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Fracking Boom has Been a Jobs Boom for North Dakota
Post Date: Oct 13 2014

By The Detroit Free Press
Ground zero for America's "shale revolution" in gas and oil production, North Dakota is also the reigning title-holder for lowest unemployment among the 50 states.

There were more unfilled jobs in September than job applications within the state, where oil field workers can make six-figure salaries and even the fast-food restaurants dangle hiring bonuses of $300 or more. The state has been recruiting specifically from Michigan for workers of all stripes and skill levels — hoping to entice entire families to relocate and grow roots.

North Dakota's official 2.8% jobless rate in August is essentially full employment, allowing just about anyone who wants a job to get one. At the same time, Michigan's rate of 7.4% was stuck above the 6.1% national average. (The national rate was 5.9% in September.)

North Dakota's roaring economy has been the envy of state governors and, for proponents of fracking, a shining success story for how an energy boom can produce a job boom, even for workers in professions that aren't directly related to extracting natural gas and oil.

Although Michigan's endowment of shale and oil is considerably smaller than North Dakota's, the state has ample natural gas deposits that can be tapped and many local governments are discovering that small-but-important amounts of money can be made by running mini-oil and gas wells. Early successes in wind energy production and investment could also promote massive investment in the state that could add 20,000 or more jobs a year, according to at least one study.

To be sure, this latest oil and gas rush in North Dakota has created its own set of problems, including pollution, skyrocketing housing costs in some towns and reports of rising crime and drug use. There are even reports of a shortage of single women for the inflowing horde of men.

A new documentary film on the darker side of the North Dakota boom, "The Overnighters," starts hitting theaters this weekend.

North Dakota is now producing over 1 million barrels of oil a day, compared to under 200,000 barrels a day five years ago.

That has been a boon for state government, which gets 11.5 cents for every $1 the oil industry makes and 11 cents of every $1 in the gas industry. The state has been running big budget surpluses and projects another surplus of over $600 million in its current fiscal year, according to the Associated Press.

Much of the state windfall has gone toward infrastructure spending, school trust funds, property tax relief and to local governments near the oil fields, according to the state's Senate majority leader.
Recruiting from Michigan

Michigan is one of seven states that North Dakota officials are targeting in their move-here-now advertising campaign, "Find the Good Life in North Dakota." The goal is to attract full families for long-term settlement — not simply more men on temporary work visits who fill up the "man camps," as accommodations in the oil and gas patch are often known.

"If Dad's a petroleum engineer, we've got a job for Mom and a job for their teenagers," Wally Goulet, chairman of the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation, said last week in a phone interview. "There's no problem with minimum wage here, because everybody seems to have to offer $12 or $14 or $15 for starting (pay)."

Energy booms have a history of enticing Michiganders to move. During the Texas oil boom of the 1970s and early 1980s, there were reports of a hot resale market in metro Detroit for Houston newspapers, which were full of help wanted ads at a time when the economy here was slow.

So many Michigan residents were moving to the Lonestar state that, according to the book — "The Reckoning" by the late historian David Halberstam — Texas officials speculated about the political leanings of the new "black-tag vote" in their state, a reference to the black Michigan license plates that were then standard issue.

There were nearly 26,000 reported job openings in North Dakota last month, with 65% of them located out of the state's 17 oil-producing counties. Cities and towns are experiencing a demand and/or shortage of workers in nearly every line of work, including carpentry, day care, truck driving, office work, vehicle and machine repair, and, especially, the service industry, according to Free Press interviews and a North Dakota jobs report.

"What we're finding is we need a lot of service jobs," Goulet said. "Not everybody is going to drive a truck in the oil fields."

There are still jobs to fill at the oil and gas fields across North Dakota's portion of the Bakken formation, especially for positions requiring advanced engineering degrees, but the earlier frenzy has purportedly calmed down.

"When the energy boom started a couple years ago, they really just were getting bodies," said Holly Sand, a public information officer at Job Service North Dakota. "Now they can be more selective on who they take for the jobs."

Fracking Boom has Been a Jobs Boon for North Dakota - The Detroit Free Press
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