The Bakken then, the Bakken now

I spent the winter break reading and correcting the text of The Williston Report, the public domain book from 1958 that will be republished (alongside updated chapters) by the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota this year or next.

I’ve also been reading a number of current books, including Bill Caraher and Bret Weber’s The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (an excellent book about which I’ll have more to say later) and Rick Ruddell’s Oil, Gas, and Crime (also excellent). Reading them side-by-side has revealed a number of points of comparison that give insight into the differences between the 1950s boom and the 2008–2014 boom. Over the next couple posts, I plan to highlight a few of them.

The first (and most revealing) is simply the scale of production. Here’s a table (derived from Samuel Kelley’s chapter, “The Economic Impact of Oil Development”) describing annual production from 1951 to 1954:

1951 1952 1953 1954
Williams County 25 1,481 4,248 4,135
Mountrail County 0 91 900 1,253
Other 0 26 218 637
North Dakota (TOTAL) 25 1,598 5,466 6,025

Here’s the updated version (from the statistics on p. xiv of “Oil In North Dakota: 2016 Production Statistics,” a report produced by the North Dakota Industrial Commission):

Granted, these reports don’t measure exactly the same thing, but the difference in scale is clear enough. The 1950s boom barely registers in comparison to the boom of the 1980s or, more dramatically, the most recent boom. Production in 1954 (in the entire state) was about 6 million barrels. Production in 2015 was more than 400 million barrels.

Soon (whatever that means!) I’ll post more points of comparison. They reveal that the effects of the most recent boom were also magnified, not surprisingly. So, more soon.


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