Death, Drugs, and Crime in the Oil Patch

The dark side of America's energy boom.

The oil-and-gas gold rush has sparked a crime wave. Earlier this month, the FBI announced plans to open a field office in Williston, North Dakota, a city at the center of America’s energy boom. The boom has been driven by fracking — a technique to extract oil and natural gas from shale rock that became widespread in the state around 2009. Since that time, the northwest corner of North Dakota has been transformed into a bustling hub of activity. But as workers flock to the region, police have been overwhelmed by a surge in crime.

Violent crime has risen sharply in the oil patch. Reports of criminal activity involving the use of force or injury have jumped dramatically since the boom began. The sharpest increase during the past decade was in aggravated assaults, followed by a rise in reports of robbery, murder, and rape.

North Dakota has also seen a quick and steady rise in arrests for drug possession and prostitution. Arrests for drug possession have nearly doubled since the early days of the boom, while arrests for prostitution have also shot up and appear poised to continue rising.

Sources: North Dakota Attorney General; Energy Information Administration; Staff reports