Reading this front-page Washington Post story about life in North Dakota’s oil fields doesn’t really feel like reading about our state and our communities. The impression the Post gives is a popular one among certain political activists and news reporters who visit the area looking for details to fill into a negative story about the oil boom they already have written, but it doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to the reality we’re actually living with.
The Post sensationalizes the crime statistics, but doesn’t point out the context of booming population. Recently Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem reported that western North Dakota is no more dangerous than any other part of the state. Stenehjem also reported that, despite the oil boom, crime rates in the state are actually lower than they were a decade ago. But these facts don’t fit the Post’s narrative.
Yes, housing is short, but new housing is also being built at a break-neck pace to keep up with demand.
Yes, traffic is up, but much like crime rates the rate of traffic accidents is actually a little lower than before (probably because a lot of the new drivers on the roads are professionals).
Yes, more people are locking their doors at night and buying things like tasers and pepper spray to keep themselves safe, but that has more to do with perceptions from hysterical media reports like the Post’s than reality.
Yes we’re having problems building out infrastructure to meet growth, but the state put $1 billion in to western infrastructure in the last legislative session plus more during the interim session since. Most of the projects that money funded haven’t even been completed yet, and we should beware local politicians and bureaucrats leveraging the oil boom and the impact as an excuse to inflate budgets and staff.
Yes, the culture of western North Dakota is changing and most likely for good, but what can we do about that? Should we hamstring this growth we’ve seen in the west so that some, most of whom don’t actually live in western North Dakota, can keep in their minds the picture of the quaint sort of small-town western communities they think existed before oil boom? Do they not realize that those western communities were dying before oil revitalized them?
There are problems and challenges in the west, and they should be talked about, but a lot of the people who are reporting and talking about western North Dakota aren’t doing so in good faith. The oil boom in North Dakota is an inconvenient truth for those who believe economic growth should be “stimulated” by the government. The oil boom is inconvenient for those who believed in peak oil. For those who believed that the age of fossil fuels was over.
These people want to paint an ugly picture of the oil boom, and their vehicles for doing so are lopsided, unfair stories like the one in the Post.