North Dakota county feels Bakken boom ebb away as oil falls

Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:00am EST
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By Ernest Scheyder

CROSBY, N.D. Jan 11 (Reuters) - Just over a decade ago, this sleepy farming community on the fringe of North Dakota's Bakken shale formation hosted the state's first horizontal oil well to be hydraulically fractured, or fracked, helping set in motion an economic revolution that shook the world.

Today, Divide County may be another vanguard for the state, this time ominous, as the first to feel the full effect of a collapse in prices that has lopped more than 50 percent off the price of oil since the summer.

Only five oil rigs were drilling in Divide County this week, down from 12 last August, according to state data. While those only account for a handful of the more than 162 rigs still drilling in North Dakota, the drop has been much steeper than elsewhere in the state and could signal trouble across the No. 2 U.S. oil producer behind Texas if prices continue to slide.

A "Coming Soon" sign still marks the spot on a patch of fallow farmland just outside of Crosby, the county seat, where a 200-person "man camp" to house oil workers was set to be built. Late last fall, Timberline Construction Group, an Alabama-based contractor, put the project on hold after an oil company pulled out of a housing contract.

In downtown Crosby, restaurants and bars report fewer rig workers, and foot traffic has noticeably slowed. Two businesses have been put up for sale.

"We still have our regulars, but the number of oil workers has thinned," said Bill Waters, owner of the Crosby Self-Serve, a popular lunch spot festooned with Coca-Cola memorabilia.

To be sure, it's far from doomsday for this town of 1,200, which is more reliant on wheat farming and ranching. The county pumps 3.4 percent of the 1.2 million barrels of oil produced daily in the state.

And yet the slowdown in oil business is more apparent in Crosby than some much-larger oil boomtowns such as Williston, just 70 miles (113 kilometers) south, which still appear to be thriving - albeit with gnawing trepidation - as oil prices continue their downward march.   Continued...