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Bakken Oil Region Boom Sent Crime Rates Soaring

Oil derrick in the Bakken region
Joshua Doubek
Creative Commons 3.0
Oil derrick in the Bakken region

A recent study backs up longstanding research that the oil boom in the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota contributed to a significant increase in violence in the surrounding communities.

The study was sponsored by The Bureau of Justice Statistics and conducted by an independent research group. It compared crime reports from the Bakken oil region both before and after the boom. It found violent crime rates went up 23% in the oil producing counties, compared to a reduction in crime in other parts of the region.  

Rick Ruddell, professor of criminal justice at the University of Regina in Canada, is an expert on boomtown crime.

The math, he said, is simple. “The more extraction activities you have, the bigger the population increase, the more crime you have. Just because there’s a large population of young males coming into these communities and they cause a lot of disruption.”

And Ruddell said police departments in these small towns are often overwhelmed.

“What happens is a lot of the police officers just end up working for the oil field companies because the pay is so great compared to policing,” he said.

Housing and social services, according to Ruddell, are also insufficient to handle the population influx.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2021 KRCC. To see more, visit KRCC.

Ali Budner is KRCC's reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism collaborative that unites six stations across the Mountain West, including stations in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana to better serve the people of the region. The project focuses its reporting on topic areas including issues of land and water, growth, politics, and Western culture and heritage.
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