Fracking fuels the post-Recession economy and growth

 

Oh how a housing bust, a nasty economic downturn and a shale oil and gas boom can change things.

Seven years ago this spring, the Census Bureau released a flurry of numbers about the economy and growth, which then spawned a bunch of articles about which parts of the country were growing fastest and why. Topping the list were mostly suburban, sun-belt counties with subprime mortgage-related housing booms. Palm Coast, Fla., gained the highest percentage of population between 2000 and 2006. Western counties near the top included Douglas in Colorado, Teton in Idaho, Lyon in Nevada, Washington in Utah and Pinal in Arizona. Forbes summed up the driving forces of the growth boom:

The high cost of urban living, cheaper land in the suburbs and new business opportunities in periphery communities are contributing to this boom. Not surprisingly, many of the most popular counties are in the South and Southwest–warm, business friendly, inexpensive and less populated than the Northeast.

Last week, the newest Census numbers were released, documenting the fastest growing metro areas in the U.S. between 2012 and 2013. The results look a bit different than they did back before the boom. The top five fastest growing counties now are:

1. Williams, N.D. (Unemployment rate: 1 percent)

2. Duchesne, Utah (Unemployment rate: 3.5 percent)

3. Sumter, Fla. (Unemployment rate: 5.4 percent)

4. Stark, N.D. (Unemployment rate: 1.7 percent)

5. Kendall, Tex. (Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent)

The fastest growing metro areas are:

1. The Villages, Fla.

2. Odessa, Tex.

3. Midland, Tex.

4. Fargo, N.D.

5. Bismarck, N.D.

6. Casper, Wyo.

And, finally, the fastest growing micropolitan areas:

1. Williston, N.D.

2. Dickinson, N.D.

3. Heber, Utah

4. Andrews, Tex.

5. Minot, N.D.

6. Vernal, Utah

Now, I don't know what's going on in The Villages in Florida, but I do know that nearly all of the other places listed above are in or near the oil and gas patch. Gone, apparently, are the days when amenity migrants and equity refugees flock to warm climates where houses are sprouting like weeds in the desert. Now people just want jobs. And these days the jobs, like it or not, are in the oil and gas industry.



Williams County, in North Dakota, has seen an influx of oil rigs and population over the last few years. Graph shows barrels of oil produced (left) and number of wells drilled (right). Source: North Dakota Oil and Gas Division.

 

That was confirmed last week, when the Census Bureau released its 2012 Economic Census Advance Report. According to the report, the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry grew more between 2007 and 2012 than any other in the nation. The oil and gas sector, alone, increased revenues by nearly $80 billion during that time, upped its payroll by $6 billion (note the vast gap between the two, an indicator that profits jumped handsomely), and the number of employees by 41,000. Manufacturing saw a significant drop in revenues and employees during that same period. The print publishing industry, for those who care, shed 228,000 employees during that time, and saw revenues plummet more than $22 billion.

The oil and gas and mining industries were the fastest growing sectors of the American economy from 2007-2012. Source: US Census Bureau

Before getting too fired up about both the economic and population growth rankings, consider the caveats. Despite all the growth, the oil and gas industry remains a fairly small part of the overall economy, dwarfed by the revenues from and employees in retail and wholesale trade, health care, professional services and, of course, manufacturing. Similarly, North Dakota's Williams County, despite the fast rate of growth, isn't exactly brimming over with people: Its population has increased by a mere 7,000 since 2010 for a grand total of just 29,959 residents. It's hardly Tokyo. Or, for that matter, the Phoenix metro area, which gained more than 70,000 people over just one year. Nevertheless, Williams County's growth is remarkable considering the fact that between 1982 and 2005 its population was steadily shrinking.

And what of the fastest growers of the early Aughts? For the most part, they've stagnated. Teton County in Idaho has gained virtually no population since 2010. Utah's Washington County continues to grow relatively rapidly -- by more than 7 percent since 2010 -- but that's nothing compared to the in-migration population explosion of a decade ago. And Pinal County, a once-booming exurban Phoenix area, has grown just 3.6 percent since 2010.

Clearly, the housing bust and subsequent economic collapse changed our migration patterns significantly. Throw in the oil and gas boom, driven by high oil prices and by advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology, and you've got a major reshuffling of the West's demographic landscape. With all the negatives the boom brings -- high crime rates, pollution, skyrocketing housing costs -- it also has something going for it: jobs. Williams County's unemployment rate is just 1 percent. No wonder everyone is moving there.

Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor at High Country News. He tweets @jonnypeace.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • RANCH HAND & HOUSING OPPORTUNITY IN DURANGO, CO
    Remodeled home with the opportunity to work off part of rent. Renter(s) must be available to help with lifting, irrigation & outdoor chores, 15-40 hrs...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....