The Bakken shale oil reserve is one of the nation’s latest gold mines of income from natural resources. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of oil lie nearly two miles below ground surface. The discovery of that much oil and the new technology to access it has produced an economic boom and a huge influx of men and equipment to the oilfields of North Dakota. And although the new technology, called fracking, is getting much of the credit, a massive force of man power may be the real driving force.
Many wonder why North Dakota’s oil-rich fields were not drilled years ago. The answer lies in the protective layer of shale that has kept the rich reserves protected. Fracking has changed all of that. Technically called hydraulic fracturing, the process involves injecting pressurized liquid into the layers of shale, causing it to fracture and release gas or oil into the pre-drilled wells. While the advance in technology may have provided access to the vast oil stores beneath North Dakota and Montana, accessing those stores would still not be possible without the veritable army of workers that have descended on the state.
A look at the unemployment statistics for North Dakota provides a peek into the involvement of man power in the oil boom. The state currently leads the county in economic growth, and its unemployment rate is right at 3%, compared to the nation’s 9% average. The areas closest to the oil field, such as Williams County, boast a 0.9% unemployment rate.
The jobs on oil patches are fairly wide and varied, but fall in some general categories, such as:
- Drilling rig crews
- Fracking crews
- Wireline operators
- Workover crews
Of course, plenty of truck drivers are in demand as well, and North Dakota has a website devoted to helping people find jobs in North Dakota.
Although the work is plentiful, it certainly cannot be called easy. Lots of physical labor is involved, night shifts are abundant, and overtime is not uncommon. But, with wages high and jobs scarce in other parts of the country, many people have joined the force that drives the oil boom.
Although researchers, inventors, and scientists tantalize with tales of robots that can do the work of men, on the oilfield, technology is still very dependent on a massive force of men and women making the drilling, fracking, pumping, and hauling possible. Unless they have been lucky enough to find large enough housing, most of these men and women have had to leave those they care about behind.
Many of the individuals that make up that workforce are many miles from their families, taking the opportunity they have found to make money and pay bills back home. This oil boom is not simply powered by the muscles and sweat of locals in North Dakota, people from around the country have rallied and joined the machinery of hands and feet that are making the flow of black gold possible. Even though the oil may not have been available without some technology, that technology could not get the job done without the driving force of the American worker powering the boom.
Paul Moore works in the Bakken region providing Bakken corporate housing for the man power that is arriving to work in one of the few states that has a growing economy.