The Black Gold Rush – Bakken Formation Oil Boom

The Black Gold Rush in the Bakken Oil Range Photograph

I have been hearing so much about the big oil boom in the Bakken Formation, I decided I needed to go. The oil boom is affecting much of western North Dakota and Northeast Montana. Williston, North Dakota is in the heart of oil rush and also the largest city in the area. New oil drilling techniques and technologies is what has made to oil extraction possible and feasible in the recent years. Fracking is a big part of this new oil business in the Bakken oil fields and much of the special sand needed for fracking comes right from my home state of Wisconsin.

Some of the stories I heard that coaxed me to head west included mobs of RVs taking over the Williston Wal-Mart’s parking lot, $17 hour starting wages at local fast food restaurants, help needed signs everywhere, gas stations with entire walls of hot gas station food, thick mud on the floors holding doors open, studio apartment rent as high as $1200 a month with larger places well over $3000 a month and stores so busy that they no longer could keep the product on the shelves and just parked pallets in the aisle-way. The stories didn’t end there either. I heard even more on my trip west that included stories about store excepting credit only as any cash on hand could prompt being robbed as the crime was getting so bad in the area. The stories continued once I arrived in the Bakken range about temporary postal workers making $22 an hour, man camp murders, and near lawlessness.

A couple of stories stuck out. One was about the nightly fights that happen in front of the bars and dance clubs in downtown Williston. The fights start around 9pm and sometimes go on throughout the night. When police arrive, it appears not much happens and sometimes they don’t even intervene. Another includes many men that come of the train with no money and no idea what there next step is. They heard about the oil boom but missed the memo on lack of housing. They show up thinking the oil company bosses are waiting at the passenger station to give them a job. It is amazing with the amount of information available on the internet that they would at least line up some contact information before heading hundreds of miles into the unknown. The one story that amazed me the most was about how many homeless vagrants would head to the money rich Bakken region looking for free handouts, homeless shelters, and other ways to pull money out of the economy without contributing. I can’t imagine what they do when the cold North Dakota winter sets in.

I didn’t experience all of the stories I heard but I did experience a few of them and could easily see how a few others were very plausible. Much of the area I think was getting slightly caught up to the huge inflow of people. Wal-Mart did kick the campers out of their lot and their huge store was fully stocked and very busy. Vagrants did roam the streets of Williston while others were just passed out from the night before. Below I will share what I saw in my trip around the Bakken oil region.

530am in the Bakken Oil Fields Medora ND Truck Stop Photograph

My mornings usually started at 5:30 am in my trucks front seat at a busy truck stop. These truck stops are busy all night long hundreds of trucks coming and going throughout the day and night. You know you are in the Bakken region when no matter where you look, you see something made of steel related to natural gas or oil. The open North Dakota landscape in this area is full of pipes jutting out of the ground, tanks, oil drilling rigs, and oil pumpjacks. None of these structures look like they belong to the landscape but a few are painted to blend in. Most of these structures are unmanned with the oil well pumpjacks  just slowly rocking up and down in a soothing motion.  You will find these oil pumpjacks in wheat fields, just outside of towns, top of plateaus, or anywhere else oil is located below. The deeper you get into the region, the more and more oil drilling rigs you will see. The oil drilling rigs are much larger and taller than any other structures that you will see and are fully manned around the clock.

Moon Light Over The Bakken Oil Storage Tanks Photograph

Bakken Oil Pumpjacks Dot the North Dakota Landscape1 Photograph

Oil Pumpjack in the North Dakota Badlands PhotographNorth Dakota Oil Well and Storage Facility PhotographGrain and Farming Still Dominate North Dakotas Economy PhotographBeach ND Grain Elevator Stands Over Temporary Housing Photograph

Once you get deeper in the Bakken region you will start seeing RVs in places that look out-of-place like in people’s yards, in middle of towns, in fields, or thrown together camps. These camps can be easily identified by the large trucks and work vehicles parked out front. Eventually you will come across one of the many rail loading facilities. These oil loading facilities take oil either from tanker trucks or via pipeline which are then loaded onto railroad tank cars for shipment across the country. If you are seeing oil loading terminals and/or oil drilling rigs, I am sure you will also see a few man camps. Man camps are usually built by the oil companies for their employees and are pre fabbed living quarters put together into a small community usually with central amenities including food cafeteria, laundry, exercise room, and rec room.

