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  • Day 1 – Western ND oil boom transforms towns, brings trafficking to the forefront

    Day 1 – Western ND oil boom transforms towns, brings trafficking to the forefront

    Oil development has made Williston, N.D., the fastest-growing city of its size in the United States. - Benjamin Edwards Photography

    By Amy Dalrymple

    Forum News Service

    North Dakota’s oil boom has transformed small, relatively quiet towns into some of the fastest-growing communities in the nation.

    Advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unlocked oil in the Bakken formation that geologists had known for decades was there, and the consequent surge in oil activity has vaulted North Dakota to the heady status of second-highest oil-producing state in the country.

    While the frenzy of activity in northwest North Dakota has leveled out to some degree, communities still struggle to catch up to the rapid growth.

    The largest cities in the Oil Patch - Williston, Dickinson and Minot - are among the top five fastest-growing cities of their size in the nation.

    Williston grew 10.7 percent between 2012 and 2013, and Dickinson grew 5 percent in the same timeframe.

    “It’s hard to fathom the level of impact that has on a community of our size,” Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said when those figures were released.

    And those rapid rates of growth are based on Census estimates that only count permanent residents, not the thousands of oil boom workers who work temporarily in the region.

    “What this really tells us is there are tremendous challenges in dealing with the growth in permanent residents that are a result of this expanding economy,” said Dean Bangsund, a research scientist at North Dakota State University who has studied western North Dakota’s population growth. “Most people don’t understand what a 15 percent population change means to a local government or a service provider.”

    The rapid influx has been particularly challenging for people in law enforcement, who have seen calls for service spike, making it difficult for officers to be proactive on major crimes like drug trafficking and human trafficking.

    “Face it, this was Mayberry until this hit,” said Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching. “We were so preoccupied with the explosion of the boom and the amount of assaults and burglaries and thefts and crashes and whatever that it (human trafficking) didn’t pop to the forefront like it has now.”