they found surprised them.

Photo by Ben Garvin

Perspective on the Bakken Boom from a Top Economist

Friday, August 24th, 2012

The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, an economist named Narayana Kocherlakota, recently toured the western North Dakota oil patch. Before delivering a speech in Williston, he spoke with local reporters, including Black Gold Boom’s Todd Melby.

Although the impact of the boom on local residents is huge, and it’s the biggest economic story in the state, its affect on the region’s economy is small.

North Dakotans want to know how long this surge in oil drilling will last. Is this a 5-year, 10-year or 20-year boom? Most folks think of this from a “How many barrels of oil are in the ground?” perspective, but not Kocherlakota. He answered the question from a classic supply-and-demand economic perspective.

Agriculture and energy production now dominant North Dakota’s economy. Is that how North Dakota sees itself in 20 years? Kocherlakota urged the state — and western leaders — to imagine what kind of economy it wants in the decades ahead.

To find out more about Narayana Kocherlakota, go here. To read about the bank’s take on the Bakken boom, go here.

Catch of the Day

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Most workers in the oil field try to maximize their sleep time. After a long shift, they go home and rest. But some roughnecks prefer to get out and enjoy North Dakota’s great outdoors.

Photo by Ben Garvin

Boomtown Stats

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Working as a reporter in the oil patch is great fun. I meet all kinds of people: Knife sellers, hamburger slingers and roughnecks. You’ve probably heard some of those stories here on the radio.

But there’s another way to tell a story. It’s with numbers. For a few weeks now, I’ve been asking bureaucrats in Bismarck to illustrate how life has changed in oil country.

Here are some highlights:

• Did you know the average oil worker in Williams County — which includes Williston — makes about $99,000 a year? That same North Dakota Job Services report showed that the average wage for all workers in Williams County —— is $77,000 a year.

Those high salaries are attracting people to the oil patch.

• For years, the fastest growing cities in America have been in the south. Places like The Villages, a retirement community in Florida.

JINGLE: “The Villages. America’s Friendliest Hometown!”

The Villages is growing fast. Its population jumped 4 percent last year. But it’s no match for Williston. Williston grew at a rate of 8.8 percent last year, that’s about twice as fast as the Villages. And Williston doesn’t even have a jingle.

• While most of those newcomers are adults, some are children. Public school enrollment in the oil patch is on the rise. In September 2007, fewer than 370 students were enrolled in the Stanley Public Schools. Four years later, that number had increased 66 percent to 552 students.

• Roads are increasingly crowded too. I’ve driven thousands of miles in the oil patch. And I’ve seen — and been intimidated by — lots of big trucks. But even I was surprised to learn just how many permits the states has issued for oversize trucks in the first five months of this year. Ready? 45,000. And that’s just for the first five months of 2012.

Most of those permits were issued in four of the biggest oil producing counties: Williams, Dunn, Mountrail and McKenzie counties.

• Trucks aren’t the only form of transportation on the rise. The number of people boarding planes and trains in the oil patch has taken off faster than a 747.

In the space of a single year — from 2010 to 2011 — the number of people jumping on planes in Minot increased by almost 60,000 people. That growth was so explosive that Minot shot past Grand Forks to become the third busiest airport in the state.

2012 is on track to be even busier in Minot. And that’s undoubtedly tied to the city’s proximity to the Bakken. Boardings are up 68 percent in the first five months of the year.

More people are also riding Amtrak trains in the oil patch. In Williston and Stanley, ridership is on track to double at those stops in 2012.

• At night, the orange glow of natural gas flares are a common sight in the oil patch. It’s also a big reason why pollution from such flares increased 4.5 percent last year. The World Bank cites North Dakota oil production as the main reason for the increase.

There are other downsides to the boom too.

• Oil companies don’t just pump black gold. Sometimes they spill it. During a recent 20-month period, 720,000 gallons of oil leaked out of pipes and trucks in North Dakota. That much oil would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool – and then some.

Pro Publica, an investigative journalism website, uncovered that data. Pro Publica also found that companies spilled more than 1.7 million gallons of fracking wastewater during that same 20-month period.

The biggest offenders were Continental Resources and Whiting Oil and Gas. Each spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil during the 20-month period. The biggest fracking wastewater spillers? Whiting and Encore Operating.