Laundry in the Wind in Beach ND Campers Dot Every Town in the Bakken Range PhotographRailroad Oil Tank Cars Roll Across the Bakken Oil Range PhotographOil Pumpjack in a Montana Farm Field PhotographSidney Montana Oil Loading Facility PhotographSidney Montana Oil to Rail Transfer Loading Station PhotographOil Worker Attaches Hose to Tank Car at Sidney Oil Transfer Facility PhotographHorses Graze Montana Fields As Oil Trains Crisscross Them PhotographRandom Oil Field Worker Camps Are All Over The Bakken Range PhotographMakeshift RV Park in Sidney Montana PhotographWelcome to Western North Dakota Photograph

The roadways are also extremely busy with heavy truck traffic transporting oil, gas, heavy equipment, water, chemicals, and everything else needed to support all the industries. No matter where you look you will see trucks hauling something and if you don’t see a truck you will see a help wanted sign or a sign with the latest deals on it. The population increase started to become more and more apparent as I circled around from west-central North Dakota west into Montana and up and around back east towards Williston. Oil Gets Transported By Truck and Train PhotographBakken Oil Tanks Roll Across North Dakota Highway 58 PhotographBNSF Crew Putting Together Their Oil Train on the Montana North Dakota Border A Large Oil Well Can Be Seen in North Dakota PhotographMan Camp in a Field in North Dakota PhotographThe Hot Summer Sun Bakes a Man Camp in North Dakota PhotographSemi Truck Oil Transfer Plant PhotographOil Tanker Loading Facility Near Fairview MT PhotographRV Space for Rent Near Oil Tanks PhotographA Camper Sits in Middle of a ND Field PhotographTank Trucks Haul Oil Water and Chemicals to Oil Wells PhotographA Tank Truck Speeds Across The Bakken Past Oil Wells and Storage Tanks PhotographOil Workers Homes in Trenton North Dakota PhotographHelp Wanted Because of the Oil Rush in the Bakken Oil Field PhotographCampers and Grain Elevators Dot the North Dakota Landscape Trenton PhotographTrenton North Dakota Water Filling Station PhotographBusy Roads ofTrenton North Dakota Free Sandwich PhotographRose Rock Midstream Trenton Loading Station PhotographPlains Pipeline Loading Facility Between Trenton and Williston PhotographInsanely Busy Conoco Gas Station in Williston PhotographNew Canadian Pacific Track Construction for Oil Traffic From New Town ND at Drake ND PhotographPre Made Man Camps For Sale PhotographSome Parts of Williston Harder Hit From the Bakken Oil Boom Photograph

Williston is where the biggest part of the oil boom was happening. The population increase was incredible to see with large hotels going up just as fast as the drilling rigs in the area. Every construction site was also fall of RVs to house all of the construction workers. Many of the oil companies have bought out all the rooms and some of the hotels with others advertising weekly rates of $700. Parts of Williston are pretty tough with the outer parts of the town completely brand new. From Williston east on highway 2 was all new construction. New roads, new pipelines, new pumps, and rigs. Everything was under construction in some form or another. There was also no shortage of prefab homes coming west down the highway.

Williston Hardest Hit by the Bakken Oil Rush PhotographWaiting for the Bus Leaving Williston ND PhotographJefferson Lines Bus Ticket Out of the Bakken Oil Fields in Williston North Dakota PhotographBasin Cab Co at Amtrak Passenger Train Station PhotographOil Worker Passed Out in Front of Whispers Erotic Dance Club in Williston PhotographBags and Bags of Flyash for Oil Drilling PhotographBags of Ceramic Proppant on Loading Dock PhotographFlat Bed Trailers Full of Oil Well Ceramic Proppant PhotographWilliston Industry for Bakken Oil Fields PhotographRed River Supply Facility in Williston PhotographBrand New Large Hotels in Williston North Dakota PhotographNew Best Western Hotel Construction in Williston North Dakota PhotographNever Ending Building Construction in Williston ND Bakken Oil Fields PhotographSun Flowers and Oil Wells PhotographOil Platform in Williston North Dakota PhotographNorth Dakota Man Camp PhotographAtco Williston Lodge Man Camp PhotographWilliston Atco Man Camp PhotographEndless Construction in the Bakken Oil Range Williston Oil Well PhotographNew Hotel and Truck Stop Construction Outside of Williston North Dakota PhotographEndless Truck Convoys Carring Pre Fab and Mobile Homes Across North Dakota PhotographNew Oil Pumpjack Facility Under Construction PhotographOil Tanker Truck Loads Oil Outside Williston ND Photograph

As the sun begins to set, you start to notice a landscape full of small fires everywhere. These flames are from all of the oil pumpjacks and drilling rigs that need to burn off small pockets of natural gas that come up as they pump or drill for oil. Without pipelines to transport the natural gas they need to burn it off. All of these facilities have flare stacks just for this purpose. It wasn’t just Williston that was full of new construction as every small town east of was also.

