When I offer the introduction: “I’m from North Dakota,” the usual answer is a snarky/incredulous, “People live there?” Well, I am standing before you, and I wasn’t exactly raised by buffalo, although that would be fun. I understand the reaction, and I don’t begrudge the occasional comparison to Siberia, because, in the scheme of the lives of hundreds of millions of American citizens, a state as under-populated as ND just sort of fades in with the rest of the Mid West in the rolling recesses of America’s mind. But the nation is starting to take notice of my scrappy little home state. Why? OIL. And we’ve got lots of it. North Dakota is changing at a booming rate, thanks to its vast shale oil fields, effecting major socio-economic changes in communities that have been static or in decline for decades; many of these changes are acutely affecting the lives of women in North Dakota.
Here’s some background information on the ND oil boom: on February 3, North Dakota made the cover of New York Times Magazine and boasted the (intended-to-be-ironic) heading “The Luckiest Place on Earth.” The article “North Dakota Went Boom” depicts the rapid growth of the state’s population and oil industry in western ND, which climbed from the country’s 9th oil producer to its second, behind only Texas. ND is even projected to pass them, and soon. Eat your heart out, Texas. The influx in oil production began about 7 years ago, fueled by technological advancements in hydraulic fracturing (known scathingly as “fracking” on the East coast) that made it easier and cheaper to extract oil from the rocks.
Most of the oil comes from the Bakken Formation, also known as the Williston Basin. Oil towns in the area have been rocked by the population growth. Williston, ND, a hub of oil production, has grown from a steady, if not slightly declining, 12,000 people, to a bloated 20,000 in the last four years. Much of the growth is attributed to incoming single, able-bodied young men who flock to the high paying jobs in the oil fields. As the New York Times summed it up: Oil Towns Where Men are Many, and Women are Hounded. The article cites that in 2011, the census data showed 58% of North Dakotans ages 18-35 were men. And in the areas most affected by the oil boom, the disparity in gender ratios becomes even more obvious: there were more than 1.6 men for every 1 woman, and that’s only data for those who have reported a permanent residence, which many of the short-term oil labor and construction workers have not. As an aside, strippers often make more money on an average night in Williston than they would in Las Vegas. As women become fewer and farther between, the objectification of women has skyrocketed.