By Thomas DiPaolo, 2013 GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance
Out of North Dakota’s 53 counties, 19 are responsible for producing the oil and natural gas that has brought the state so much prosperity and attention. It’s the latest get-rich-quick scheme, and one that works better than that name would suggest: drive to North Dakota, work in the oil fields for six months, and go home with enough money to find something more permanent. This means that some of the quiet towns overlying the Bakken formation are exploding in size, and many of their new residents lack any connection to these communities when they’re off duty. In the past, similar population booms have been tied to a corresponding increase in crime rates and drug usage, and FracTracker Alliance has examined the available data to find out how much life has changed in North Dakota since the oil started to flow.
There’s a reason why the you have to drive to North Dakota if you want to stay in the black, and it helps if you’ve got a comfortable car.
Perhaps the biggest problem here, perhaps a cause of others, is that there is simply not enough housing for everyone who wants to work in North Dakota. Trailer parks pack every available inch of space for families from out of state prepared to settle in, becoming themselves towns in miniature, and one of the benefits to consider when working for one oil drilling company over another is to find out which ones are constructing dedicated worker housing and amenities. Familiarity doesn’t fail to breed contempt; demand for living space is so high, in fact, that families who have lived in these towns their whole lives are being forced out as rent prices rise without end. Meanwhile, many have taken to simply sleeping in their cars, and tensions have grown as stores forbid them from parking overnight in their lots.
With the number of people moving into the state to work in the oil fields, or in industries that support them, North Dakota’s population reached 699,628 in 2012, a jump from the 642,200 people of 2000. More people, of course, means greater effort required to keep the peace – The number of law enforcement officers accordingly jumped from 967 in 2000 to 1,253 in 2012. At first glance, one might think that did the job, since the crime rate fell from 2,203 index crimes1 reported per 100,000 people to 2,122 per 100,000 people, and the number of arrests per officer stayed constant (3.1 in 2000, 3.0 in 2012). That conclusion doesn’t hold up well when you look at how crime has fluctuated within the oil-producing counties.2 The population there has risen to 183,940 people, from just 167,515 people in 2000, and it currently employs 379 law enforcement officers, up from 250 officers. In 2000 the crime rate was already in excess of the state average at 1,582 index crimes reported per 100,000 people and 8.3 arrests per law enforcement officer. By 2012, those figures reached 1,629 crimes per 100,000 people and 12.8 arrests per officer. With only a quarter of the state’s population, the crime rate is three-quarters of the state average. This upswell applies especially to violent crimes. Violent crime reports, numbered at 558 statewide in 2000, nearly tripled to 1,445 in 2012; in the oil counties, they more than tripled from 103 to 363 crimes reported. That number carries through in the crime rate figures; statewide, 206.5 violent crimes occurred per 100,000 people in 2012, while only 86.9 crimes were reported per 100,000 people in 2000; in the oil counties, 197.3 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 people in 2012, compared to only 61.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2000. See Table 1 for a comparison of total and violent crimes between the year 2000 and the year 2012.
Table 1. Crime rates per 100,000 people in North Dakota (2000 vs. 2012)
|Total Index Crimes||Violent Crimes|
|Statewide||Oil Counties||Statewide||Oil Counties|
Where the line blurs is in addressing property crime. Until 2009, there had been a steady decline in the rate of property crime. Since then, however, it has been increasing every year, even if the 2012 figures are still beneath those of 2000. Statewide, the number of property crimes hovered at 13,592 reported crimes in 2000 and 13,402 in 2012, while in the oil counties they rose slightly from 2,547 property crimes in 2000 to 2,634 crimes in 2012. At the same time, the property crime rates fell both statewide (2,116 crimes per 100,000 people to 1,916 per 100,000 people) and in the oil counties (1,529 crimes per 100,000 people to 1,486 per 1000,000 people).
