The oil boom in North Dakota has devastated the infrastructure in the area, causing David Petraeus, chairman of the KKR Global Institute, to call it a “war zone.”
According to Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who met with Petraeus after Petraeus visited the area in April, the infrastructure of North Dakota towns—including roads, schools, and public services—shocked the former military general into the description. While economically the boom is bringing in vast quantities of high-paying jobs, luring in workers from around the country, communities are suffering heavily from overpopulated schools, traffic-clogged roads, and a major increase in drug-related crime.
The oil fields, stretching from western North Dakota into Montana and part of Canada, have induced an enormous crime wave including murders, aggravated assault, rape, human trafficking, and robbery. The Mandan, whose reservation is in this area, have been hit the hardest.
“It’s like a tidal wave, it’s unbelievable,” said Diane Johnson, chief judge at the MHA Nation. According to Johnson crime has tripled in the past two years, and 90% of that crime has been drug-related. “The drug problem that the oil boom has brought is destroying our reservation,” she added.
While it’s true the oil boom could potentially bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the local tribes, they and other area residents struggle to provide enough health care, housing, and other community services. Law enforcement in particular is problematic; the 20-member tribal police force is struggling and losing officers every day to the higher-paying oil field jobs. With roving motorcycle gangs and increased incidences of heroin and methamphetamine use, current levels of infrastructure are just not cutting it.
Inspired by Petraeus’s description of the situation, lawmakers are working to effect positive change and improve area conditions. Republicans have unveiled an $800 million spending plan to help with infrastructure, dedicating 60% of oil production tax revenue to be distributed to local governments and 40% to the state. And Senator Connie Triplett, a Grand Forks Democrat, has warned that legislators need to agree on long-term solutions to help residents “prepare for the future.”