men endure the more than 80-hour,
physically demanding work week, in-
hospitable conditions and long week-
ly drives home for a simple reason:
“I’m making $42 an hour, I have
great medical and retirement ben-
efits,” says McKinney. Despite being
diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
13 years ago, he works on the rig to
support a family of six. The job is
one week on, one week off. McKin-
ney drives six hours back and forth
every week to his home in Spearfish,
S.D. “I hope I can do this for 10 or 15
more years,” says McKinney, who
was recently promoted to rig boss.
Age is not a factor on the job, says
Tim Madden, a 40-year-old boss on
another rig. Trainees start at $25 an
hour, he says, and “if you have some
common sense and are in halfway
good shape, you can do the job.” Still,
he says, it’s hard to find enough employees. Most applicants come to him
by word of mouth. The application
includes a brief telephone interview
covering experience and transportation options.
and their families
have sparked a
New access to the vast Bakken formation—a thin band of oil-rich shale nearly two miles beneath the Williston
Basin that spreads from North Dakota and Montana up to Saskatchewan and could contain up to 24
billion barrels of oil—has brought
frantic growth to the region. Williston, the epicenter of the boom,
has nearly doubled its population
to 20,000 since 2007.
“Our sewer, roads, law enforcement
and housing are out of capacity,” says
Mayor E. Ward Koeser. “We have to
plan and work like crazy to catch up.
But someday we’ll be a better city.
It’s good to have problems because
of growth, not decay, which was
something we struggled with for a
Housing is scarce. Thousands of
new workers live in their cars, camp-
ers or sprawling temporary housing
complexes known as “man camps.”
Some oil companies house work-
ers in hotels—most are booked for
months, and there’s new construc-
tion all over town. Rentals have sky-
rocketed. Longtime resident Jerry
Schwan, 70, saw his rent quadruple
within two weeks. “I would proba-
bly be living in my van if my ex-wife
didn’t let me live with her,” he says.
Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water,
sand and chemicals into
rock to release oil and gas.
Environmental concerns are
widespread, from drinking water “fraccidents” to
earthquakes. Some states
have banned the process.
Experts say that safety
depends on the depth of the
drilling and the composition of the materials used.
Most Williston wells are
10,000 feet deep, far below
groundwater, and the risk of
contamination from leaks is
considered minimal. An EPA
report on fracking is due in
2014, with preliminary findings by the end of 2012.