The Downsides Of Living In An Oil Boomtown

From NPR

By Meg Luther Lindholm

The population boom in Williston, N.D., has been a blessing and a curse for many local businesses. Williston, the fastest growing small city in America, is enjoying an oil boom and has seen its population double in the past two years.

At the city’s brand new McDonald’s, manager Vern Brekhus struggles every day to maintain his staff of nearly 100 workers.

“It’s a pain, it’s a real pain,” Brekhus says. His staff used to be in an upbeat mood, he says. “Now it’s like, how many people do I gotta hire today? How many people do I gotta let go because they didn’t show up? It never quits.”

Brekhus says the difficulty isn’t hiring people, but keeping them.

“We may hire ‘em; we won’t see ‘em. They won’t show up for one day’s worth of work. They can just go down the street and get another job,” Brekhus says.

But not everyone quits. Kyle Pfifer moved to Williston from a town in Tennessee where he couldn’t find a job. For him, making $11 an hour at a fast food restaurant is a big step up. An oil job might pay three times that. But for now, he’s more comfortable working indoors.

“With the weather being the way it’s gonna be or with the way these people say it’s gonna be, I don’t know if I want to be out in negative 80 degree weather with the wind blowing and everything,” Pfifer says.

But for every worker who stays, there are two more who leave.

For some, the pay is still too low because the cost of living, especially housing, is soaring.

Some residents, like 16-year-old Gabriel Ramirez, find roommates. Ramirez moved to Williston from Oregon to find a job. He has seven roommates.

“Three people share the living room, and two other people share one room, and three other people share the other one,” Ramirez says.

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