What comes to mind when you think of North Dakota? For most Americans, the answer is probably nothing exciting. That’s no surprise. Until 2006, the state’s economy was sustained primarily by agriculture, and most of its landscape was either barren or occupied by cattle. But that all changed when the shale oil boom turned the state into one of the energy industry’s biggest U.S. hubs.


How it All Started

Until the late 2000s, shale oil, although plentiful throughout the midwestern U.S., was costly to drill and held little appeal for oil companies. North Dakota, despite sitting on a deposit of oil that could rival those of Saudi Arabia, wasn’t able to take advantage of its vast natural resources.

The game-changing development didn’t occur until 2006, when horizontal drilling technology, in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing, started driving down the cost of well construction while simultaneously skyrocketing productivity of the entire shale sector. It was then that North Dakota began its transformation into one of the most economically prosperous states in the country.

Fast forward to today for a glimpse of what the shale oil boom has done for North Dakota: 2.8% unemployment, a 1 billion dollar budget surplus, and a state GDP that’s 29% above the national average.

Williston County is at the epicenter of the boom, and you don’t have to look any further than the county public record books to see just how incredibly fast it’s growing. As of May, over 230 million dollars worth of building permits had been pulled in Williston, ND during 2014 alone – up from just 27 million in 2006.

The boom has brought enormous waves of economic stimulation to the state, and surrounding states are feeling the benefits too. The tremendous growth and development happening in North Dakota is allowing professionals as far away from the fields as Denver and Oklahoma City to profit from a domestic resource that 10 years ago almost nobody knew existed.


The Future of Shale

What makes the oil-fueled growth of the midwestern U.S. so exciting is that it isn’t just a flash in the pan. All indicators point to a long and prosperous future for shale oil.

Despite the fact that shale wells produce crude a little differently than traditional wells – at different rates and durations – most industry experts expect the boom to continue well into the foreseeable future. Their primary reasoning is that the decreasing cost-per-well, combined with the increasing speed at which new wells can be drilled, will foster long-term growth for the industry as a whole.

On top of that, it’s commonly believed that large shale deposits, much like the ones already being tapped in North Dakota and Texas, are waiting to be found across the globe. As efficiency increases and as costs decrease, there’s no place for the boom to go but up.

That means we’re likely to see other areas start to experience the same kind of much-needed economic stimulation that’s already taking place in North Dakota, and that’s something to get excited about.

Image credits: 1 & 2


Carrie is an avid writer, who spends her spare time biking and hiking the Appalachian Mountain trails near her home.

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