Northern Great Plains Oil Rush Series

Once sleepy Great Plains towns sit on one of the world’s
largest oil deposits and a boom is well underway. North
Dakota now has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, as oil and related industries now employ 60,000 workers with an average salary of well over $100,000.

NPR examines the effects of the oil fields in the Great Plains in a series that recently aired. NPR’s Jeff Brady and Kirk Siegler, Prairie Public Radio’s Meg Lindholm and Dan Boyce of Montana Public Radio contribute the reports. Photo credit: Tim Evanson/Wikicommons

Hear the stories from NPR here.

Interested? Learn more about North Dakota’s oil boom
from Black Gold Boom: How Oil changed North Dakota

Story Descriptions

Welcome To Oil Country

Morning Edition; Wednesday, January 29
The Great Plains oil boom is transforming everything it touches, from jobs to crime. It’s a modern day gold rush causing severe growing pains and transforming these towns into ones their longtime residents no longer recognize. NPR’s Kirk Siegler reports.

Pitting Oil Against Agriculture

All Things Considered; Wednesday, January 29
Despite a booming oil industry, agriculture remains North Dakota’s largest industry. Many farmers and ranchers profit from the oil boom but others complain drillers interfere with their business. This tension prompted one group to target North Dakota’s governor in a failed attempt to have him indicted for bribery. NPR’s Jeff Brady reports.

Gas Flaring Controversy

Morning Edition; Thursday, January 30
The bright light caused by natural gas flaring looks pretty from space, but the gas is a huge waste of energy and profits for North Dakota’s mineral rights owners. Several class action lawsuits have been filed by mineral rights owners against oil companies they say are flaring more than the law allows. NPR’s Jeff Brady reports.

Oil Demands Outpace Infrastructure

All Things Considered; Thursday, January 30
The Great Plains oil development significantly strains the infrastructure of communities throughout the region. A steady stream of big rigs pounds the streets of small Sidney, Montana every day as a rapidly increasing population stretches the town’s sewer system to its limit. The town is trying to pay for $55 million in infrastructure needs on about a $10 million annual budget. Dan Boyce of Montana Public Radio reports.

Commuting For Oil Dollars

Morning Edition; Friday, January 31
In the Northwest, where some of the region’s last lumber mills have shuttered, people needing work are commuting hundreds of miles to remote eastern Montana and western North Dakota. They’re taking jobs with the booming Bakken shale oil development, but this takes a toll for some families. NPR’s Kirk Siegler reports.

Homeless In North Dakota

All Things Considered; Friday, January 31
For people coming to North Dakota for oil jobs, finding affordable housing is a sometimes insurmountable challenge. As a result, the number of homeless people, including children, has risen dramatically. Shelters are stretched beyond their capacity, so a group of 18 churches has banded together to open their doors to the overflow. Meg Lindholm of Prairie Public Radio reports.

Prostitution in Oil Country

Weekend Edition; Saturday, February 1
Prostitution is becoming more commonplace throughout Great Plain oil country as the illegal industry fills demand from a population of young male oil workers. It’s easy to find postings by professional escorts in town “for one week only” on local online classifieds. Men and women talk about the problem and its relation to a rise in sex trafficking. Dan Boyce of Montana Public Radio reports.

Building An Oil Refinery At The Source

All Things Considered; Saturday, February 1
The first new refinery since 1976 is under construction in rural North Dakota. An oil drilling boom there is prompting two companies to invest up to 300 million dollars to build a diesel refinery. NPR’s Jeff Brady reports.

Shipping Oil From The Great Plains

Weekend Edition; Sunday, February 2
As the oil boom continues to grow in the Great Plains, the industry is increasingly relying on railroads to ship to refineries and major markets. Tens of millions of dollars in new oil-to-rail infrastructure projects have also been built in and around the Bakken shale oil field to handle what some see as a glut in oil along the northern plains. NPR’s Kirk Siegler reports.

Bringing Culture To Oil Workers

All Things Considered; Sunday, February 2
The oil fields of western North Dakota bring vast economic opportunity to a region in decline just ten years ago, yet high art and culture are a rare commodity. One North Dakota humanities organization is trying to change that by sending two professional writers into towns most impacted by the Bakken shale oil boom to conduct creative writing workshops. Montana Public Radio’s Dan Boyce has the story.



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