Huge Flames From Natural Gas Flare Stack PhotographBakken Oil Well PhotographSemi Trucks Hauling Man Camps Down Highway 2 PhotographOil Pipeline Construction Across the Bakken Range PhotographNew Oil Pipeline Construction PhotographNorth Dakota Oil Well Platform in Bakken Range PhotographNew Oil Pipelines Flare Stacks and Oil Well Near Temple ND PhotographPipeline Construction Across North Dakota Plains PhotographSunset Pumpjack in the Bakken Range PhotographOil Loading Facility in the Bakken Range PhotographOil Tanks in the Badlands of North Dakota PhotographBakken Oil Range Natural Gas Flare Stack PhotographCoal Train Rolling Past Sully Springs ND Pumpjack Oil Well PhotographBakken Oil Range Pumpjack Detail PhotographDetail Shot of a Pump Jack Oil Well in Bakken Oil Fields PhotographCampers Set Up in Medora North Dakota PhotographTruck Stop and Diesel Fuel for Oil Rush PhotographNew Home Construction In North Dakota PhotographNew Gas Station and Hotel in Tioga North Dakota PhotographRailroads Running Out of Places to Hold Oil Tank Cars PhotographFire in the Sky Above Oil Tank Cars Being Loaded in Stanley ND PhotographHigh Security Around Stanley Railroad Tank Loading Facility PhotographNew Stanley Railroad Oil Loading Plant PhotographFlames From Natural Gas Burn Off Paint This Oil Well Pumpjack a Firery Orange PhotographOrange Flame From Natural Gas Burn Off at Oil Pump Flash Stack PhotographTypical Small North Dakota High Plains Town Tioga ND Photograph

An example of one of these small town is Tioga which still has its small town charm even though there are new hotels, a gas station, and oil refinery in town. Once your down on Main Street it was like the oil boom didn’t even exist.  Hopefully these small town will be able to hang onto this quality without succumbing to the crime that seems to come to many of the larger towns.

Some of the Small Town Lifestyle Remains as Seen on Main Street Tioga PhotographTeens Gather at There Hangout Spot at Dusk in Tioga North Dakta PhotographBakken Oil Pumpjack in Motion Under Night Skies PhotographRishing Moon Over Badlands Oil Well PhotographRailroads Rule the Small North Dakota Oil Towns Medora PhotographOil Facility In Tioga North Dakota PhotographTrains Speed Through the Night Stanley ND PhotographLightning Strike in North Dakota Oil Fields PhotographHeavy Oil Truck Traffic Through New Town ND PhotographHigh Crime in the Bakken Oil Range New Town North Dakota PhotographOil Rig in the North Dakota Night PhotographMedora ND Oil Drill Platform PhotographMedora North Dakota Oil Well Flare Stack PhotographBakken Oil Drilling Facility at Night PhotographOil Employee Working in the Night on the Bakken Oil Fields PhotographBakken Oil Platform Worker PhotographOil Worker on Bakken Oil Rig PhotographOil Worker Walking to Oil Platform Loading Dock PhotographOil Platform Work Being Done Throughout the Night Photograph

Bakken Oil Drilling Platform in North Dakota1 Photograph

Travis Dewitz Powerlines Portrait Thumb PhotographThrough the creative lens of Travis Dewitz; he demonstrates time and time again how much splendor can be extracted from the interplay of the industrial world around us. In the most unusual and unexpected places Dewitz showcases images that embody the forgotten beauty of railways, factory floors, the rolling smoke of steel mills, and the cities that are built around them. He brings a certain magic as he invokes the very souls of these once-glorious industrial areas; his captures overflow with inspirational energy. Click here to view his personal series.

