North Dakota Oil And Natural Gas Boom: Open Questions

English: Sunflowers in Traill County, North Da...

Sunflowers in Traill County, North Dakota. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


North Dakota landscape (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

North Dakota is a happening place. I wish I had time to write a full update to my 2009 post on the geography of frugal living in North Dakota, which continues to attract readers every day. Clearly, frugal living is not the central issue in 2012.

Much has happened in the past three years, and I imagine the changes in North Dakota must be fascinating. This week’s news that North Dakotans will vote on whether to eliminate property taxes gives a hint of what’s going on. While most states struggle with unmanageable budgeting problems, and some totter on the edge of insolvency, North Dakota is apparently flush with revenue.

North Dakota’s prosperity seems entirely connected to the booming energy industry. The state has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. I imagine that workers are flocking to the state, and housing must be in short supply.

North Dakota is flat

The Northern Plains: Big sky, flat prairie. It’s easy to forget that people live and work here, too.(Photo credit: Matthew Bietz)

Any comments from folks on the scene in North Dakota would be welcome.  All the positive news raises a few questions:

  • How many of the newcomers will adapt to the harsh North Dakota winters? Conversely, how will the people of the rural and somewhat insular Northern Plains adapt to the influx of newcomers?
  • Are prices rising and shortages developing? How much will wages and prices fluctuate in coming months and years?
  • Could the North Dakota boom be the first part of a boom-and-bust cycle?
  • How will U.S. energy policy develop regarding innovations in oil and natural gas extraction?  And pipelines?
  • Exactly what are the environmental implications of whatever is going on, deep underground in North Dakota? Are adequate precautions being taken, or are corners being cut?
  • How will the new wealth be divided? Will longtime North Dakota residents and landowners be ripped off or forced out? Will workers be paid fairly, or will most of the gains accrue to large energy companies? Will the energy industry take over or buy out North Dakota government and politics?
  • The boom can’t be limited to North Dakota only. What about South Dakota, and Montana? And Canada? Are the Northern Plains in danger of becoming an economic colony of the global oil and gas industry?

Anyone with answers or opinions is welcome to comment.

You want to know more about North Dakota? Of course you do. You can go right to the source.

— John Hayden

Map of North Dakota

Map of North Dakota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Category:U.S. State Population Maps Category:N...

North Dakota state population density map based on Census 2000 data.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Geography of Frugal Living: North Dakota

The simple life is a very personal thing. You can live your version of a simple lifestyle just about anyplace. Anyplace you can afford, that is.

The rich can live simply anywhere they want. Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie even tried to live simply on a television reality show, "The Simple Life."

The rich can live simply anywhere they want. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie tried it in a rural setting on the TV reality show, "The Simple Life." Far as I know, this photo from the show was NOT taken in North Dakota.

For many of us, the simple life implies a frugal lifestyle, by choice or by necessity. That’s where geography comes in.

Only the wealthy can choose to live simply in an area with a high cost of living. For the rest of us, our ability to simplify our lives is greatly enhanced in a place where housing and other essentials are less expensive. 

Unfortunately, places with low costs of housing are often economically depressed areas, with few job opportunities. For most of us, no matter how much we simplify our lifestyle, we will still need a source of income to support our simple needs.

North Dakota made it onto the front page of  The Washington Post (08-14-09) by being one of those magical places where the cost of living is low and jobs are relatively abundant. Under the headline, “Road to Recovery: Woman’s Path to Work Ends in Rural, and Job-Rich, North Dakota,” reporter Eli Saslow tells the story of a woman who moved more than 1,000 miles, from Ohio to North Dakota, to find a job. And the woman, Janet Morgan, 63, found that things cost less — a lot less — in wide-open North Dakota.

Everything from mobile homes to lawyer’s fees are available at prices that would be impossible in New York City or San Francisco. Janet Morgan bought a mobile home for $7,500 in Glenfield, ND, with a $100 down payment, according to The Post.

Of course the opportunity to live simply and frugally requires some sacrifices.  Glenfield, ND, has a population of 75 and sits in the middle of nowhere, the Great Plains, USA. It sounds like Glenfield is at the very edge of “The Grid” of modern services that most of us take for granted. Ms. Morgan cannot get a cell phone signal, and has to commute 150 miles each way to her job in Bismarck, ND.  The job doesn’t pay all that well. The winters can be long, cold and lonely. Welcome to the frugal version of a simple lifestyle! The change that Janet Morgan is making is not for the faint-hearted.

The Post capsulizes the economic situation in North Dakota:

“Open space and open jobs, which is why Morgan and thousands of others have moved to North Dakota during the past year. The state, once known primarily for its remoteness, is enjoying a new reputation as a haven amid economic collapse. It has the country’s lowest unemployment rate at 4.2 percent, a budget surplus of $1.2 billion, and more than 9,000 unfilled jobs.”

With the attention generated in the blogosphere by The Post’s story, those 9,000 jobs may not go wanting for long. Then again, how many people are willing to uproot themselves and move to a cold, flat, mostly empty state? 

I will give you something that The Post didn’t: a link to the North Dakota Web site. A couple of other job-hunting sites for North Dakota: and Good luck.

But please, think three times before you move 1,000 miles for a job.