Oil Boom Creating Dark Side Of Industry In North Dakota

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.

More from Liz Collin
  • Herman

    a couple friends of mine moved there and got on with the willston PD, I do hope this boom doesn’t get em hurt! Stay safe fellas! Remember how we roll at capital!

  • lame story

    Nothing ever good happens in a night club after dark. Keep dancing though, you got to make money.

    • Don_J

      “…iNothing ever good happens in a night club after dark…”… as apposed to being in a night club during the day.

  • politiciansSUX

    “two men driving through looking for work”. I am confused, these men were looking for work, not part of the oil boom, and all this ills that are taking place are the fault of the oil boom? OK, we need to ban oil completely. Apparently it is the root of all evil, and men working, we need to ban that too. Hell, lets just ban men all together. Block E has caused more problems than this. Congress has more convicted criminals working in it that this oil boom. Professional football has more felons, Basketball, same. So, where are those stories?

    • kate

      They were up there because of the oil boom. Try not to exaggerate and think they are blaming all men for the behaviour of a few. Approach the subject in a resonable manner and people might respect your points better.

  • fred

    probably more crime on any weekend in minneapolis than all year in north dakota.

    • Derk - ND

      It’s gone nuts out here. We have more crime daily than we used to see in a year. It’s not locals but the trash that comes in with the jobs. Tough , bored , drunks often as nt much to do. I’m from Blaine but work there and don’t get home much. Moneys good but costs crazy high. It’s a job and happy to have one.
      Don’t think you get what its like – I’d rather walk around North Minneapolis than Williston most nights. Both bad but in cities you have more police and they show up. There they may or may not. Thye busy, to few of them and thats the facts right now. I’d never let my family stay there on a visit. If they stayed inside only its ok but my place to small I rent and no place else to go. And no f’ing way would I let them out at night.
      It’s a crazy place and you don’t know the have of it. Come on out sometime and spand a week. You’ll welcome the safety of the cities real fast

      • Kevin

        Yet I read the Fargo paper every day…..and there is no mention of criime…..

        • S.St Paul Packer packin'

          dude – Fargo wouldn’t have chit about Williston and western Montana. Broaden your horizen and search if you have the ability. ;-)

          • kate

            That would require learning. I’m surpised he didn’t complain about diversity and try to blame it on minorities. If my name was Kevin I wouldn’t use it on this site because of the one moron.
            And do you know how hard it is to go out to google maps and look at the state and figure out that Fargo and Williston are pretty far apart?

            And don’t even get the residents started on the man-camps and the problems with just overwhelmed water treatment facilities.

  • dev

    I watched the story last night. Must be a slow news day.

  • any decent males out there?

    Exterminate the vermin

  • sally

    That was my son, Kelsey, on that news story! Thank you Liz.
    And ‘don’t cha know’ it takes a guy like my son to make a sacrifice to provide for his family. Buck up-He’s lived long enough to know HOW to be a man and step up to the plate. Being a coward and/or failing has never been an option for him. All I know as his mother, when I feel how much pride I have in my kids, it’s all been worth while.
    God be with us all!!!

  • Don_J


  • Uncle Rico

    No you don’t, Don.

  • richard

    Does are great leader know that we are drilling for oil in our own country ? Most not or he wouldn’t allow it !!!

    • Goober

      it’s on private land, that is why it is taking place. Won’t happen on Government Owned land (which is over 50% now) as long as politicians get greased by Environmentalists are in office.

    • Don_J

      Maybe you should learn how to express you thoughts clearly before trying to be witty and cleverly funny… because all it does is make you look like a hater… stupid.

  • joe

    You have that right richard…..He’d shut it down immediately….Send it oversee’s is his motto.
    Wow, he has done SOOOOOOOO much for this country…..Let’s elect him for another 4 WONDERFUL years….As well as the rest of this corrupt government both parties.

  • Kevin

    Whor*es? Drugs? Crime? Diversity? Murders? What are trying to be….Mpls?

    • Stands with Bible

      Trying to convert.

  • tonkahlm

    Gee – no one saw this coming? Just look at boom town Fort McMurray in Alberta and what a piece of trash that’s turned into.

  • S.St Paul Packer packin'

    got a bud who drives a group of dancers back and forth every week. They all making money. Not saying its for everyone but there’s money in that flat plain. And trust me – – the woman are making a helluva lot more than the dudes getting dirty and cold. lol

  • Rick

    I’m from Plymouth, MN and I came to Williston to work a few months ago. I work 12-14 hours per day. I go to the gym after work then go to the camp where my company houses me, and I go to sleep. The next day I do it all over again. I don’t go to the strip clubs or bars, I don’t wander around downtown after dark, I don’t use drugs. I have had no problems. The vast majority of the guys out here are just like me. They have families back home and they came out here to work hard and make money. There are plenty of ways to find trouble in Williston if you’re looking for it, but most of us here don’t have the time or the inclination to get involved with that stuff. On any given night I could drive into Minneapolis and find the exact same activities going on in a lot more places. There are always going to be a few bad apples in every barrel.

  • I guess not

    I guess I won’t be applying to the jobs I just found on Monster.com this article although may only be a few bad apples does scare us women away from the opportunities that could be. May God watch over all of them men and women living there.

  • M.D.

    My husband and I spent 5 months outside of Williston last summer/fall and are planning on going back in a few months. We really enjoyed our time there. Only night time excursions were pretty much to Wal-Mart (ugh). Like many others, my husband got up early, worked all day, came home, ate dinner and went to bed. I suppose that with increased population comes an increase in crime as well. It’s too bad these guys are making a bad name for the rest of us because we’re not all bad. Some of us do respect your state, enjoy your hospitality and pick up after ourselves. We also appreciate the work.

  • Daryl

    What i would like to know,is why am i paying $3.59 a gallon for gas in north dakota if we are pumping over 534,000 barrels a day in north dakota. i would like to know who the big shots are that is making the money.

  • Kay

    Please report on the disgusting strip clubs Minneapolis has and the morons who go there. Clean up Minneapolis first!

  • Chrystal

    Strip clubs are everywhere and as long as there are men around and woman who will take their clothes off for money, there is not a thing anyone can do to stop it… Money brings people, something ND is not used to, and sometimes that means a few bad ones too. Why is it no one blames the strip clubs and dancers for bringing trash into their towns? Maybe people in ND need to start locking their doors and making sure they don’t leave valuables in their cars too!

  • Rufus Larkin

    it is realizing that face it, boring, provincial North Dakota will never have the culture of Texas.

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