Tom Ross: North Dakota oil boom makes drilling rigs scarce |

Tom Ross: North Dakota oil boom makes drilling rigs scarce

Tom Ross

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

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