Since the industry’s founding in 1901, oil has been a driving force in the world’s economy. According to the USEIA (United States Energy Information Administration), in 2010, total U.S. petroleum consumption was 19.1 million barrels per day, or 37 percent of all the energy consumed. Suffice it to say, oil isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We need it. But the industry’s growth has brought many new economic, social and environmental phenomena which have left many reeling in the wake. We have seen men murdered, communities bankrupted, economies thrive, businesses flourish, individuals accumulate wealth, environments destroyed – and all because of oil. With such an array of outcomes, can a happy medium be found? Can a deal be struck between the greed and the need?
One positive and negative result of the insatiable appetite for petroleum is the “oil boom.” An oil boom occurs when the price of oil goes up, making it economically feasible for oil companies to drill and refine oil in new locations. Often, it just isn’t profitable enough for a company to drill a new site because the price of oil does not allow for all the front-end work that needs to be done. When those prices rise above feasible levels, communities that were once ghost towns become bustling hubs for the industry. It seems great at first glance, but there are many problems that arise with such an influx of industry.
Rapid overpopulation is a major cause of many problems surrounding an oil boom. When an oil boom hits, jobs magically appear and people migrate from miles around. Many towns in North Dakota saw a population increase of 13 percent within a single year between 2010 and 2011. This kind of increase raises major problems for local residents and their governments. Where are all of those people going to live? How can public services, such as police, fire, waste management, and water services, increase at that same rate? The increased demand may not be sustainable. Many law enforcement departments cannot hire officers, because they don’t have a place for them to live. Often, these same departments find it difficult to recruit applicants due to employment competition with the oil industry which can pay large wages and give great benefits.
The influx of people – often young men – has also been shown to increase crime and public nuisance. According to Dr. John Pappas, oil booms have caused big problems in Canada, his home country.
“Right now, in the past five or ten years, the city of Fort McMurry has grown like crazy to the point where they’ve actually got some social issues,” said Pappas who currently practices dentistry in Phoenix, Arizona. “Getting a lot of young guys in there with a lot of money is usually a recipe for a lot of partying, a lot of drugs and things of that nature; so it’s kind of turned into a crazy city over the years.”
Likewise, in the North Dakota boomtown of Williston, the number of domestic-disturbance calls and arrests for such crimes as DUI, assault, and theft in 2011 has increased to twice that reported in the previous year, according to Sheriff Scott Busching.
Overpopulation also causes rapid deterioration of roads, costing the local governments millions in repairs; and traffic jams, which were once unthinkable, and increase living costs affect the local population negatively in many cases.
Although there are many negatives surrounding oil booms, there are also some big positives. People who are in foreclosure, for instance, are able to earn enough money to keep their homes. Unemployed people can find good work with solid benefits to get them back on their feet in hard economic times. Although these jobs are often short-term, they are no doubt a welcome relief to the struggling population. The impact of the industry on these individuals is extremely valuable and cannot be overstated.
As I researched and thought about the positives and negatives of an oil boom, I noticed that for every benefit there were multiple disadvantages. I realize, however, it is not the industry itself, but rather the procedures and norms that have been allowed in the past that have created many, if not all, of these disadvantages. To say that we shouldn’t drill for oil is short-sighted and possibly un-American.
A functional medium must be found between the oil industry and local communities. Fortunately, it seems that this is occurring. Local governments have learned their lessons the hard way and are requiring more commitment from the oil industry before they allow them to move in and set up shop. Such promises as providing funds for road repairs, and the clean-up of an operation are becoming standard practice.
I think the lesson here is that we as Americans need to consider every angle of large issues. In an age where convenience and greed rule, we are once again finding that we do pay a price for selfishness. Each of us, individually, should be looking in the mirror and considering how we can love our neighbor as ourselves. Sure, getting rich quick is great, but that only lasts a lifetime.
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