Oil field housing in North Dakota is in another transition. Oh, every transition is a frightening crisis.

Photo by James Ulvog.
What do you see? I see gasoline so you and I can drive to the grocery store to get dinner. Photo by James Ulvog.

While in Williston a week ago, I saw massive amounts of housing under construction and a lot that had been completed since my last trip there in February 2015. The amount of apartments and houses that have been built in the last two years is staggering.

A lot of new shopping is online too. I walked through the new Menards and Sportsman’s Warehouse. Both are huge, well stocked, and seem to have prices that aren’t ridiculous compared to Southern California. Both stores had crowded parking lots every time we drove by.

Huge, new Sportsmans' Warehouse store in WIlliston. Huge amount of apartments under construction behind the store. Photo by James Ulvog.
Huge, new Sportsman’s Warehouse store in Williston. Large number of apartment buildings are under construction behind the store. Photo by James Ulvog.

Sure do wish the sporting good stores in SoCal had the wide selection of guns along with the several-hundred dollar lower prices I saw at the Sportsman’s Warehouse. Wish there was as good a selection of ammo on the shelves here.

Read a few articles while in Williston on the long-expected transition from temporary housing to permanent housing.

Bismarck Tribune – Williston hedges on ending temporary housing – Williston city council did not approve mayor’s wish to close all man camps. He wants to shut them all down, this year.

There are 3,600 temporary beds under the city’s jurisdiction, with one half of them inside city limits and one half in range of the city’s extra-territorial reach.

Bismarck Tribune – Man camps dwindling into ghost camps – Many camps are seeing shrinking rentals.

One man camp I saw on the drive to Minot is dissembling trailers. Quite a few empty spots on their site. The article says the camp across the street is at very low occupancy.

Man camp across the road from this one is removing trailers. Didn't get a good photo of it. Photo by James Ulvog.
One of the camps mentioned in the above article. Mancamp across the road from this one is removing trailers. Didn’t get a good photo of it. Photo by James Ulvog.

This is an expected transition.

The plan over the last several years was to instantly build temporary housing, eventually build out permanent housing in due time, then close down the temporary housing as the infrastructure caught up.

In the early days of rapid growth, living out of cars and trailers was a crisis. Then the number of beds in man camps was a crisis. Now that the permanent housing is catching up with the number of people working in the area, closing down the man camps is a crisis. The slowdown in employment is actually leaving some, you know, occasional vacancies in apartments.

I actually saw several “for lease” signs in Williston last week. Imagine that. Sort of like a normal economy. Now that is a considered by some to be a crisis.

In May 2015 this apartment complex near 26th St and 32 Ave. was still under construction. Photo by James Ulvog.
In May 2015 this apartment complex near 26th St and 32 Ave. was still under construction. Photo by James Ulvog.

The latest woe-is-me crisis article:

9/29 – Bloomberg Business – The Real Estate Crisis in North Dakota’s Man Camps – The oil boom is over. Done.

Occupancy of man camps has collapsed. Occupancy of apartments is dismal. Clear implication of multiple comments, along with a few declarations of indisputable certainty, is that the permanent housing is severely overbuilt.

Scrapped RVs piled up in a junk yard are visual and anecdotal proof the whole economy has tanked instead of being the logical result of a regional infrastructure transitioning from temporary housing to permanent housing.

A collapsing economy is not even vaguely related to what I saw while in Williston the week of September 21. There were surprisingly few advertisements in any of the newspapers  for apartments and houses. (I read the Williston, Dickinson, Minot papers almost every day I was there).

In May 2015, this unit was only a leveled lot of dirt. Near 26th St and 32nd Ave. Photo by James Ulvog.
In May 2015, there was raw land where this apartment complex now stands. Near 26th St and 32nd Ave. View is from the roundabout at that intersection. Check out that blue sky. Yes, the sky is actually clear sometimes when I am in Williston. Photo by James Ulvog.

So it looks to me like anything that happens in North Dakota is a crisis. At least that is what news coverage says.

That leaves me asking the question I’ve wondered for decades: who do I believe: an agenda-driven news article, or my own eyes?

For perspective, the number of rigs in operation and the price of oil is roughly in the range of where things were shortly after the boom started. One of the main differences is that the infrastructure is almost built out enough to support the number of permanent residents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *