North Dakota's Oil Boom

Underlying northwestern North Dakota is a massive rock formation, referred to as the Bakken shale, which holds an estimated 18 billion barrels of crude oil. When this resource was first discovered in 1951, recovering it was financially unfeasible because the oil was embedded in the stone. Then, around 2008, everything changed, and North Dakota boomed. New drilling technology called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," became widespread, and oil production took off. As of 2013, there are more than 200 active oil rigs in North Dakota, producing about 20 million barrels of oil every month -- nearly 60 percent of it shipped by rail, rather than pipeline. The rigs and support systems have resculpted the landscape, millions of dollars are being spent on infrastructure upgrades across the area, and thousands of oil field workers have arrived, living in new or temporary housing. Gathered below is a collection of images of this recent boom, spread across North Dakota's wide open plains.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Matt Eich

    Americans at Work: A Husband Captures His Wife's World

    This week, our “Americans at Work photo essay features photographs of Melissa Eich, a speech pathologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, taken by her husband Matt Eich.

  • Safin Hamed / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: 2/18–2/24

    Flooding in California, unrest at town hall meetings across the U.S., the Naked Man Festival in Japan, continued fighting in Iraq and Syria, the end of a long-term protest in North Dakota, horse racing on a frozen Swiss lake, and much more.

  • Guillermo Arias / AFP / Getty

    10 Days Along the Border

    Earlier this month, Agence France-Presse photographers Jim Watson and Guillermo Arias traveled the length of the U.S.–Mexico border.

  • Stephen Yang / Getty

    Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Burn Their Camp Ahead of Evacuation

    For months, protesters have camped in the frigid North Dakota winter, opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Recently, state officials ordered them to evacuate the campground, located on federal land, due to spring flooding.

Join the Discussion