The BLS data for Williston continue to tell an unfortunate story of the rapid rise in employment and, for the most part, an equally dramatic reversal. One of the most frequent questions asked about this is whether there will be a reversal of the latest trend when (if?) oil prices recover. I think the jury is out on that front.
If shale oil demonstrated anything it is that technological progress can be brutally efficient. The August 2016 Director’s Cut report from the ND Department of Mineral Resources (available here) reported 1,026,584 barrels of oil produced per day in June with a rig count of 28. This is about a 16% decline in production from the all-time high reached in December of 2014 (1,227,483 barrels per day). Checking the rig count from December 2014 you would find that it was 181. So there is only a 16% decline in production while we have an 85% decline in the number of rigs.
This is not to say there could not be recoveries in employment as a result of oil price increases. There certainly could be, but I think there will be more caution on the part of both employer and employee in terms of the types of commitments made, and as a result the next time around will look different.
Williston and other communities like it will also need to think carefully in terms of short-, medium-, and long-term goals and how best to achieve those. Looking at the picture again it is hard to imagine how you deal with the increase in employment experienced in only a fiver-year span. I doubt any community plans for that type of increase, and remember this in the increase in employment, there were jobs going unfilled at this time. Williston had an unemployment rate below 1% for a significant part of this span.
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