It may be obvious to most of the people who are living here, that Dickinson, North Dakota is going through a transition period. However, people who live elsewhere in the United States have no way of knowing what is happening in Dickinson right now.
Dickinson, North Dakota experienced an Oil Boom that occurred from 2007 through 2014. This was Dickinson’s third Oil Boom. The first Oil Boom took place in the 1950s, and it was due to the discovery of oil in North Dakota. The second Oil Boom occurred from approximately 1978 through 1983. This third Oil Boom was due to advances in hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling technologies that allowed more profitable oil extraction in North Dakota.
What killed this third Oil Boom in North Dakota, was the price of oil dropping from over $100 per barrel down to $40 per barrel. When the price of oil was over $80 per barrel, it was profitable for oil companies to perform exploration, lease oil well sites, drill, and produce oil. When the price of oil was down around $40 per barrel, oil companies didn’t even want to pump very much of this oil out of the ground because they wouldn’t be making any profit from it.
Supposed reasons for the price of oil going from over $100 per barrel down to $40 per barrel, were over-production and over-supply in the U.S. It is more likely that the over-supply of oil and the price drop was due to intentional flooding of the oil market by OPEC producers in the Middle East.
The number of operating drill rigs in North Dakota went from over 200 during the Oil Boom, to less than 50 currently. Many oil field jobs went away. Less surveying, less road work, less site work, fencing, cattle guards, containment barriers, tank batteries, water hauling, sand hauling, drilling, directional drilling, fracturing, casing, wireline, work over, pump jacks, automation, controls, tanks, pipelines, welding, mechanics, electricians, roustabouts, truck drivers, less everything.
By the end of 2016, I would say that 60% to 80% of the oil field jobs had gone away. Most of the out-of-state workers returned to the states where they came from. It was not just that most of the oil field workers lost their jobs, could not get a replacement job, or could not get a job with overtime hours like they used to have, it was that all of the oil field workers knew that they could not afford the cost housing in North Dakota, and it was not very pleasant living in North Dakota because it was cold, there was no where to go, nothing to do, and there was a shortage of women.
Even by the end of 2014, after many new large apartment complexes and new hotels had been constructed in Western North Dakota, the cost of housing was still very high. In Dickinson, even up until the end of 2015, there was a large extended stay hotel on I-94 that had a banner advertisement on their building for rooms starting at $700 per week.
There was a lie going around the United States that everyone working in the oil field was making over $100,000 per year. This was far from being true. In the more than five years that I have lived here, I have only met three people who made more than $100,000 per year working in the oil field.
The $700 per week for the extended stay hotel room, most workers in Dickinson, who worked in retail, fast food, restaurants, or service industry, did not have a take home pay of $700 per week. The semi-skilled workers, construction workers, laborers, and roustabouts, had a take home pay of about $700 per week after taxes. This led to people sleeping in their cars at WalMart, sleeping in a tent in people’s backyards, and sleeping in the bushes where they could. This is not an exaggeration, I know all about this, myself and my friends lived like this.
Some of the cheapest old one-bedroom apartments, if you could even find one, rented for $1,500 per month, with one month’s rent security deposit, first month’s rent, and last month’s rent due at lease signing, that’s $4,500 due up front. Most of the workers who came to North Dakota did so out of economic desperation, and they didn’t have $4,500, which led to them sleeping in their cars at WalMart, the truck stop, etcetera.
I am re-telling all of this now, to paint the picture of why everyone who came to work in Western North Dakota during the Oil Boom, was so ready to leave when the Oil Boom was over. It was not just about jobs going away, it was about how unpleasant and difficult it had been living in North Dakota.
The lie had been told that everyone working in the oil field was making over $100,000 per year, in order to lure an abundance of workers to Western North Dakota, most of whom would be paid less than $16 per hour. These workers would fill the retail, fast food, restaurant, hospitality, and service worker jobs, but they would also fill every house, apartment, basement, cabin, trailer, hotel, and motel.
When the Oil Boom was over, all of the local people, the business owners and the property owners said, “Oh, it’s coming back. Hold on now, it’s coming back.” The kind of lying that got people from all over the U.S. to come to North Dakota looking for work, was now being done to try to keep everyone from leaving. But the Oil Boom didn’t come back, it was over.
By 2017, the occupancy rates at the newly completed large apartment complexes and the old apartment buildings, was approximately 50% or less. The occupancy rates at the RV parks, hotels, and motels, was approximately 20% or less. Rents began to decrease quite a bit, as there became competition amongst property owners and property managers to get tenants into their buildings. Home prices decreased also.
By 2016, some of the non-oil field businesses in Dickinson that I recall closing were, Wild Cat Pizza, Hobby Artz, Superior Laundry, The Pita Pit, and Evolution Fitness. By the end of 2017, some additional businesses that closed were Sears, JC Penny, one Family Fare grocery store location, Total Workforce Solutions, and the Elks Lodge vacated the upstairs of their own building to move into their basement.
By 2016, some of the few restaurants in Dickinson that had previously been open 24 hours, ceased staying open past midnight. For a time in 2016, all of the grocery stores and WalMart in Dickinson no longer stayed open 24 hours. Now WalMart does stay open 24 hours most of the time.
In 2016, many local young people who had graduated from high school in Dickinson or Dickinson State University during the Oil Boom and found employment right away, now had to move out of state to find employment in Montanna, South Dakota, Colorado, and Arizona.
By 2016, many entrepreneurs who had moved to Dickinson to start a business or a service during the Oil Boom, began closing down in order to move away and start over again in another state. By the end of 2017, there appeared to me to be another wave of entrepreneurs shutting down in Dickinson, to move away and start over elsewhere.
What inspired me to write this particular blog post about Dickinson going through a “Transition Period” right now, are two things. Three of the most visible and active members of the Dickinson community, three entrepreneurs, have recently announced on Facebook that they are moving away.
For these three people, I thought that Dickinson was their life-long home, they were so entrenched in everything, and so active in everything. It wasn’t until I read that they were leaving, and I then looked into everything that they were doing recently, that I realized that they had been trying to earn money doing several different jobs outside of what they normally do, in order to make money. I didn’t know that they were struggling, because I wasn’t paying attention.
In 2016 and 2017, I had to work at several different jobs outside of my normal job, in order to make enough money. Some of these jobs were physical labor jobs 12 hours per day, every day, for weeks. Some of these jobs were physical labor jobs for 15 hours per day, with an additional 2 hours of drive time each day. So I can understand that these three entrepreneurs were having a shortfall of money in Dickinson, because I have too, but I didn’t know that it had come to the point that they have to move away.
The second thing that inspired me to write this blog post about this “Transition Period” in Dickinson right now, is the theft and crime. In 2017, in Dickinson, there has been so much theft, crime, and drug overdoses.
In Dickinson this past year, there has been a great deal of vehicle, trailer, equipment, and tool thefts, again, and again. Thefts from businesses, homes, job sites, garages, and parked vehicles. Dickinson had very little theft prior to the Oil Boom, and even during the Oil Boom up until 2016. The theft in Dickinson now, is comparable to what goes on in a very bad neighborhood in Phoenix, Tampa, or Dallas.
There have been many drug overdoses in Dickinson this past year, with several fatalities. I can’t remember hearing about this amount of drug overdoses and fatalities during the Oil Boom, or anywhere else that I have ever lived.
What I think that the correlation is, between everything that I have described in this blog post, is that so many jobs have gone away in Dickinson, that people have coped by moving away immediately, moving away after trying to wait, moving away after trying to work additional jobs, staying and continuing to work multiple jobs, and other people cope by stealing and using illegal drugs.