Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: North Dakota oil boom makes drilling rigs scarce


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

If you’re seeking employment this winter, you could head to Williston, N.D., and pick up skills that just might help a person find a job in Northwest Colorado in coming years.

Williston, in the midst of an oil boom, has an unemployment rate of less than 2 percent. The only catch is that your best bet for housing is a well-insulated camper in an unimproved campsite on the Missouri River. If you rent a space for your camper, it could cost you upward of $1,200 per month, according to a story published by National Public Radio.

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser told NPR this week that there are 2,000 to 3,000 unfilled jobs in his town of 12,000 people.

What does the oil boom in North Dakota have to do with Routt County, where a handful of energy companies are preparing to drill for oil?

Industry folks I’m talking to here say the boom in North Dakota is contributing to a shortage of drilling rigs in North America. So, it’s likely that companies, such as Shell Oil and Quicksilver Resources, that are interested in drilling for oil in western Routt County are likely to pursue several drilling permits from the county and hang onto them for a while. When they can get their hands on a drilling rig they could knock out their wells in succession.

Casper Star-Tribune energy reporter Jeremy Fugleberg wrote a story in March explaining the shortage. He reported that the root of the situation could be found in similar oil plays elsewhere in the United States. Those well fields are further along in their development than Northwest Colorado, where companies plan to drill more than a mile deep into the Niobrara shale. Companies working the Marcellus field in Pennsylvania, Eagle Ford in Texas and the Bakken oil field near Williston are creating high demand and higher rates for drilling rigs.

“A lot of those rigs, a lot of those crews went to North Dakota and they’ve got plenty of work,” John Roubitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, told the Star-Tribune.

Baker Hughes, an oil industry research firm, reports that Colorado had 77 active drilling rigs Sept. 23 compared to 69 one year ago. In contrast, North Dakota had 190 active rigs Friday compared to 132 one year ago.

You might be thinking that Williston, close to the Montana and Canadian borders, has a harsh winter climate. But a quick check shows its average daily temperatures are a bit milder than that of Routt County, and its snowfall is much less.

Does North Dakota have any drawbacks?

Well, I could find only four ski areas in North Dakota and all four have limited terrain. Huff Hills, near Mandan with 80 skiable acres and 425 vertical feet, is the big boy. Bears Den Mountain with 30 acres and 240 vertical feet, Bottineau Winter Park with 40 and 200 and Frostfire Mountain with 30 and 350 pretty much look like beginner hills. Your best bet might be to round up some drivers and head 316 miles and five hours west on Interstate 94 to Bridger Bowl outside Billings, Mont.

Other than that, it’s paradise.

So, if you want to broaden your understanding of the impact an oil boom can have on a small Western town, do an Internet search on Williston, N.D.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


kathy foos 5 years, 5 months ago

Sedgemo,thanks for that article,Burning off gas in North Dakota,I have not head of before.This is just such a nightmare with what can happen with this oil boom.When the oil tanks exploded in the Flattops Wilderness area 2007, it happened right by a creek(Hunt).The berm wasnt large enough,but they say the pollution was not reaching the creek,but no one really looked into it much to my knowledge..Since so many areas in Routt County are by water,and it is so important,it is not sensible to gamble with this unspoiled mountain area?It cant be good to breath that air,our air is pretty good now.Hayden power plant has air pollution controlls.Can we afford to let loose a wild card chance of stinking up this Vallety with stinking oil smell?Ten years from now will tourist's go somewhere else because of the fumes burning off with natural gas that no one wants to properly process at present,considering our remote location.They claim they want permission to gas frack for the product,but thats so that they can burn off product?Oil should be declared a rare earth mineral and be used conservativally saved for future manufacture only in the future.Dont let the oil companys do it the way that they are doing things today,the gas commission canot be everywhere at once and I am wondering who pays (besides the county)for the cleanup and compensation should things go naturally bad ? One point is that for each well site (with seperate jurisdictions) should have emergency action plans and money on hand for cleanup.Rio Blanco County is too far away to handle Dunkley Pass area etc.Are there plans in place for a quick emergency cleanup?Even the Yellowstone was fouled this summer with oil .


sledneck 5 years, 5 months ago

The way you lunatics are going, oil has already basically been "declared a rare earth mineral". Just who the hell would make that declaration official anyway? Definitly goes back to my comments to Lewi last week: Water is near everything so if the green nuts want to put something off-limits they just have to mention that particular resources proximity to water. When it comes to petroleum, Sun, you are an alarmist. You claim to be poor; unable to afford tickets to political dinners, etc. How will you afford gas when it's $7/ gal??? How will you heat your home when Nat gas is $9??? How will you afford electricity when it's price "necessarily skyrockets" ????? Unless you are a complete fool you surely undrestand that the policies you advocate will bring about those described eventualities, no???


