Why are oil companies so rich

God forsaken town is getting rich

Thursday, May 20, 2021

World time / archive | Article from June 4, 2013

Oil fracking attracts fortune seekers to Williston

From Sabine Müller

Fracking creates a gold rush mood in the USA (picture alliance / dpa / Jim Lo Scalzo)

The small town in North Dakota was a sleepy place with farms and pastures - now Williston is bubbling with oil. The town is overrun by soldiers of fortune and oil companies: the fracking fever is rampant. The residents feel a little threatened by the adventurers.

Ever since fracking fever spread in the United States, the small town of Williston has been teeming with newbies. Despite all the good business, many long-established residents feel pressured. The sheriff can hardly keep up with the fight against crime, a Protestant pastor turns his church into a hostel because Williston offers endless jobs, but no accommodation.

Pastor Jay Reinke opens his prayer book and fervently starts a Christmas carol. Christmas is long gone, but the pastor only has a small chance to carry almost 40 tired men away with a well-known melody: Most of them join in with a grumble, their eyes tiny in the glaring neon light. It's already after 10 p.m. and after a long day at work the men only want one thing: sleep.

Where Pastor Reinke usually reads mass, there are now neatly lined up dark green camp beds. If you can't find accommodation for the night in Williston, come here, to the small Protestant church in the town center. The pastor willingly opens the door, but there is no place to sleep for nothing: The men still have to go through a little Sunday school: "Who knows what Lent is?" They endure it stoically until they are released and are finally allowed to pull the covers over their heads. Another day is over in the small town of Williston, in the middle of the endless prairie of North Dakota.

Fracking makes oil gush

What was a sleepy town just a few years ago is now the epicenter of the largest oil boom in recent US history. Thanks to fracking, the oil gushes out of the ground and Williston is overrun by modern gold seekers who want to make quick money here - on the oil fields or in the overcrowded hotels and restaurants of the town: In Pastor Reinke's small church, it smells of fast food and sweaty feet. Next to the front door is a mountain of shoes: construction workers' boots, sneakers, a pair of bright green cowboy boots. The men they belong to came here from all over the US and are a pretty wild mix:
There is Zachary Ray from Montana - shaggy beard, hippy mane - who wants to earn enough money in a few weeks to wander around Romania for four months, James Frimpong, in his early 50s, a gentle black giant who previously worked as a cook in Mississippi. He says that he lived in Germany for a while and played football with Jimmy Hartwig. There's John Kentworthy from Chicago, a 23-year-old giant blonde baby.

Kentworthy came to Williston on the Greyhound bus last November with $ 100 in his pocket and dreams big. He had heard that there were jobs here for unskilled workers like him. He now earns up to $ 8,000 a month as an assistant at an oil company - the equivalent of a good 6,000 euros. Skilled workers can make a lot more money: Clyde Taylor - 40, sun-tanned skin, tattoos, prison experience - is a shuttering expert and has just started a job where he will make nearly $ 200,000 a year.

Taylor left his wife and children at home in Texas, thinks Williston is terrible and says: In eight months I'll have a fully paid-up house at home, and then I'll be out of here again. Why does one who makes $ 200,000 a year sleep with the Merciful Pastor in church?

"Because there is no accommodation here. Well, there is, but who wants to pay $ 5,000 a month for a small apartment?"

At least not Clyde Taylor.

5,000 dollars - that is a bit exaggerated, but not entirely out of thin air: In Präriekaff Williston, rents are now sometimes as high as in some of the trendy neighborhoods in New York or Los Angeles. Before the boom, you could almost buy a small house for the annual rent you pay for an apartment.

In the "Megalatte" café, the two large silver coffee machines rarely stand still. Since 27-year-old Megan Wold opened her shop a good year ago, there has been a steady stream of customers, many of them newcomers to Williston, who are getting ready for their long shifts in the oil fields with a double or triple espresso.

Megan Wold: "When I was growing up, Williston was a small place. When you went shopping, you knew almost everyone you met. It's different now, of course, when there are so many people from all over the country."

Williston has literally exploded in the last five years: Instead of 12,000, 35,000 to 40,000 people now live here. And that doesn't even include the many thousands who live in so-called "man camps" outside the city - quickly erected container settlements where the oil companies cheaply accommodate their workers.

Cafe owner Megan says the boom has its good points: without it, she would never have had the chance to open her shop and be successful as a small business owner. But she also sees the downsides, for example the feeling of insecurity that the presence of so many strangers has brought to the place. When Megan was a child, she and her friends always roamed Williston alone. She would never allow her little daughter to do that:

"I hope we soon no longer have to worry about letting our children play outside on their own. Since the boom, it has happened more than once that strange children approached children and wanted to take them with us. I would not advise any children at the moment to travel alone. "

She, too, sometimes feels uncomfortable with the many strange men in town:

"I don't go to the pub with my girlfriends anymore. The excess of men is just unbelievable and that scares me a little. When you go out, you are surrounded by so many men."