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Also check out my artistic piece about a Oil Well Pumpjack Exploding to Life.Oil Well Jackpump Chaos 4 300x215 Photograph



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  • Ron Vezzani via Facebook - September 9, 2012 - 10:03 pm

    Once again Travis….nice work!ReplyCancel

  • Thank you, Ron.ReplyCancel

  • Alex Silka via Facebook - September 9, 2012 - 10:17 pm

    Awesome documentation, and photography Travis!ReplyCancel

  • Nancy Fazio Green via Facebook - September 9, 2012 - 11:00 pm

    Great photos really enjoyed themReplyCancel

  • Thank you Alex and Nancy.ReplyCancel

  • Mark Perry via Facebook - September 10, 2012 - 9:46 am

    Incredbile stuffReplyCancel

  • Dewitz Photography - Travis Dewitz via Facebook - September 10, 2012 - 10:17 am

    Thanks, Mark.ReplyCancel

  • Mark Perry - September 10, 2012 - 2:42 pm


    Been a prairie boy all my life, those are some mighty fine and incredible images, small town Tioga being the fave. Well done my freind, well done…ReplyCancel

  • LocalRailfanPhotography - September 10, 2012 - 7:43 pm

    While browsing the recently added photos on I came across one of your shots which led me to this webpage. I had heard of such an oil boom in the past but never in detail. This series of photograph’s definitely showed an in-depth look at what exactly is happening out in North Dakota. Unique shots, would be interesting to see if anyone shoots the oil boom out in Alberta…ReplyCancel

    • Travis Dewitz - September 10, 2012 - 7:49 pm

      Yes it would be. Nothing tells a story of an area better than a larger selection of photographs. I enjoy viewing them and that is one reason why I have done a few myself of subjects I am interested in. Many more planned.ReplyCancel

  • Bakken Oil Business Journal via Facebook - September 11, 2012 - 4:08 pm

    Very nice.! Any interest in publishing in print ?ReplyCancel

  • Charidy Riedel Neff - September 18, 2012 - 7:56 pm

    That being my hometown area, you did an awesome job! Love the pictures & the story! Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Lorraine Brese - September 19, 2012 - 12:09 am

    My home town area too and wonderful information and pictures. Thank youReplyCancel

  • Melissa Driggers Scelzi - September 20, 2012 - 12:32 pm

    These pictures are awesome! Wattled city ND.ReplyCancel

  • Melissa Driggers Scelzi - September 20, 2012 - 12:35 pm

    Great pictures of oilfields! Awesome pictures!ReplyCancel

  • Jeff Lusanne - September 21, 2012 - 2:13 pm

    There are some very striking and informative images here, you have really constructed a story of what is going on in the region – one that is not being told in many other places. As a viewer, though, I kinda wish that the image captions were below the photo.ReplyCancel

  • Julie Conklin Sosinski via Facebook - September 23, 2012 - 2:57 pm

    Hats off to you! VERY well done! As the wife of a Bakken oil field worker I can say you truly captured the spirit of the patch!ReplyCancel

  • Thank you so much Julie.ReplyCancel

  • Georgia Tague - October 4, 2012 - 4:37 pm

    Unbelievable! It sure isn’t the ND I grew up in!ReplyCancel

  • modular cabins - November 13, 2012 - 4:58 am

    Really loved these photos. These not only projects good captures but also stories. All these photos are the real persons and the real situation. It tells a lot and will hold the memory for a lifetime.ReplyCancel

  • James - December 31, 2012 - 3:15 pm

    Great article and superb photos. Very well done! I shared a few of your pictures on our website, we gave you credit and linked back to your site of course. I hope you don’t mind.ReplyCancel

  • […] Read the rest of the article here. […]ReplyCancel

  • Travis Dewitz - December 31, 2012 - 5:03 pm

    Thank you, James. I will make sure to send a few your way. Thanks for sharing and letting me know.ReplyCancel

  • Haley M - April 13, 2014 - 3:49 am

    The oilfield pictures are truly amazing! I am speechless.ReplyCancel

  • Travis Dewitz - September 11, 2012 - 2:03 pm

    Thank you, Mark.ReplyCancel

  • Travis Dewitz - September 19, 2012 - 11:02 pm

    Thank you, Charidy.ReplyCancel

  • Travis Dewitz - September 19, 2012 - 11:03 pm

    Thank you, Lorraine.ReplyCancel

  • Travis Dewitz - September 20, 2012 - 5:13 pm

    Thank you, Melissa.

  • Albert Iredale - September 20, 2012 - 9:43 pm

    Yeah me too thanks Melissa that was coolReplyCancel

  • Travis Dewitz - September 22, 2012 - 12:54 am

    Thank you and thank you for the input.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Tracy-Rehbock - October 27, 2012 - 4:35 am

    You did a great job depicting the oil fields in ND. My husband and I worked with a trucking company up there for about 6 months and i can definetly tell you its not all peaches and cream and is a cut throat business. just wanted to compliment you on the pictures.ReplyCancel

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