Kristopher Hammond 5 years, 5 months ago

Sled: Do you really think that sun's comments are those of a lunatic? Prove to us that unrestricted drilling in the places where you sled will prevent gas from hitting $7/gal.


BeCoolHoneyBunny 5 years, 5 months ago

Unless we invent a way to make oil artificially cheap enough, "those described eventualities" will eventually happen anyway, no matter how much we drill.


kathy foos 5 years, 5 months ago

I cant afford gas now and I dont care.Some things are more important than money,that thing is public safety, water and air.Nothing is worth a trade off on those to me.Im not crazy,just trying to be real.Trying to help.I use pellet stove(lots of beetle kill here to use up.)Car pool when possible,dont go anywhere really.The economy has already stopped the poor people in their tracks.285 forclosures in this county since January(Im not poor I guess because I still own mine.) And 10 percent at least unemeployment with employers tax evading as a way of life by hiring visa workers over Americans.How does our tax base survive with employers sliding around the tax laws like they do?Sorry to get off topic,but since some think Im way off base ,I will say I only am saying these facts so maybe this county wont get polluted.If you think that there is no problem with this oil extraction going on in this county,you are the one Im trying to tell.You must know more about it in your own mind,with your own opinion,which I do respect,just dont agree.I dont call you a lunatic for your opinion,but you can call me what you want.It wont shut me up about the truth.In our county we have teen deaths(my son one)teen injurys(Hayden youth has a leg missing) I know the reality of oil production like you hopefully never will.You dont have anything else I know of that has harmed teens so drastically in this county beside car accidents,you cant deny the problem.It happened and is still happening all over our country.You cannot be apathetic any longer as the gas frackers are here and they will do to you like they did in Battlement Mesa.I trie to help , the power of this situation lies with apathetic people who just let it all happen,its a democracy,Ill follow the laws as they turn out,but its my right to change an ugly thing thats happening, if I can.Oil dosn't do well with safety in any respect and you like it anyway.I dont, my right and I dont want any water destroyed or air ruined or my property devalued ,I already live without one child in this valley to remind me of oil production every single day.I doubt I will ever stop.


spidermite 5 years, 5 months ago

Sun, Wasn't the tank explosion in 2007 do to vandalism? Weren't those tanks there for years(if not decades) without any problems before they were vandalized?


kathy foos 5 years, 4 months ago

It was a party place for over 40 years from what I heard from friends raised here that also used to go up there as kids that are grown now.I have been here since 1973 on and off but never saw or heard of anyone going there.Lots of kids have gone there and never had problems.One said that they used to shoot off fireworks off of the top.There wasnt any mention of fireworks that night,but several people had guns and were shooting them.There was a gun forund on the ground after the explosion(dropped?) that no one claimed,it was traced by the CBI back to a denver resident of miseastern origin,and was at the scene brought by someone else not registered to it.The tank was ruptured at the bottom and the brief examination said it wasnt shot,I personally have my doubts.The jumping that some did on the tank is what caused the explosion they say.I dont know if Sam jumped on it that night,but he was sitting up there on the rim when the explosion occured.The well was down for the winter with no maintanence and the probability of excess gas build up in the well was another possible factor.The thing was old from the fiftys and many kids thought it wasnt working anymore they said. Nothing was vandalized,but there were write ups from BLM about signing and fencing off the facility that were ignored with no repercussions.There are laws to do the signing and fencing ,but its not enforced.I maintain that those kids wouldnt be partying up ther if they had to crawl over the fence to get to that tank.Then it would be vandalized,it was an attractive nusience for a child.The Hayden boy was attempting to ride the well when he lost his leg.These facilitys should be fenced from naive kids .


spidermite 5 years, 4 months ago

I'm familiar with that location and there were "no tresspassing " signs posted . Jumping on the tank to build the pressure up was not a good plan. Trying to ignite the released pressure was another bad plan. Sounds like the tank was vandalized.


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