“A Big Extended Family”: Oil Boom Turns Tiny North Dakota County Into Nation’s Fastest Growing Populace

Maybe someone should alert the Biden administration that oil and gas isn’t 100% evil after all. 

In fact, the industry has singlehandedly turned around a county in North Dakota, making it one of the fastest growing counties in the country, according to AP.

In fact, after the motels of McKenzie County filled up, workers looking for steady wages and steady work “began sleeping in cars, tents, trailers”, just so they could make their way to the county. Families followed, helping boost the county to “the nation’s fastest-growing county during the past decade”.

“Our little town just blew up at the seams,” said resident Dana Amon. The empty space Amon remembers as where she used to ride her horses is now “mile after mile of worker camps, shopping centers, subdivisions, hotels, truck yards and warehouses”.

The county has been growing non-stop over the last decade, despite the fluctuations in oil prices. 

Crude produced in the county was up 1,800% from 2010 to 2014. Over the course of the decade, the county’s population more than doubled to over 14,000 residents. 

The median age over the county is 30, down from 39 in 2010. Median household income is up 61% to almost $78,000 over the same period of time. 

The locals and the “imports” have started to co-exist, a decade later. Yolanda Rojas, an Arizona, native who followed her husband with their five children a year after he got a job in the oil fields, told AP: “I tell the locals, ‘If you guys kick me out, I’m not leaving. It’s my town,’”

Rojas saved enough money to open a Mexican restaurant at the same time Covid hit. People in the community kept the restaurant afloat during Covid by ordering takeout. 

10% of the county’s population is now Hispanic and about 10% is American Indian. Oil was first discovered in the area in the 1950s,  but the transition to fracking helped unlock crude reserves in North Dakota that were once inaccessible. 

Howdy Lawlar, who chairs the McKenzie County Commission and has been in the area for five generations, said: “I feel like we’re becoming a big, extended family. It’s a good thing.”

Farmhand Charlie Lewis, who came for oil field work but stayed to work on a farm, concluded: “People come for the work and stay for the community. The only time I think of going back is when it’s 40 below.”

You can read AP’s full writeup here.