Preparing for the Boom #4--Opportunities and Issues from Oil
Dakota Digest - 06/21/2012
by Gary Ellenbolt
This week, we've looked at what's going on in western North Dakota, and what could take place in South Dakota in the case of serious oil explanation. Some experts say it's not a matter of if, but when, they come with the drilling rigs-and people who have lived along the Bakken Formation are telling South Dakota people to be careful.
Here's a typical sound in many parts of western North Dakota-truck traffic and congestion in Williston, Watford City, New Town-and about a hundred miles to the east, the town considered to be the Heart of the Bakken Formation.
The wind is blowing hard in Stanley on this cold, rainy Sunday afternoon. It's blowing so hard that near the highway where the U-S and Canadian flags fly, the outer red stripe on the Maple Leaf flag of Canada is gone.
Lon Bymer is getting ready for another week in the oil fields. He pumps gas into his white pickup with South Dakota plates that start with Turner County's number 44. He's a long way from his home in Harrisburg.
Bymer says, "I thought it was crowded when I first got here-but there's been a lot of people show up and...it'll be two years in July I've been up here, and the housing facilities and such, they're starting to catch up-but a lot of people are starting to show up too, so..."
Bymer's wife has health concerns and stays in Harrisburg to avoid the extreme conditions, and he sees her every couple of months. Lon Bymer is not the only person from South Dakota who has taken the gamble and come north.
Jim Bacon and his business partner moved to the Bakken Formation from Spearfish. The pair opened a business selling Fire Resistant-or F-R clothing. OSHA regulations require F-R garb for workers who come within one thousand feed of an oilrig. Bacon and Bryan Johnson started selling the jackets, coveralls and sweatshirts out of a trailer-but had such a demand, they bought the old movie theatre in Watford City. Old film reels are still embedded in the floor as Bacon serves his customers, and reflects on how he and Johnson met the needs of the workers.
Bacon says, "There wasn't any-any-ANY place to find decent clothes at a decent price. After we did a little more research, Bryan got into, went to the Post Office and did a little research there-and found out the waiting list on the PO Boxes was four or five months. So thought that we could incorporate both an F-R clothing store and a private mail service-so kill two birds with one stone."
Bacon and Johnson know the opportunities are there-but there are also problems. One is a housing shortage, and very steep prices charged by people who do have a house for sale or rent.
One solution is what some call a man camp. For the most part, it's a series of boxcar like structures, big enough for one or two workers, similar to a smaller mobile home. Man camps range from a few RVs and tents, to hundreds of the boxes on one property. Some man camps are like small communities, with their own roads, a central office and cafeteria.
Just the name conjures up images and potential shenanigans that may be true, or they may not be.
There's one a couple miles north of Williston. But a burly security guard doesn't let just anybody in.
There's also the issue of increased crime in Williston and across western North Dakota and eastern Montana. The case of Sherry Arnold received much public attention. Arnold was a popular teacher in Sidney, Montana-she went for a run on the morning of January Seventh. Arnold was kidnapped, allegedly by two men looking for work in the oil fields. She was then reportedly choked to death, and her body buried outside Williston. Williston Police Detective Dave Peterson has a thick file on the case in his office. It's only one of many files full of cases he and fellow officers are working on. He says Arnold's death a half-hour from his city has affected many women in Williston.
Peterson reflects, "I've personally heard some females in our community express they no longer feel safe in the community. And at the Williston Police Department, we don't want to give up on our community programs-We have Detective Nickeloff that's organizing workshops and also safety talks to help the females in our community have that sense of security again."
Peterson says calls to his office have increased 200 percent in the past two years. He says officers are forced to prioritize calls in order of severity, which means some people with routine issues may not see an officer at all.
A Sturgis business might have an answer for that as well. Peter Pi represents Cor-Ban Weapons Training.
He says, "What we are is a weapon training center for law enforcement, civilians, military units. Police can get advanced training-civilians can get basic and advanced training, CCW holders who just got their license, their concealed weapon permit, they need to have the training and know what to do if the situation arises."
South Dakota leaders have the advantage of seeing what is taking place in North Dakota. That gives officials a chance to act accordingly before any boom comes south. They also have the chance to ask questions. Williston Economic Development Assistant Shawn Wenko offered his advice recently at a conference in Spearfish.
According to Wenko, "The biggest thing is to make sure you've got a real open dialogue with city, county and state officials...and even your representatives on the national or federal level. Everybody needs to be on board. And then be straight-forward with what exactly you need. Don't just put a lot of requests out there for ‘We really need this and that;' know exactly where you're going and where you want to be headed."
The consensus in western South Dakota is to prepare for an economic windfall like western North Dakota is experiencing. It may happen-or it may not. In any case, officials want to be ready for the opportunities and issues that may come.
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