When oil prices fall, one of the first things cut is the number of drilling rigs – and the number of workers who man them. With falling rig counts in Texas, North Dakota and in Colorado comes more competition for the remaining jobs on drill sites.
Neil LaRubbio was one of those workers. This is his firsthand account as one of those fighting to keep his place in the industry.
Researchers from the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder have begun a new study to measure air pollution from oil and gas fields across the West.
The scientists are flying a small airplane across numerous oil and gas basins, from North Dakota's Bakken oil field, through Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, and all the way down to Texas. They will take measurements of methane as well as ozone precursors, and aim to answer the question: Why do some oil and natural gas production basins pollute more than others?
Bottineau County, North Dakota – just south of the Canadian border in the central part of the state – has been producing oil for decades, but has largely been left out of the state's recent boom. Now, rusty pumpjacks and tanks rise above a green quilt of soybeans and wheat.
Daryl Peterson stopped his truck in the middle of a field, right by a large expanse of bare soil caked with white salt and covered with pools of standing water. In July 2011, a wastewater pipeline here leaked, damaging some 24 acres of land. The pipeline was from a well operated by Petro Harvester, a Texas-based oil company whose focus is aging oil fields.
The oilfield spill problem here has been getting worse for years, but state regulators and inspectors have downplayed how bad it really is – and have made it difficult to fact-check their claims.
"Man camps" are a defining characteristic of an oil boom. Development happens so fast, there's never enough time to build adequate permanent housing - so temporary worker housing takes up the slack. When oil prices come crashing down, the man camps empty out.
Two researchers from the University of North Dakota, Bill Caraher and Bret Webber, said this housing boom-bust cycle is just part of a long history of settlement on the northern Great Plains. As part of their ongoing North Dakota Man Camp Project, they visit dozens of RV parks across the Bakken multiple times a year, interviewing residents and taking note of changes.