Mike Kirsch’s reporter’s notebook: portraits from oil country

Americas Now

Mike Kirsch’s reporter’s notebook: portraits from oil country

Read Mike Kirsch’s travel log from his visit to Williston, North Dakota.

Video: The other side of the oil boom in North Dakota

In less than a minute, my face is nearly frozen, as I stand outside my car taking video images of the barren landscape of North Dakota up along the U.S.-Canadian border. No wonder it’s one of America’s least populated states. And no wonder most Americans say they’d never come here.

But that all changed when an oil boom kicked off here in 2008 that’s turned sleepy North Dakota into the “go to” state for jobs and prosperity. I’ve come here to produce a special report for CCTV’s Americas Now about the thousands of unemployed Americans showing up here for work in the oil patch.


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The enormous pool of crude oil underground in Western North Dakota is considered one of the largest oil reserves in the world today, from which oil companies have been pumping more than a million barrels of oil out of the ground each day. Not a million barrels of oil each year. A million barrels of oil each day!

Only recently has new technology known as horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” given oil companies access to an estimated 500 billion barrels of oil and shale GAS here that’s trapped two miles beneath the earth’s surface.

Thousands of well sites across the land here form what’s called the Bakken Formation, named for the Bakken Family on whose farm oil was first discovered way back on July 12, 1951. And many here say if Harry Bakken, his brother Henry, and their ma Mary were still alive? Well, let’s just say they’d probably blush at life in the fast lane here today.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 3.14.01 PMCCTV takes in a night in the center of town where bustling bars and exotic dancers kick up their legs in a wild scene that many here describe as America’s modern day gold rush.
“Black Gold” pumped from the ground 24 hours a day. A surplus of oil that’s largely contributed to falling oil prices worldwide – and lower gasoline prices here in the U.S. – due in large part to the oil boom here in Williston, North Dakota. The unemployment rate here is half the six percent jobless rate nationwide.

Many men are earning annual salaries of a hundred thousand dollars or more working on oil rigs.

So much cash – men raining it down on aforementioned exotic dancers who’ve come to town. Women earning as much as two thousand dollars a night in tips alone at one of two strip clubs in town called Heartbreakers.

The head of security here at Heartbreakers, Chris Anderson, a decorated U.S. Marine Corp veteran, says Heartbreakers is popular with men having few opportunities to socialize with women, who are outnumbered a hundred to one by men here in the Bakken region, which authorities says has led to a number of sexual assaults against women. And Men.

“When I first came here to the Bakken,” says Anderson, “you didn’t go out after dark without two or three buddies with you because there were so many men being raped by men”. That the Bakken is a man’s world is an understatement, many say. That’s given more than a few women pause about coming here.

As well it did the many other brave and colorful characters showing up in boom town every day, who we profile in our special report on Americas Now.Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 3.01.07 PM