Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Boomtown strippers: canaries in the oil fields

Let me start off by saying I was only trolling on CNN when I found this article. I swear.

With the high price of fuel, America is developing domestic sources of crude oil more and more aggressively. While most Americans probably think of Alaska and former governor Sarah Palin's "Drill, baby, drill," several states have oil production including North Dakota. The center of North Dakota's oil production is the city of Williston, which sits on the Bakken oil formation. The boom also impacts the town of Watford City. Williston has a population of about 14,716 and Watford has only 1,744 residents (both towns populations are on this page). The oilmen are working around the clock, and production is so high the state has a website with daily reports about what wells have been tapped, capped, or abandoned.

With billions of barrels of oil sitting under Montana and North Dakota, the boom is on. Hundreds of men have rushed to North Dakota to work on oil rigs or in the support industry. Much like Alaska's oil pipeline rush, rural North Dakota has been flooded by very lonely men. And this means that sex workers have found their way to non-urban Williston.

The most notable sex workers have been the exotic dancers that have been trying to find work in the town's two strip clubs. While I couldn't find any information about when the clubs opened up, I'd guess that they opened at the beginning of the boom or maybe expanded when it occurred.

Dancers report making thousands a night in the CNN article."We make more than doctors" states one woman, "Back in the day, it was hard to make $200 a night. It was like pulling teeth. Now you can pull in $2,000 a night." An owner of one of the clubs confirms this stating that on a slow night a dancer can make $1,500.
That's about the same amount the dancer would make in one week working in Las Vegas.

So dancers from around the country want to come work in this little city that was once only known for the railroad's grain elevator. While there are no firm numbers, it is highly likely that there is prostitution happening around Williston as well. There just cannot be that many men with disposable income to spend on strippers and not have a few men that are interested in prostitutes.

And its not only dancers making big money. Fast food workers are making up to $15 an hour. The oil men come off four day shifts and are often paid before being let go for a four day break. So they come to town with a lot of money in their pockets and a lot of steam to release. This means bars, restaurants of all stripes, and yes, strip clubs, get flooded with cash.

But not all are happy with this influx of cash and roughnecks. CNN also reported on the rural community's adverse reaction to all the outsiders. The article did not touch on citizen's reactions to strippers and hookers, but locals are worried about increasing crime. There have been 16,495 crimes reported in the Williston community, and the article claims this is triple the rate of last year. Many of these crimes are sex related. Housing costs have also sky rocketed. If strippers are making $2,000 a night, they can afford expensive housing. But women in more conventional fields, like nursing, are being priced out as observed in CNN's local perspective article.

There are probably a lot of rural communities with very poor economies that would gladly trade places with oil rich western North Dakota. But I have to wonder what the citizens of Williston would have to say to those other rural communities about streets filled with "loose women" and speeding trucks.

While the boom of oil has brought in exotic dancers with the call of easy paydays, the bust may be foretold in the strip club as well. As the North Dakota boom begins to settle, there will be fewer oil men with smaller paychecks, and that will mean less money being thrown around the strip clubs. Just as dead canaries signaled it was time to get out of a mine during gold rushes; we might see the forthcoming bust of the North Dakota oil run when the strippers leave Williston.


Azar said...

I can't imagine that the longstanding residents would be thrilled with this (ahem!) development. I guess if there is greater "need" for strippers than there are for doctors, you kind of let the economics run their course? It's a pretty sad byproduct if you ask me, but I guess I'm old-fashioned.

princesspeach said...

$2,000 a night? For some reason I do not believe CNN's numbers. If it is true, looks like it's time for me to move. It would be interesting to see how this would affect the town in the long run. Short term wise, the women and the oil workers now have money to spend in the local economy. However, looking into the future, I wonder if this model is sustainable, especially since the longstanding residents could be squeezed out with the increase in home prices.

JT said...

NPR reported today on this topic as well: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141717285. In addition to increased crime and prostitution, they also report on ended marriages, even. In terms of "economic byproducts," there are also talks of building a "club" that would supply prostitutes to drilling workers. At the same time, the question again returns to whether the benefits of the oil boom (economic or otherwise) outweighs the drawbacks such as prostitution and crime.

Scarecrow said...

While strippers attract media attention, city planning problems are a greater concern of rapid development. All these new workers need places to live and shop. If communities haven't prepared for developing beyond their boundaries, construction projects could be approved haphazardly. Environmentally sensative areas could be built over and unsafe buildings could sprout up, especially if there aren't enough building inspectors to make the rounds.