fedgazette Roundup (2011-2015)

County maps highlight the boom in the Bakken

Rob Grunewald | Associate Economist

Published August 19, 2013

The Minneapolis Fed’s Bakken Oil Boom web page features articles and data that describe the rapid expansion of economic activity in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. A recent addition to the site highlights changes in the region’s unemployment rates and employment growth rates during the boom relative to surrounding counties and to counties a few hundred miles away.

For example, in April 2004, just before horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing started to move into the area, unemployment rates in the Bakken already had relatively low unemployment rates (see counties in black outlines). The new online feature allows users to click through the maps and see how county unemployment rates have changed over time.

County maps Bakken 2013 (1) -- 8-13-13

After the recession ended in June 2009 and during the early part of the recovery, unemployment rates were relatively low in the Bakken area, while unemployment rates exceeded 7 percent in the western and eastern part of the Ninth District. Led by the Bakken region, North Dakota as a whole was an oasis of economic activity, while most other states were digging out of a hole. By April 2013, unemployment rates in most Bakken counties were below 3 percent.

While unemployment rates also decreased in other areas, the Bakken is unique in its concentration of low county unemployment rates. The exception in the Bakken is Roosevelt County, with an unemployment rate of almost 7 percent in April 2013. Roosevelt County has a lower share of oil production compared with many other Bakken counties and includes the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which has relatively higher unemployment.

A similar story emerges with employment growth. In fourth quarter 2004, employment growth was mixed in the Bakken, with four of the 12 counties posting decreases. By fourth quarter 2010, employment in the Bakken was growing briskly in almost all of its counties, while employment levels were also decreasing in many areas outside the Bakken. Strong growth has continued in the Bakken through the fourth quarter of 2012. County maps of employment change over time are similarly available on the Bakken website (scroll toward the middle of the page).

Previous analysis by the fedgazette looked at the relationship between unemployment rates and wages in the Bakken relative to unemployment rates and wages in counties 100 miles to 400 miles away (see Bakken activity: How wide is the ripple effect?). Counties within 100 miles of the Bakken showed lower unemployment rates than those counties farther away, and counties within 100 miles to 200 miles of the Bakken saw higher unemployment than those within 100 miles, but lower unemployment than those beyond 300 miles.

See these trends by scrolling through the county maps. Since 2009, the counties directly surrounding the Bakken had relatively low unemployment rates, with the Bakken counties having the lowest rates. There is a similar pattern for employment growth in recent years, with relatively solid growth surrounding the oil patch but the strongest growth in Bakken counties.