Oil Patch Surveys Shows A Lot Of Positives And Some Negatives For The Boom
Faculty at the University of North Dakota’s Geology department have released a survey they sent to 1,000 randomly-selected citizens who have lived in North Dakota’s oil patch for six or more years. Based on the roughly 25% of these surveys that were returned (just 237 from Watford City, Stanley and Williston) they are drawing some interesting conclusions.
First let me say that I’m not sure I buy into the methodology being used here (you can read the entire report below, source here). While all three of those communities have seen some of the biggest impacts from the oil boom, they are just three of the communities in the oil patch. Limiting the scope of the sample to just those communities seems a little strange, and the sample isn’t that large.
But setting those objections aside, let’s look at some of the conflicting results. A strong majority, 61% say their economic circumstances have been improved by the oil boom. But a slim majority, 52%, disagree with the statement that the oil boom has improved their quality of life.
These seem at odds with one another, especially when we consider some of the other results. 57% of respondents said the oil boom is good for their community. 53% said the oil boom is good for families. 57% said their communities are safe places to live. A plurality, 46%, say their community is a good place to raise a family though 41% disagree.
But perhaps we can understand that oil patch citizens are happy to be making more money but irritated with the traffic (96% say roads are less safe), rising rents (97% say they’re too high) and litter (95% say it’s a problem). One would hope that they realize that these are temporary situations. Roads and schools are being built. Housing is going up. The social and economic growth in western North Dakota has been so dramatic no government, short of one ruled by a dictator who can govern through fiat, could hope to keep up, but it would be a mistake for anyone to assume that these problem areas will be the “new normal” in the west. As time goes on, these problems will be addressed.
Perhaps the most troubling part of the survey is the hostility represented therein to “newcomers.” Sixty-seven percent say there are “too many” newcomers to the oil patch communities. I’ve seen a lot of this attitude myself, with incoming oil workers being described as “criminals” and worse and citizens expressing suspicion and paranoia about all the new people in their communities.
Parochialism can be an ugly thing. For years before the oil boom North Dakota’s population was trending down, with many in our younger generations seeking their fortunes elsewhere. One would hope that, in past years, when our friends and family sought better lives in other communities they weren’t welcomed with the hostility some North Dakotans display to newcomers here.
Also interesting are these comments from the survey flagged by Forum Communications reporter Amy Dalrymple:
The survey project also asked for written comments from respondents. Many participants wrote that the state should limit the number of drilling permits to allow communities to catch up with housing, law enforcement and other infrastructure.
“I would like the oil boom to slow down! It is too much, too fast,” one respondent wrote. …
Written comments from participants varied greatly. Many don’t like how their communities have changed:
“Take it all back! We miss our old city of Stanley. The quiet, clean, happy, respectful, caring community! We hate it here now!” one participant wrote.
“The only way I can see things getting better is for the whole mess go BUST!!” another wrote.
Others were more optimistic:
“This oil boom is a great thing — will even be a greater thing — when issues are resolved, which will make residents happier, feel safer, and can be proud of their surroundings,” said one respondent.
“I have worked in the oil field for 34 years and it has kept our family farm in the family,” commented another.
The comments about slowing down oil development are another common statement I’ve heard, but it’s not such an easy issue. Most oil development in North Dakota takes place on private property. Slowing down oil production means telling some mineral rights owners that they can’t cash in until later. Given the vagaries of the market, that could mean that mineral rights are worth a lot less. Or not worth anything at all.
I think most of us would object to a city telling a grocery store owner that he/she can’t build another store because there are already too many stores. Why should we feel any different about telling a mineral rights owner that they can’t develop the resources they own?
All-in-all, though, I think this survey (even with my objections to the methodology) shows that the oil boom is an overall boon to the state, something that will become more clear as irritation with temporary problems eases.bakken, North Dakota News, oil boom, University of North Dakota