Millionaires and Criminals

Along with environmental and health consequences, it is also worth considering the consequences of the culture that is fostered in these “boom towns.” Sympathizers will note the resurgence and stimulus in a small, local all-American town and the good that the $100,000+ starting salaries have on the national economy and livelihoods. But what happens if we look behind the curtain?

We at EcoFaith are well versed in the environmental degradation and loss of natural habitat and beauty that comes from oil and coal exploration (noise pollution, traffic jams, air and water pollution from coal dust and diesel fumes, carbon pollution, climate change, disturbance of wildlife habitat, mercy poisoning of wildlife); but recent information is also shedding light on the exponentially increasing crime rates.

In North Dakota, little towns that have been dormant since the last oil boom in the 80’s are reawakening with force. Oil and related industries employ approximately 60,000 workers on top of one of the world’s largest oil deposits; and more people are arriving in droves weekly. The region has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate but that is changing. From 1500 people in 2010, current data has an estimated 10,000 eager young workers in the frontier. Along with 10,000 people come trucks, traffic, and crime. With towns lacking the infrastructure for the influx of people, price gouging and frustration are bubbling.

Kirk Siegler of NPR notes that “Watford City’s police force has grown fivefold in recent years” there are now 10 officers sharing four desks in the cramped 28-feet-square station. But most officers are usually out on patrol or calls. “Our domestic violence calls have definitely increased; alcohol-related calls have drastically increased as well,” says Police Chief Jesse Wellen. Crime stats show that officers responded to 18 domestic violence calls last month and there an average one arrest per day for a DUI.

Other towns tell similar stories. As Chip Brown of the NYTimes shares, “Williston has hired nine cops in the last two years, trying to keep up with the crime rate,” especially aggravated assaults. Women in the region are scarce to start with (they’ve been overwhelmingly outnumbered by the young, male workers flocking in). They say they feel unsafe, with men following them down the street and in stores. There have been assaults and rapes and many women do not leave their houses alone anymore. Some are leaving the region altogether because “there’s no money in the world worth not even being able to take a walk.”

As for the EcoFaith’s hopes and the hopes of other like-minded groups, there is hope. Here is a clipping from the NY Times article:

John Heiser, a fourth-generation North Dakotan rancher and part-time park ranger who lives near Grassy Butte…has been railing against the pace of the boom from the start. Last February he wrote in The Bismarck Tribune that the state’s politicians were not hearing what “everyday people out here are saying” that is, stop the oil madness wreaking havoc with the land, wildlife and Western heritage we’ve long cherished.

[Read more about Kirra and other EcoFaith Recovery Interns here]

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Millionaires and Criminals (by EcoFaith Intern Kirra Hughes)
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