What Does North Dakota's Oil Boom Mean For America?

Amy Harder

WILLISTON, N.D.—North Dakota is at the heart of America's oil and natural gas boom, producing more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day in June, roughly 10 percent of the country'soverall daily oil production.

For the last several years, oil production has skyrocketed in western North Dakota and eastern Montana as companies tap into the oil-shale formations called the Bakken and Three Forks. The Interior Department reported earlier this year that these formations had much more oil and natural gas stored deep underground than previous thought. North Dakota has thelowest unemployment rate in the country—at 3 percent—thanks in large part to the oil and natural gas industry and its ripple effects throughout the state. North Dakota also recently surpassed California and Alaska to become the second-highest oil-producing state in the country, behind Texas. The oil production has also helped the United States import the fewest barrels of oil since the mid-1990's.

To be sure, the energy boom is not without drawbacks. Environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing and other drilling technologies persist, although they're quieter than in more populated areas in the East such as Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formations. Oil and gas companies are flaring roughly a third of the natural gas in North Dakota because the infrastructure doesn't exist to move and process the gas. The flaring harms the environment and wastes money. Small towns like Williston, Watford City, and Dickinson are also struggling to get basic city infrastructure, including affordable housing, water and roads, up and running in order to accommodate all of the people moving in.

What does the state's oil boom mean for the entire country's economy, national security, and environment? How will it affect climate change?

What is North Dakota doing right? And what is it doing wrong? What lessons being learned in that state could be applied to the nation as a whole both in terms of energy production and environmental safeguards? What can North Dakota teach the rest of the world?