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Oil Boom Creating Dark Side Of Industry In North Dakota

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The headlines we usually hear from North Dakota’s oil boom are about all of the jobs and the big money to be made. Now, we are hearing about the dark side of the boom.

Tens of thousands of men have moved to western North Dakota to work in the oil boom industry and many are from Minnesota. In just a few years, the state is predicted to be second to Texas in crude production.

They come to Williston, North Dakota to work, in search of a new start to find a solution that stretches for miles, along with a dark side this once small town didn’t see coming.

“This is the wild, wild west and that’s the only way I can describe it to someone who doesn’t know,” said Kelsey Wingate, an oil mechanic.

Nowhere can you see the dynamic better than at one of the city’s strip clubs. Women are such a small minority as men move in, often living states away from their own families. The average oil worker makes $90,000 a year in the boom.

Dancers, like Rachel, come from across the country to cash in.  She said on a good night she can make $1,000. Rachel is also concerned for her own safety.

“You do. You need to be careful. You need to be very careful,” Rachel said.

Lily Perkins took precautions. She bought a taser to work late hours at a once-quiet motel that’s just across the border in Montana. It’s now filled with men every night.

“Now when I get in my car I lock my door and I don’t roll the windows down if I don’t have to,” Perkins said.

Perkins grew up in simpler times and can’t help but notice how the news has changed.

“Now, it’s there were 10 vehicles broken into downtown or this lady’s gone missing or these two women got raped last night,” she said.

For the last month, it’s been Sherry Arnold’s story making headlines. The high school teacher went jogging along a busy highway about an hour from Williston. Police said two men driving through looking for work kidnapped and killed her.

“It makes you wonder what else could happen,” Perkins said.

Detective David Peterson of the Williston Police Department considers it a constant game of catch up.

“The Williston Police Department is attempting to serve the community. It’s a large task,” Det. Peterson said.

Half of the policemen within the department are recruits from Minnesota.

In five years, Williston has more than doubled in size. More than 20,000 people live here now and estimates show 35,000 more oil workers live within a few hours of town.

The Williston Police Department is getting more calls in a month now than it used to in a year. They’ve seen a serious spike in violent crime, from a couple of cases a week to a couple of cases a day.

Rape cases are on the rise, the victims both women and men. Officers worked to break up the first prostitution ring they’ve worked in decades. For the first time, police have been forced to prioritize calls.

The city knows it is not a life for everyone and has accepted it will lose some long-term residents but city leaders promise to get through the growing pains.

New businesses here will take advantage of that opportunity in this once buttoned-up town where the oil boom is now considered both a blessing and a curse.

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