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Rent and Frozen Pillows: How Bakken Housing Evolved with the Oil Boom

Todd Melby

Credit Todd Melby
Tricycles at sunset — Oil workers are not the only ones living in oil boom housing.

If you drove through the Bakken a few years ago, you would have seen dozens of new hotels, RV parks and mobile homes that popped up when the oil rigs rolled into town.

Housing prices soared as people flocked to western North Dakota. They came for jobs on the rigs, or to drive truck or lay pipe, and they needed places to live. So too did many new teachers, police officers and health care workers who supported the growing populations of towns like Williston and Watford City.

At times, especially early on during the boom, living conditions in so-called “man camps” were rough. Workers on occasion lacked basic amenities like running water, and some of them endured frigid North Dakota winters in poorly insulated shelters.

Over the years, workforce housing evolved as the boom slowed down and local officials shut down the most rudimentary of dwellings. Today there are fewer RVs and mobile homes, and far more apartment complexes to accommodate workers.

Prairie Public examines the Bakken’s changing housing landscape in a conversation with two researchers from the University of North Dakota, Bret Weber and Bill Caraher, who have spent several years studying the region. Listen below to their interview with Amy Sisk and Todd Melby, reporters who have lived in the Bakken and covered its housing crunch for Prairie Public:


Part 2, more on housing and what it shows us about North Dakota's oil boom.


Curious to learn more about the Bakken? Here are some resources:

Weber and Caraher launched the North Dakota Man Camp Project, a collaboration among researchers studying the Bakken. Former Prairie Public and Inside Energy reporter Emily Guerin spent a few days with them on a trip through the oil patch. You can listen here.

For more of Sisk’s coverage of the Bakken, see her reporting for Inside Energy. She is now a Pittsburgh-based reporter covering energy, environment and rural issues for WESA and StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Melby spent years telling the stories of oil patch residents via Black Gold Boom. Listen to his stories here, and be sure to catch his interactive documentaries “Rough Ride: The Oil Patch Tour” and “Oil To Die For.”

This programming was made possible by Humanities North Dakota.

Credit Phillip Batta
Trying to keep warm — to survive the North Dakota winter, people living in RVs had to add insulation.

Credit Phillip Batta
Welcome to North Dakota. Temporary worker housing solutions could be uncomfortable.

Credit Todd Melby
Worker relaxing. Man camp amenities.

Credit Phillip Batta
Boomtown Housing.

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