Why North Dakota Is Now America’s Wealthiest State


north dakota oil rig

If somebody asked you to name something exciting about North Dakota, what would it be? Not to put down the state as a whole, but most people might struggle to answer that question. Out of the 50 States in the Union, North Dakota isn’t exactly known for thriving culture or bustling metropolises.

Well, as luck would have it, something exciting started happening in North Dakota about 10 years ago: the biggest domestic oil boom since the 70s. Keep reading to find out how it turned North Dakota into the richest state in the country.

Shale Changed Everything

Oil producers have been drilling shale in the midwest for decades, using vertical drilling techniques. The problem with that is this: the success rate of vertical drilling in shale is cripplingly low. For every 100 holes put in the ground, you might get a handful of profitable wells. North Dakota, Texas, and several other U.S. States contain enormous deposits of shale oil, but producers have been historically unsuccessful in harvesting it, at least until the early 2000s.

The beginning of the 21st century marked a unique time in domestic oil history. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the two technologies that have made the shale boom possible, became both affordable and advanced enough to become widely available to producers. As producers started implementing more horizontal wells with advanced fracturing techniques, production started to skyrocket, and the boom we’re still feeling today was born.

Going From Barren Backwoods to Boomtown USA

The states sitting above the major North American shale deposits have felt the benefit of the boom most. North Dakota, for example, sits atop the richest portion of the Williston Basin, a large sedimentary basin spanning several midwestern states and parts of southern Canada.

Coincidentally, the localities with the most profitable shale also happen to be the most rural areas in the country. As a result, the economic indicators that come alongside boomtime production are especially visible.

In areas that didn’t even have cell service five years ago you can find completely new towns with modern housing, thriving businesses, and burgeoning communities.

What the New North Dakota Looks Like

The economic change that’s swept through North Dakota demonstrates the power of prosperity behind the shale revolution. In certain parts of the state, the landscape is entirely unrecognizable.

Williston County, which sits in the heart of the boom, is a perfect example of how oil can transform a community. In August, the county had accrued 230 million dollars simply through the fees associated with issuing building permits during 2014. There are plenty of municipal budgets in counties across the country that don’t even have totals of that size.

And all this revenue is new too. The Williston County Building Dept. only managed to pull in 27 million from building permits in 2006.

These figures are indicative of the extreme growth taking place in the region. Amazingly, you can even see the new development in Williston from space.

What’s next?

Shale isn’t just taking off in North Dakota. It’s enabling a new era of domestic oil production that rivals that of any other time period. States across the union are exploring the possibilities of shale, and new deposits are still waiting to be found and utilized.

Consequently, we can expect to see some of the activity taking place in North Dakota to spread to other places in the United States, perhaps not with the same intensity but certainly bearing many of the same benefits.

Photo by Tim Whitlow

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