Monday, March 23, 2015

Returnees to ND Oil Boom Town Here to Stay

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Before oil tanker trucks rumbled down the roads at all hours, this town was so quiet that Erin White rode her horse to a deserted Main Street one night. Back then, this was a dusty hamlet with few prospects for a future. Like many teens, White considered her high school diploma a one-way ticket out of town. She didn’t expect to be back. After college, she and her husband, Lange, settled in the grasslands of eastern Colorado. But when his temporary stint as an airplane mechanic ended, he needed work. White’s parents piped up: There are lots of jobs at home. It would be a good time to get in on the oil bonanza. Within two days, White’s husband had a job in the oil business. She found work soon after they returned to her family’s ranch 40 miles from town, joining a reverse migration that was unthinkable a decade ago. The discovery of crude oil here has been a powerful population magnet, not just bringing hordes of outsiders to the Bakken but luring back others who’ve discovered that, yes, they can go home again. After a decades-long population drain, North Dakota became the fastest growing state in the nation in recent years, expanding by nearly 10 percent in a 50-month period ending last June, according to Census figures. That pace dropped sharply in 2014 but the state still preserved its No. 1 ranking. Growth last year trickled to just 2 percent, a slowdown attributed to the lack of housing, not plummeting oil prices. The layoff of thousands of oil workers, though, in the last few months could reduce the influx of out-of-staters, but those who’ve come home are confident they’ve made the right move. “There are no regrets, no second thoughts,” White says. “No matter what happens we’ll be able to find something to do. …There are a lot of people who are really committed to the town and don’t want to leave.”

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