How Oil Made North Dakota Rich, in One Map

An oil drilling rig is seen September 29, 2010 near Stanley, North Dakota. The well is being drilled into the Bakken Formation, one of the largest contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas in the United States. It is an interbedded sequence of black shale, siltstone and sandstone that underlies large areas of northwestern North Dakota, northeastern Montana, southern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba.
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Dec. 12, 2013, 10:37 a.m.

North Dakota was the great ex­cep­tion to the Great Re­ces­sion.

The only area in the coun­try that saw both a wide­spread sig­ni­fic­ant in­crease in house­hold in­comes and a sig­ni­fic­ant de­crease in poverty rates over the past five years was North Dakota, spe­cific­ally West­ern North Dakota, ac­cord­ing to 2012 data the U.S. Census Bur­eau re­leased and mapped out on Thursday.

Me­di­an house­hold in­comes in more than half the counties in the state, in­clud­ing most on the west­ern side, where oil pro­duc­tion is boom­ing, are high­er today than be­fore the re­ces­sion began in 2007, and they’re also high­er in ob­ject­ive mon­et­ary terms than most of the rest of the coun­try. House­hold in­comes are also up in South Dakota. West­ern North Dakota’s oil patch is one of the few places that not only weathered the Great Re­ces­sion, but thrived. See the full ver­sion of this map.

Over the past five years, since 2007, 62 per­cent of all counties in North Dakota saw in­creases in their me­di­an house­hold in­comes, and 33 per­cent in South Dakota saw in­creases.

“One could say that these two states rep­res­en­ted nearly 50 per­cent of all counties which showed a stat­ist­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­ant in­crease in me­di­an house­hold in­come,” the bur­eau finds.

By con­trast, of the oth­er 3,000-plus counties na­tion­wide, just 56 had a sim­il­ar “stat­ist­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­ant in­crease” in house­hold in­comes. Of all the counties that had a sig­ni­fic­ant change in in­come levels, 89 per­cent saw de­clines.

West­ern North Dakota is one of the few areas out­side of the North­east and Mid-At­lantic re­gions that has counties with house­hold in­comes above the na­tion­al av­er­age, which was $51,371 in 2012. West­ern North Dakota was also one of the few areas where the poverty rate de­creased over the past five years, to be well be­low the na­tion­al av­er­age of 15.9 per­cent.

The Census Bur­eau doesn’t say what is caus­ing North Dakota to stand out as it clearly does in its maps. But the oil boom that’s taken over the west­ern part of the state — and is hav­ing ripple ef­fects throughout the re­gion and the rest of the U.S. — is in­dis­put­ably a huge eco­nom­ic driver.

The state pro­duced al­most a mil­lion bar­rels a day of pet­ro­leum in Septem­ber, its Min­er­al Re­sources De­part­ment re­por­ted in Novem­ber. That’s up from about 100,000 bar­rels a day in Janu­ary 2005. North Dakota has gone from be­ing the ninth-largest pro­du­cer of oil nine years ago to second be­hind only Texas today.

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