Tuesday, January 15, 2013

North Dakota at Night Reveals Economic Boom

There are few towns in northwestern North Dakota and those towns which do dot the area are small little hamlets.  The region is in fact one of the least populated parts of the lower forty-eight states.




However, looking at night imagery of northwestern North Dakota reveals a mass of lights in geometric order.

Image from NASA.  The oil drilling activity avoids the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Little Missouri National Wild Grasslands, and other federal property.
These are not towns but instead are signs of North Dakota's economic boom due to oil.  NASA writes "On November 12, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of widespread drilling throughout the area. Most of the bright specks are lights associated with drilling equipment and temporary housing near drilling sites, though a few are evidence of gas flaring. Some of the brighter areas correspond to towns and cities including Williston, Minot, and Dickinson."

Further, "according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas production from the Bakken shale has increased more than 20-fold between 2007 and 2010. Gas production averaged over 485 million cubic feet per day in September 2011, compared to the 2005 average of about 160 million cubic feet per day. Due to the lack of a gas pipeline and processing facilities in the region, about 29 percent of that gas is flared."

The Bakken oil boom has greatly aided the United States and the state of North Dakota.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has a great report on the boom.  Some of the key takeaways are

  • Bakken oil production accounts for 11 percent of total U.S. oil production.
  • New businesses have grown by almost 50 percent in the Bakken area since 2009, compared to 5 percent growth for the rest of North Dakota and 3 percent growth in the United States.
  • Per capita household income in the Bakken area is above that in the rest of Montana, North Dakota, and the nation based on data through 2011. In fact, workers in the Bakken make about $200 more per week than the average wage for the United States. The poverty rate is dropping faster in the Bakken than in the rest of Montana and North Dakota, as well as in the United States where it has increased since 2007, but remained steady last year at 15 percent.

The report's charts also emphasize the boom:



What I find truly fascinating is how economics impacts the geography of northwestern North Dakota so much.  Comparing nighttime imagery of North and South Korea has long been a geographical exercise to point out how economic health is visible from space.  The same principal applies to North Dakota.  While this is nothing new, it always impresses me.

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