When you have that many single young men together, as so many of the oil field workers are, a market inevitably springs up for very particular crimes. Prostitution stings consume a greater quantity of police time than ever before, with some ND counties reporting their first prostitution arrests ever. In many cases, the suspects in these cases demonstrate a similar attitude to the oil workers they court: stay for a brief period (typically days rather than months), make enough money to support themselves, and keep going out of town. Officers often say that these cases are risky, as they require enough evidence to prove the intent of both parties to exchange money for sex. Without an undercover officer to carry out a sting, many cases could be accused of discrimination, especially in cases where race may be an issue. In other situations, sting operations have provided evidence of drug activity in addition to prostitution.
Juvenile Alcohol Use
In addition to the oil boom, North Dakota has the uncomfortable claim of being one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to binge drinking. It’s notable then to see that, while juvenile3 alcohol use has fallen drastically across the board, juveniles are developing more permissive attitudes towards alcohol use. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of juveniles who reported using alcohol within the previous month fell from 18,000 to 7,000, and it fell from 11,000 to 4,000 juveniles in regards to binge drinking4 on a weekly basis. At the same time, the number of juveniles showing signs of alcohol dependence or abuse fell from 6,000 to 2,000, and those described as needing but not receiving treatment for alcohol abuse fell from 5,000 to 2,000. Yet only 17,000 juveniles reported perceiving great risk from said binge drinking in 2011, where 22,000 had reported perceiving great risk in 2000. Why are more juveniles rejecting personal alcohol use while becoming less concerned with others’ usage?
Adult Drug & Alcohol Use
Whatever the reason, adult alcohol usage has demonstrated the opposite trend: more people are drinking but fewer enjoy it. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of adults using alcohol monthly rose from 286,000 to 320,000, and those binge drinking weekly rose from 144,000 to 165,000. The number of adults perceiving great risk from weekly binge drinking also rose from 173,000 to 183,000, but the number with signs of alcohol dependence or abuse rose from 33,000 to 47,000. Interestingly, the number of adults described as needing but not receiving treatment for alcohol use has barely changed in this time; 46,000 adults were characterized this way in 2000, as opposed to 45,000 of them in 2011.
Smoking and Marijuana Use
The one trend shared between both juveniles and adults is a steady increase in the number of people expressing permissive attitudes towards the use of marijuana. In 2000, 4,000 juveniles and 13,000 adults reported using marijuana within the previous month; by 2011, only 2,000 juveniles reported using marijuana within the previous month, but the number of adults doing so had jumped to 23,000. At that time, only 17,000 juveniles and 171,000 adults reported perceiving great risk from the use of marijuana on a monthly basis, down from 25,000 and 213,000 respectively in 2000. These figures come at a time when other forms of smoking are becoming less popular across the U.S. In 2000 in ND, 16,000 juveniles were using tobacco products on a monthly basis, and 13,000 were using cigarettes specifically; those numbers had fallen to 6,000 and 5,000 juveniles respectively by 2000. Even among adults there were small declines over this time period: 154,000 adults were using tobacco monthly in 2011 as opposed to 161,000 in 2000, and 121,000 adults as opposed to 128,000 were using cigarettes. And while the number of juveniles perceiving great risk from pack-a-day smoking fell from 38,000 to 32,000 between 2000 and 2011, while 346,000 adults perceived great risk from it in 2011, as opposed to 315,000 in 2000.
- According to the Crime and Homicide Reports of the North Dakota Attorney General’s office, index crimes are reported to the National Uniform Crime Reporting program managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to broadly describe the level of criminal activity around the country. They are divided into two categories, violent and property-related. The violent index crimes tracked by North Dakota are murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The property index crimes tracked by the state are burglary, larceny and theft, and motor vehicle theft.
- The North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties lists the following counties as its members: Adams, Billings, Bottineau, Bowman, Burke, Divide, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, McHenry, McKenzie, McLean, Mercer, Mountrail, Renville, Slope, Stark, Ward, and Williams.
- The National Surveys on Drug Use and Health define a “juvenile” as any person between the ages of 12 and 17 years, and an adult as any person aged 18 years or older.
- The National Surveys on Drug Use and Health define “binge drinking” as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting.