Photo Essay: Montana & ND Oil Boom Leads to Acute Housing Shortage

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(Sidney, MT and Williston, ND – YPR) - The Bakken oil fields brought an influx of people and activity to across Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota. Oil industry officials say the Bakken reserves have made North Dakota the #2 oil producing state behind Texas.

The Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce says agriculture is the predominant industry in the northeast Montana community. Oil wells are often tucked among sugar beet or wheat fields.

An oil pumper in a field near Sidney, Montana. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.

Small agriculture communities, like Sidney near the Montana-North Dakota border, were not prepared for the rapid increase in population. There's a shortage of affordable houses for sale or rent. Even the local motels and hotels are full forcing many working in the oil patch to live in their vehicles, tents, campers or RV's

A trailer park in Sidney, MT. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.


Some workers are able to find housing in "man camps," but only when they are on shift. The oil companies reserve rooms at the Williston North Lodge for workers during their shift. Workers shed their coveralls and work boots in the "mud room" at the lodge entrance.

photo by Jackie Yamanaka.


The rooms resemble a college dorm room, with a bed, small table, a small closet for personal belongings, and there's a shared bathroom. Deluxe rooms are a little larger with a private bathroom.  The lodge, run by Target Logistics, provides 24/7 dining, recreation room, wireless internet/computer room, convenience store, housekeeping, and self-serve laundry.

A bed one of the lodge rooms. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.


Economic development officials say the Bakken Oil development has also brought an increase in semi-truck traffic through Williston. Tom Rolfstad, executive director of economic development for the city of Williston, says 40% of the vehicles on the road are semis. "The highway engineers say that 12% truck traffic is considered to be high," he says.

The main highway through Williston. Officials want to create a truck route to divert semi traffic away from the main road through town. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.


Semi-truck traffic delivers pipe, water, and other materials needed to drill and maintain a well. Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota's Mineral Resources Division, recently said it can take up to 1,000 semi loads to drill and frack (hydraulic fracturing) each well in the Bakken oil play.

Fracking contractor Sanjel re-fuels at a truck stop in Miles City, MT. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.

Semis are also used to transport crude from the production fields to rail loading facilities. The lack of pipeline capacity means companies are relying on other means to get crude to refineries.

A rail terminal near Williston, North Dakota where crude is loaded onto tank cars. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka.


The proposed Keystone X-L Pipeline project seeks to provide an "on-ramp" for Bakken crude to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.