Did you ever wish you'd been around for the California gold rush of 1849? Or the Texas oil boom of the early 1900s?
Maybe you can't go back in time, but you don't have to.
The Bakken oil shale boom going on in North Dakota right now is just as big-if not bigger.
Just take a look at what's been happening in Williston, ND, the epicenter of the Bakken oil shale boom.
In Williston, it's like the recession never happened.
Unemployment is under 0.8% — that's right, less than 1%, far below the national average of 8.2%. And the new oil jobs pay well, too. The average oil worker is making more than $90,000 a year.
The flood of jobs has made Williston the fastest-growing small city in the United States.
Consequently, there was no collapse in home prices in Williston. The inrush of new employees to work the Bakken oil shale boom has actually created a housing shortage.
A one-bedroom apartment that went for $500 in 2005 costs at least $2,000 now. Builders literally cannot build homes fast enough.
The rapid population growth from the Bakken oil shale boom has left many people sleeping in cars and tents. Williston just this week was forced to pass an ordinance that makes it illegal to live in a camper within city limits.
And while other states have been cutting services, shedding jobs and raising taxes, North Dakota is building up the state trust fund and reducing property taxes. All that, and still it projects a $1 billion surplus for its two-year budget.
"This boom is just wild and crazy," Williston Mayor Ward Koeser told Governing magazine last year. "It's more than you can fathom."
Bakken Oil Shale Among the Largest Ever
The Bakken oil shale formation was discovered in 1951, but recovering the oil only became economically feasible with the development of "fracking" technology and rising oil prices.
Extracting oil from shale rock formations becomes profitable when global oil prices are above $60 a barrel. Oil has been over $100 a barrel for months, and many experts believe it will only go higher in the months and years ahead.
And while oil shale deposits have been discovered in many parts of the United States, the Bakken oil shale formation is among the largest ever found.
Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources Inc. (NYSE: CLR), a major player in the Bakken oil shale boom, told The Wall Street Journal last October that his company believes the formation holds 24 billion barrels of oil.
That figure doubles the proven oil reserves in the United States.
"Bakken is almost twice as big as the oil reserve in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska," Hamm said."We expect our reserves and production to triple over the next five years."
But unlike the mature fields of Prudhoe Bay, production in the Bakken oil shale region is still ramping up.
In the years leading up to 2005, production in the Bakken region was about 100,000 barrels a day. By February of this year, production had jumped to 494,000 barrels a day, a five-fold increase.
According to a recent study by Advanced Resources International, Bakken oil shale production will surpass 1 million barrels a day in 2015, eventually peaking at about 1.45 million barrels a day in 2020.
Bakken Oil Shale Boom Could Be Even Bigger
Despite all the amazing numbers surrounding the Bakken oil shale boom, they could be even bigger if not for several constraints.
The major thing holding the oil companies back is the inadequate infrastructure – not just the shortage of housing for workers, but roads not designed for heavy industrial use.
"Some roads are literally crumbling," Frontier Energy Group CEO Dan Eberhart told the Associated Press. "You've got potholes that could eat a truck."
Frontier has also had to cope with the housing problem.
"We've had to basically buy apartment complexes to put our people in," Eberhart said. "We've got campers around buildings. Housing is a giant, giant issue for us."
Frontier has gone so far as to saw down the size of the desks so more people can squeeze into an office.
However, as the infrastructure issues get resolved, the Bakken oil shale boom will accelerate at an even faster pace.
Another possible brake on growth could be environmental concerns over fracking, which the government has shown an increasing interest in regulating. That would add to the cost of working the Bakken oil shale, though not so much as to make it unprofitable.
The oil companies, however, are ready to deal with whatever the government throws at them.
"The industry is doing whatever they can to mitigate the [environmental] risk [of fracking fluids]," Brian Shactman, a CNBC News reporter who did a story on Williston last summer, said on the Scott Hennen Show. "I can guarantee you that every single company out here that has enough money is also researching what ways they can do it in a more organic way. They want to be able to continue working out here…There's just too much oil here and too much in profits."
Make no mistake, the amount of oil and profits from the Bakken oil shale boom will be as historic as the size of the reserve itself.
Money Morning has identified the five best prospects for investors that want to participate in the Bakken oil shale boom.
And you can read all about them in Monday's edition of Money Morning.
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- Advanced Resources International (PDF):
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- Bakken Oil.org:
What is the Bakken Oil Shale Formation: An Introduction
- Fox News.com:
Besieged by oil workers, North Dakota town seeks to ban campers
About the Author
Dave has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.
Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.