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Crime Surges in North Dakota’s Oil Country

Words by Leon Kaye

And you thought J.R. Ewing from the fictional prime-time soap "Dallas" was a tough cookie and an indictment of the oil industry.

It was not that long ago that North Dakota was so far off the radar that some powers-that-be were mulling chopping “North” off the state’s name to give the Peace Garden State an image makeover. Not that the state really needed it: The Badlands, spectacular outdoor scenery, rich art deco architecture and cool towns such as Bismarck, Jamestown and Fargo, make North Dakota well worth a visit. The state was also never really poor. Commodity crops, outsourced business services and some banking kept the economy steady. But then oil was discovered in the state’s Bakken region, and the biggest American oil rush since the west Texas boom kicked in.

Along with quick riches, skyrocketing real estate and environmental degradation, many towns in North Dakota began to experience a rapid increase in crime. Local police forces have become so overwhelmed that the FBI has now become involved.

The thought of asking the feds to beef up their presence in North Dakota, with its population of less than 750,000, seems odd considering the red state’s politics and general distrust of D.C. But even as cities and towns increase the size of their police forces exponentially, the uptick in crime has become too much for local law enforcement to handle.

As the Associated Press reported last month, the oil and fracking boom has rapidly transformed small and tranquil towns into bawdy and crowded centers of overpriced apartments, bars and nightclubs. Most newcomers, of course, are only interested in minding their own business while working at the oil patch jobs that pay over $100,000 a year. But with that boom and cash comes a bevy of social ills, the intensity of which local police officers struggle to manage. And, as in the case of many oil-producing regions, copious amounts of discretionary income and boredom cause temptation to beckon at just about every corner.

As one local police chief described to the press, an area that rarely saw out-of-state license plates had a sighting of a car registered in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Crime involving sex trafficking and drugs make the barroom brawls seem easy to confront — except those, too, are increasing with frequency. While crime has long been on the decline in much of the United States, the surge in violent and property crimes, which read like police blotters from the 1970s and 1980s, have led many locals to look over their shoulder and think twice before leaving at night. And yes, arrests of suspects who could have ties to Sinaloa drug hotels have occurred. Citizens in towns like Minot are putting up Facebook pages that are monitoring crime, and they have sizable memberships.

The oil industry is despised by many, and is often portrayed as the villain in both popular culture and everyday life; but until more viable and sustainable alternatives can scale, for now it is the foundation of countless raw materials, chemicals and, of course, energy. But the drastic changes in North Dakota demonstrate that while for many oil has been a blessing, for many others, it has also become a curse.

Image credit: Target Logistics

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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