Bakken Oil Boom Brings Growing Pains to Small Montana Town

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Bakken Oil Boom Brings Growing Pains to Small Montana Town

An influx of workers leaves housing scarce—and the jail full.
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 4:15pm
At the edge of a farmer's wheat field outside the prairie town of Bainville, Montana, Justin and Mandy Tolbert's 36-foot camper sat in a rented lot. For more than 20 months, the Tolberts lived in the camper with their six children, ages 5 to 12, and Justin's adult cousin.
 
At night, a jumble of pillows and cushions on the floor served as sleeping space. In August, when temperatures approached 100°F, the camper cooked. In January, the temperature dipped to -20°F, freezing the pipes and leaving the family without water for days.
 
"The hardest part [is] winter, when they cannot get outside to play," Mandy Tolbert said about her children. "It's not like a house where they can run around."
 
The Tolberts are far from poor. Justin makes more than $200,000 a year as an oil pipeline welder in the Bakken oil field. The family owns a two-story home with an in-ground pool in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They drive a $50,000 four-wheel-drive van.
 
The Tolberts moved here in 2012 as part of a massive migration of workers chasing their fortunes in the Bakken shale, where a revolution in drilling technology led by fracking has pushed United States oil production to a 24-year high.
 
Like many oil boom families, the Tolberts left home to find a brighter future. They chose to live in rural Montana to avoid the bustle at the center of the oil rush 30 miles away, in Williston, North Dakota.
 
But the explosive growth that deterred them from Williston is spreading to small Montana border towns such as Bainville, causing severe housing shortages and growing pains.
 
 
Keywords: Energy | Bakken | Energy | Great Energy Challenge | Housing | Montana | National Geographic | Social Impact & Volunteering

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