ND oil boom city reaping prosperity, problems

Associated Press Modified: May 23, 2012 at 12:45 am •  Published: May 22, 2012

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Oil has brought enormous economic prosperity to the busiest city in North Dakota's booming oil patch but also has exacerbated problems in housing, infrastructure and traffic, even pushing some "stressed out" older residents to move away, Williston Mayor Ward Koeser told industry and government officials Tuesday.

Koeser said the city is experiencing exciting times and unprecedented wealth but it's far from figuring out how to survive the biggest oil rush in the nation.

"We're still in the middle of it and we're still trying to deal with it," Koeser told an audience of several hundred at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo in Bismarck.

North Dakota has risen from the nation's ninth-leading oil producing state to the nation's No.2 producer in just six years, with advanced horizontal drilling techniques in the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations in the western part of the state.

State statistics show a record 213 rigs were drilling in the oil patch as of Tuesday. Koeser said 90 percent of the drill rigs are piercing the prairie within 90 miles of his city.

The population in Williston has doubled in the past decade to some 30,000 residents and the average wage there has risen from about $32,000 in 2006 to about $80,000, Koeser said. More than half of Williston's residents now work in oil-related jobs, and the city's unemployment rate is at 1 percent, "which I believe is the lowest in the U.S.," he said.

There are some 3,000 unfilled jobs in the city, Koeser said.

While many cities across the nation would be envious of Williston's success, the city now holds some dubious distinctions.

Koeser said the city "hasn't been sitting on its hands" and has done its best to keep up with the explosion of activity. But the hundreds of millions of dollars in new housing construction and infrastructure improvements have failed to keep pace with the explosion of drilling activity in the area.