There are no official figures, but long-time residents like Megan estimate that in Williston there are currently 80 men for every woman.

Every woman is examined

JDubs in south Williston is a typical country pub with wood paneling and a country band. It is well attended on this Wednesday evening. Most of the audience is male, every woman who walks through the door is eyed intensely from top to bottom. But the mood is not at all aggressive, the worst that can happen to you here is probably a stupid turn-on. In some corners of Williston things are very different.

Scott Bushing, a gnarled guy with a big mustache and a fat SUV, shows us along South Main Street. The 60-year-old is the Williston Sheriff and issues a warning:

"Just don't go to one of these bars - I wouldn't do it either. The bouncers are armed and half criminals themselves."

Since the boom, he and his people have been much more busy than before.

The oil workers with their loose money attract an unwanted clientele: strippers who sometimes earn more here in Williston than in Las Vegas, prostitutes, drug dealers. Scott Bushing had been sheriff for ten years when the oil boom started in 2008, and has been constantly upgrading staff ever since. He now has 62 civil servants, more than twice as many as a few years ago, and yet he can hardly keep up.

"Last weekend we had two murders, two suicides and a fatal car accident, plus a shootout with no injuries. It's just not normal."

Both murders were committed by drunk oil workers. One stabbed a colleague in a "man camp", the other shot a father of two from Williston in a bar. The boom has radically changed life here - on a large and small scale. Sheriff Bushing curses because he was so loud talking and he was ignoring one of his basic rules: Never try to turn left on Williston's main street where there are no traffic lights. The constant heavy traffic makes this practically impossible.

Cars and especially trucks roll bumper to bumper through the place, which changes its face almost every day, but always remains soulless. Where a few years ago there were farms and pastures, you can now see petrol stations, cheaply erected container housing complexes, and "nodding donkeys" - nodding donkeys - the arms of the oil rigs swinging up and down.

Supermarkets bought empty

North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate of any US state, and Williston is practically full employment. Shops like Walmart or McDonalds pay an unbelievable $ 17 an hour and still often spend weeks looking for employees. Grocery shopping regularly becomes a nuisance because the shelves in the few supermarkets are often bought empty, long lines of cars form in front of the fast food restaurants, and the power goes out regularly because the network is chronically overloaded.

Those locals who have benefited from the oil rush because they were able to sell the drilling rights under their property for dearly money accept the changes as a necessary evil. But many others find it difficult to cope with it, says Pastor Reinke:

"People have a very deep sense of loss. Here a pressure cooker simmers full of sadness that is not really recognized."

Some long-time residents couldn't stand it any longer in this place, which they no longer recognize and have moved away. Many of those who have stayed let the newcomers feel that they are unwanted, says John Kentworthy, oil worker of Pastor Reinke's Church:

"They told me right in the face that they didn't want us here. They pretend it's our fault that crime and prices have risen - but we're only here because we want work. We are simply narrow-minded country beasts that never knew city life before. "

The people of Williston are burned children: they have bad memories of the last oil boom in the late 1970s. At that time, the big companies invaded Williston for a few years, exploited the oil fields and then disappeared again. What remained was a broken church. This time it should be different, says Sheriff Bushing: The people should stay.

"Williston should be a nice place so that workers from Idaho, Michigan or Ohio want to bring their families here. For that we need affordable housing and then at some point we will have women and children here and a real community. As long as that doesn't happen, we'll stay dirty, shabby oil town. "

Affordable living space - that's where Gary Fendich comes in: The 32-year-old building contractor sits in his huge white Cadillac pickup truck, plays with his gold Rolex and looks proudly through his Gucci sunglasses at a construction site on the outskirts of Williston. 412 residential units are to be built here in the next few months: all terraced houses and single-family houses. Most of them will cost around $ 200,000, the equivalent of a good 150,000 euros. What Fendich offers is mass-produced, pulled up in piece by Mexican workers in around two and a half months. Fendich, the son of immigrants from Ukraine, got rich with the real estate boom in California and wants to make even more money here in Williston.

The energy in the city reminds him of California in 2006 - everyone is teasing something. The authorities in Williston are trying to keep the building boom under control and are no longer issuing building permits in a fast-track process. They want to prevent huge ghost settlements from being left behind when the boom is over and the oil companies and their workers, the hotel operators and their employees leave again. Nobody can say exactly when that will be: in ten years, in 15 years?

Pastor Jay Reinke sincerely hopes that his church will not have to be a Notherberg for so long. But until everyone in Williston has a place to stay, he'll give his little speech for every newcomer:

"You are a gift, for us and for Williston - welcome to North Dakota!"

Some then start to cry because they didn't expect anyone in this godforsaken town to be happy that they were there.

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