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Oil History


It's impossible to live in North Dakota today without hearing a lot about oil. Our “black gold” boom has seriously changed the makeup of western North Dakota. Some people are making a lot more money, some are making less, and workers are flowing into the state. North Dakota has a long history of profiting off the “black gold,” and experiencing the cycle of boom and bust.

Back in the days before oil, people still anticipated the potential. Throughout the twentieth century, mineral rights and oil leases began changing hands. Tom Leach, who was one of North Dakota's independent oil geologists, convinced the Amerada Oil Company to drill in Eastern Williams County near Tioga. So, in September of 1950, the well was “spudded-in,” meaning the first phase of drilling had begun. Seven months later, they struck oil, and the first oil boom was on.

The first peak of oil production was in 1982. What happened then was similar to what is happening today: entire towns and cultures popped up that were entirely based on oil workers and their families. When production declined, some towns were left with empty houses and schools. In 2007, new technologies brought the Bakken formation into play, leading to the boom that’s changing the face of western North Dakota today.

It’s been over 60 years now since that first well came in on a farm eight miles south of Tioga. In that time, the state has produced over 5 billion barrels of oil. For more on oil in Western North Dakota, you can check out our “Black Gold Boom” reports from reporter Todd Melby at

Dakota Datebook written by Leewana Thomas


State Historical Foundation, Today in North Dakota History (Oil History) (Unit 7: Set 1. Oil Development)