NORTH DAKOTA -- When you think of North Dakota, you might not picture a land of prosperity. But that's exactly what's happening there, thanks to a huge oil boom.
The history books tell us about the famous 1800s California Gold Rush, when people headed west to strike it rich. Today, in western North Dakota, the oil rush is on for people like Curtis Hanzel.
"This is not a boom that's going to fizzle in three or four or five years," Hanzel told CBN News. "This is going to be a long time 30-year boom."
This big boom covers more than 200,000 square miles in the Bakkan oil fields. This isn't a "Beverly Hillbilly" strike because the oil is actually in underground rock.
New drilling technology, called fracking, means that the roughly 170 billion barrels of crude oil can now be unearthed.
'Black Gold' Rush
Oil production has zoomed up 600 percent in the last seven years, putting North Dakota as the second largest oil-producing state in the nation behind Texas.
There are about 180 or so oil rigs in the state, and now many families are traveling here specifically looking at all of the juicy economic possibilities.
In many oil operations, workers keep their family and home in another state. But in this case many families choose to live here permanently.
Hanzel left his Utah real estate job and brought his family here two years ago.
"I realized that this was an opportunity to get in on the cusp of something that I think will be good for us in the long run," he said.
It's been good for Hanzel's family and many others. The average oil worker in North Dakota makes $112,000. Beginners start at $66,000.
Even those not in the oil businesses are making more money. The population increase means more demand so the local McDonald's and Walmart are hiring workers starting at $14 an hour, and many times they add a healthy signing bonus just for agreeing to work there.
On the other end of the scale, the number of North Dakota millionaires has climbed rapidly. Last year, the state ranked 43rd in millionaire households. Now, they're 29th and climbing.
"We have been able to live very comfortably," Hanzel told CBN News. "Enjoying some things... for instance vacations, those kinds of things and still put a good chunk of money away for the future."
The economic news gets even better in North Dakota, as the following statistics show:
- The unemployment rate is a staggering low 3 percent.
- 75,000 jobs have been created in the past few years.
- The state economy is growing at five times the national average.
A Mixed Blessing
All of this, however, had led to some growing pains. Dennis Johnson, the mayor of the small oil boom town of Dickinson, said the growth has been a mixed blessing.
"The majority of the people, probably 60 to 70 percent, are positively impacted by the oil development. But there is probably a minority of 30 to 40 percent that is a negative impact," he said.
Housing is a good example of the negative impact. Demand is so great that two-bedroom apartments that used to rent for $500 are now going for close to $2,500.
"It's increased our housing costs quite a bit, and I feel sorry for people who don't have the big oil jobs," Dickinson resident Diane Brust said.
In addition, the increase in people has led to more crime, especially among the young single men hoping to strike it rich.
Western North Dakota resident Nathina St. Pierre has a warning to the young single ladies.
"It's a scary place out here for women," she said. "And when girls come out here now they think it's flattering like I did when I first got out here. And I very quickly reassure them that it's not and they need to be very careful because these guys will take advantage of you."
There's no doubt this Bakkan oil field area has challenges. But for Hanzel and families like his, the positives surely outweigh the negatives.
"If we do our part, then God will take care of us," Hanzel said. "And we've had to put that to the test a number of times and so I don't want to make it sound like its routine, but for my wife and I it was just another challenge."
That challenge is proving fruitful for the thousands striking it rich in the oil fields of North Dakota.