Modern-day boom towns in the American West

While we might consider boom towns to be part of American history, the discovery of oil and gas in the American West is leading to rapid population increases with some negative effects:

Stepped-up oil and gas development in northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Montana is punctuating the landscape with drilling rigs, trucks and hastily erected barracks, known as “man camps,” to house thousands of mostly male workers crowding into small communities where residents once greeted each other by name and left their homes and cars unlocked…

In Sidney, Montana, about 45 miles (72 km) southwest of Williston, officials have been scrambling to keep pace with oil and gas activity that is expected to double the population – from 5,000 to 10,000 – in five years and add an estimated 774 new students to the public school system…

Utah State University sociologist Richard Krannich said years-long studies of boomtowns in the West show a sharp rise in negative consequences such as crime and the fear of crime in the earliest phases of a boom.

“But we also saw the recovery once the initial phase ended and the workforce stabilized, the pressure on local services eased and infrastructure caught up with demand,” he said.

I’m not sure how you prepare for this. I can’t imagine local politicians could say no to needed jobs and future revenues and yet the quick changes in a community are difficult to handle until revenue streams are established.

What I think is particularly interesting here is that communities across the country are subject to outside social forces that can quickly change their trajectories. I assume most of these Western towns were small and hadn’t changed much in recent years but as soon as valuable resources are discovered, things can change very rapidly. Each community can make different choices about how to respond. Of course, these rapid changes can’t or won’t last forever and the town will return to some equilibrium and once the resources wind down or are depleted, a downward cycle can begin again. Boom towns and ghost towns are notable because most communities don’t experience this kind of rapid change – we expect some kind of gentle growth or at least a stable plateau. Just the idea of population loss can be troublesome because it suggests a community is on the road to dying or it is going to lose funding for services and tough cuts will have to be made to budgets.

I wonder if there are any consultants or academics to help communities adjust to these boom periods in order to take advantage of them (mainly, find tax dollars) as soon as possible. Additionally, I imagine there are some interesting interactions between long-time residents and newcomers and both sides try to adjust.

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