Listen: How housing in the Bakken shale play evolved with the oil boom

  • Amy Sisk

When the oil rigs rolled into Pennsylvania a decade ago, along with them came new hotels and RV parks to house many of the workers needed to develop the Marcellus Shale in the early years of the fracking boom.

It was a similar story in North Dakota’s remote Bakken oil patch, where StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Amy Sisk worked as a reporter before moving to Pittsburgh in 2017.

Housing prices soared as people flocked to the area for employment. Until the oil boom, the population of western North Dakota had declined for years as residents left family farms and small towns for bigger cities.

The newcomers began pouring in a decade ago for jobs on the rigs, or to drive trucks 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 population.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Fox Run RV Park, pictured here in 2015, has housed many workers who moved to North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch.

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.

Sisk, along with Todd Melby, a Minnesota-based journalist who used to live in the Bakken, produced this hour-long conversation for Prairie Public Broadcasting about workforce housing in the shale play. In it, they draw on their own reporting and the expertise of two researchers from the University of North Dakota, Bret Weber and Bill Caraher, who have spent years studying the region.

Take a listen to Part 1 here:

And here is Part 2:

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 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, a partnership between Prairie Public and other public media outlets in the West.

Melby spent years telling the stories of oil patch residents via the public media project 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.”