Let’s play a little game. Take a look below and see if anything stands out to you in this nighttime satellite picture from NASA:
Unsure what you’re looking for? Let’s highlight the anomaly:
So, do you have any guesses? If you said UFO, you’re way off. If you said secret nuclear facility, you’re still way off. But if you said that looks a lot like an oil boomtown, you’re onto something. According to NPR, those are thousands of oil rigs drilling into the North Dakota earth: That state has become the latest oil field to become an exploration must.
Here’s how NPR explains it (emphasis added):
There’s a patch that looks like a big city — but there is no big city in that part of North Dakota. There’s mostly grass. So what are those lights doing there? What is that?
What we have here is an immense and startlingly new oil and gas field — nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, or fiery flares of natural gas. One hundred fifty oil companies, big ones, little ones, wildcatters, have flooded this region, drilling up to eight new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day — double the output two years ago — so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire … to a disturbing degree. Literally.
But wait, there’s more (emphasis added):
Six years ago, this region was close to empty. The few ranchers who lived here produced wheat, alfalfa, oats and corn. The U.S. Geological Survey knew there were oil deposits underground, but deep down, 2 miles below the surface. It wasn’t till this century that the industry developed a way to pull that oil to the surface at a cost that made it practical. Fracking, as you probably know, means pumping water and chemicals down pipes, fracturing the rock, releasing the oil. The technology is hugely controversial, in part because of those lights.
When oil comes to the surface, it often brings natural gas with it, and according to North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, 29 percent of the natural gas now extracted in North Dakota is flared off. Gas isn’t as profitable as oil, and the energy companies don’t always build the pipes or systems to carry it away. For a year (with extensions), North Dakota allows drillers to burn gas, just let it flare. There are now so many gas wells burning fires in the North Dakota night, the fracking fields can be seen from deep space.
And if North Dakota becoming the number two oil state in America didn’t prove how fast it’s booming, maybe this stat will (emphasis added): “This oil rush is so sudden, so enormous, North Dakota now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. More than 41,000 workers got jobs there between 2008 and 2012. Only seven years ago, the U.S. was importing 60 percent of its oil. Now imports are down to 42 percent. The Bakken fields are helping to improve energy security.”
But with that boom also comes a darker side. Why? Because the influx of out-of-state workers looking to cash in by working in the oil fields mean there are now a lot more men than women in many of these boomtowns (some say 2-1). And when that happens, some women figure out that some men will pay a lot of money for certain adult services. The New York Times recently visited one such town — Williston, N.D. — and chronicled the sudden rise of the adult industry there (emphasis added):
Christina Knapp and a friend were drinking shots at a bar in a nearby town several weeks ago when a table of about five men called them over and made an offer.
They would pay the women $3,000 to strip naked and serve them beer at their house while they watched mixed martial arts fights on television. Ms. Knapp, 22, declined, but the men kept raising the offer, reaching $7,000.
“I said I make more money doing my job than degrading myself to do that,” said Ms. Knapp, a tattoo artist with dark streaks in her light brown hair, a bird tattoo on her chest and piercings above her lip and left cheekbone.
The rich shale oil formation deep below the rolling pastures here has attracted droves of young men to work the labor-intensive jobs that get the wells flowing and often generate six-figure salaries. What the oil boom has not brought, however, are enough single women.
At work, at housing camps and in bars and restaurants, men have been left to mingle with their own. High heels and skirts are as rare around here as veggie burgers. Some men liken the environment to the military or prison.
Some women have banked on the female shortage. Williston’s two strip clubs attract dancers from around the country. Prostitutes from out of state troll the bars.
Natasha, 31, an escort and stripper from Las Vegas, is currently on her second stint here after hearing how much money strippers made in Williston on a CNN report last year. Business in her industry is much better here than in the rest of the country, she said. She makes at least $500 a night, but more often she exceeds $1,000.
“We make a lot of money because there’s a lot of lonely guys,” she said.
And the Times’ money-making figures could be a low, according to Business Insider: “That may be a conservative estimate as word last year was dancers were making two to three times that amount, but club owners were concerned with IRS attention and prohibited employees from speaking to the press.”
It seems both men and women are flocking to the town for the big bucks.