— Todd Melby

Photo by Ben Garvin

CORRECTION: In the audio version of this story, Todd Melby reports that the “average worker in Williams County … makes about $99,000 a year.” That should be “average oil worker in Williams County.” Black Gold Boom regrets the error.

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.”

Bow Fishing with Ben Audet

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Bow Fishing in the Oil Patch

Photographer Ben Garvin has joined me in western North Dakota. And what a difference it makes. During our first day together, we spotted a guy bow fishing in the Missouri River. We pulled over, chatted with him and discovered that he’d just finished his oil patch shift.

Instead of curling up at home with a video game, Benjamin Audet grabbed his bow and arrow and headed to the water. He’d been awake for 24 hours in a row, or maybe 36 hours, he wasn’t sure. His gig, like many oil jobs, isn’t on a rig, but does require long hours. On the night before we met, he worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Now the sun was rising in the sky and Audet was pointing his arrow into the murky Missouri at flashes of carp he saw fluttering in the water. His New Jersey Devils cap was backwards on his head and his running shoes were drenched with mud. But he didn’t seem to care.

In fact, Audet was intent on showing his visitors how well he could shoot. On the first few attempts, he missed. “Ain’t this always the way it works,” he said. “As soon as you want to see someone shoot as fish, it doesn’t happen.”

And then it did. A carp swam too close, Audet aimed, fired and impaled his nemesis.

Then Garvin stepped in to capture an image of man and fish.

— Todd Melby

(Photo by Ben Garvin)

All Aboard! The Oil Patch Train

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels from Chicago to Seattle or Spokane every day, making several stops in North Dakota. Before the oil boom in the western part of the state, not many people got on and off the train around these parts. That’s changed.

The passenger train’s ridership is booming:

  • In the first seven months of Amtrak’s fiscal year (Oct. 2010 – April 2011), nearly 34,000 people jumped on or off trains in Williston. That’s nearly as many riders as Spokane, a city with about ten times as many people as North Dakota’s biggest boom town.
  • If ticket sales continue at the current pace, Williston ridership will hit 57,000 by the end of Amtrak’s fiscal year — a 93 percent jump from just a year ago.
  • Ridership in Stanley is also on track to nearly double. For the first seven months of the fiscal year, it’s at 6,500 people, more than all of 2011.
  • Instead of riding coach, an increasing number of oil patch customers are opting for more expensive sleeper cars. For the first seven months of this fiscal year (Oct. 2010 – April 2011), more than 5,000 people have plopped down big bucks for sleeper cars in Williston and Stanley.
— Todd Melby

Dreaming of Sleep

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Roughnecks and other oil field workers make big money. But that money doesn’t come without sacrifice. Many workers are separated from families. The job can be dangerous. And the long hours can mess up a person’s life.

Just ask Geoff Swenson of Williston. A typical week for Swenson is 70, 80 hours or more. During one marathon hitch in the oil field, Swenson was on the job for 11 days straight.

“It seemed like one long day,” he says.

That grind takes a toll. “I don’t get much [sleep],” he says. “It’s pretty rare anymore. Days off you sleep a lot. You don’t enjoy it. Even when you go to sleep there’s a million things you should be doing. Running errands. Cleaning your house. Not enough hours in the day to do the stuff you miss.”

So Swenson, 27, sleeps whenever he can. One day he was folding clothes on a carpeted floor. He got tired. So he took a nap right there on the floor. “I’ve done it in Home Depot when my parents were looking at lawn furniture,” Swenson says. “I probably looked like an 80-year-old man just camping on the mall bench. All I needed was a woman’s purse to hold.”

Movies? Forget about it. “I don’t remember the last time I sat through an entire movie,” he says. “There’s always at some point when I sleep for 20 minutes. I take a nap. I usually have to watch a movie three or four times before I see the whole thing.”

The days become indistinguishable. Sometimes Swenson’s co-workers ask him what day of the week it is. Often, he doesn’t know. “I’ve driven to the bank many times on Sunday because I have no idea what day of the week it is,” he says. “I don’t have a clue. To me, every day of the week is Tuesday. Or I ask my parents, ‘How work was today?’ They say, ‘It’s Sunday. I see, Oh yeah.’”

— Todd Melby

Photo by Ben Garvin

More from Geoff Swenson on APM’s “The Story.”