WILLISTON, N.D. — From an airplane at night, Williston appears an oasis of thousands of points of light on the Great Plains. Most are white or yellow, but some flicker bright orange. They are the oil drilling rig flares of the Bakken Shale formation — fires that burn night and day.
But dozens of these fires have gone dark in the last eight months.
Williston has been pummeled by plunging oil prices worldwide, which dropped from a $105 a barrel in February 2014 to $54 in February 2015. There are still high-paying jobs, but fewer of them.
For residents, the result is layoffs, reduced work schedules and smaller paychecks for everyone from oil rig workers to Walmart greeters. The slowdown, as locals call it, has pushed thousands deeper into poverty, closer to homelessness or out of the city altogether, charity workers said.
Since fracking began in the Bakken Shale around Williston in the late 2000s, the city’s population has more than doubled, to about 20,000 today, according to the Census Bureau. That figure does not include temporary and seasonal workers and others living on the city’s outskirts.
Soaring demand for housing and limited stock have pushed the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment up to $1,500 dollars, listings show.
“North Dakota does not have a [rent-control] law, so there’s really no cap the state sets,” said “Captain Josh” Stansbury, head of the Salvation Army in Williston. The Salvation Army serves as a hub for newcomers who need help.
Steep rents mean many Williston workers, even those with higher wages, live on thin margins, and a loss in hours can send them to churches and other charitable groups to make ends meet.