Ask A Researcher

January 2018


Deb Nelson and her staff at DLN Consulting, Inc. provide the administrative responsibilities for Vision West ND, a consortium of the energy producing counties in western North Dakota. Deb is the president of DLN Consulting, Inc. in Dickinson, North Dakota. Deb and her staff work primarily with nonprofit and government agencies and are always on the lookout for the latest information and data to help the agencies with their planning efforts. This article highlights a second study on housing, population, and workforce, which was commissioned by Vision West ND, for the 19 western North Dakota counties to provide planning information following the changes in population that was heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry.


North Dakota sits on top of the Williston Basin, a large North American geologic formation that is known for its rich deposits of oil and coal. The largest portion of the Williston Basin is located under North Dakota; however, the basin also spans into South Dakota, Montana, and Canada.

Evaluations of how development of shale oil might influence population in North Dakota began in 2010 (Ondracek et al. 2010) — a point in time when the industry began to substantially ramp up drilling activities to secure mineral leases in western North Dakota. As industry activity grew, so did the need to better understand the trajectory and magnitude of future population change. Economic expansion from 2010 through 2014 resulted in the doubling of some local populations where oil and gas development was most concentrated.

Although drilling activities have slowed in recent years, local governments in western North Dakota have continued to experience substantial changes in population. Therefore, Vision West ND contracted with Dr. Nancy Hodur, Center for Social Research, and Dean Bangsund, Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, from North Dakota State University to update a study they had completed in 2012 to provide planning data on future employment, population, and housing needs for western North Dakota counties and cities.

Estimating future population has been and continues to be a key issue for local governments in western North Dakota. For decades, a declining and aging population was the norm for most of the western counties, but the breakthrough in extraction of shale oil dramatically altered or reversed those long-term trends. It was hoped that specific population and housing forecasts could be related to potential levels of future employment.

The Study
The purpose of the study was to provide the 19 oil, gas, and coal producing counties in North Dakota (Figure 1) with specific population and housing forecasts related to potential levels of future employment. The goal of the employment forecasts was to develop likely expectations for changes in the pace and size of shale oil development in North Dakota over the next 20 years, and for counties with low oil and gas impacts, develop projections that capture a reasonable range of future employment change given historical trends. The study offered three distinct scenarios based on different levels of oil prices for its projections – low price ($25-$60/barrel), moderate price ($60-$90/barrel), and high price (>$90/barrel). For the purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the projections at the low-price level.

Figure 1. The study’s oil and gas producing counties, North Dakota, 2016


The study forecasted anticipated changes in oil and gas employment, such as rig counts, oil field maintenance and transportation. It also forecasted changes in other industries, such as farming and ranching, and secondary employment industries that are required to be in place to support the population. The study forests that in the five core oil-producing counties (Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail, Stark, and Williams), employment will continue to be dominated by the oil and gas industry. However, fewer rigs will need to be used because of advances in oil technology. Fewer rigs means fewer jobs will be required in the oil and gas industry directly.

In the low price scenario, employment from 2017 – 2040 will remain relatively unchanged (-0.5%). At the moderate price scenario, projections indicate a slight employment rate change (7%). Over the next 20 years, employment will be below that what it was at the 2014 peak, but it will be substantial enough to create some challenges for the western North Dakota region. Most of the infrastructure is in place for new well development, so it is unlikely that jobs will be required for building roads, developing well pads, or setting up offices for oil and gas industry.

It is important to realize that not all employment growth will translate into permanent residents, as the workforce will not be limited to those residing in the immediate area. Similarly, employment in one location can affect the population and service employment needs in another location. The employment projections that most counties are looking for planning ate the 600 wells/year rate, which coincides with the low price scenario (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Employment (all wage and salary) trends and projections based on oil price scenarios, Williston Basin, North Dakota, 2000-2040

Note: Oil price scenarios are based on the number of oil wells per year. The low price scenario was estimated to range from 400 to 800 wells per year in North Dakota and is reflected as 600 wells per year in this figure. The moderate price scenario was estimated to range from 1,000 to 1,500 wells per year and is reflected as 1,250 wells per year. The high price scenario was estimated to produce 1,700 to 2,300 wells per year and is reflected as 2,000 wells per year in this figure.

Population changes in the low-price scenario are likely to be around one percent per year. Most of the population growth will occur in the core oil producing counties, though we should see it occur in all counties, albeit at a very low rate. With the unlikelihood of rapid population growth, the counties should be able to stabilize from recent years. The study also identified that the population has become younger, which will require communities to make changes to meet the needs of this population.
Different age groups with a population require a variety of housing needs and the data suggests that there is some shifting from single-family housing to multi-family housing. It will be important to make sure the correct mix of housing is supplied, which will include provisions for affordability, renting versus buying, and permanent and temporary accommodations. In most locations the housing crisis has abated. Now that the housing crisis is more under control, it will be very important that planners, developers, and city management work to provide housing that meets new worker preferences.

What was learned from the study?
The findings do not suggest a return to the employment growth or a quick return to the peak employment experienced in the Williston Basin from 2010 through 2014. The projections do indicate that employment levels are likely to remain at or slightly above the current levels, even in the lowest price environments. However, if the price of oil reaches a moderate or high range, western North Dakota will see substantial population growth, followed by increased employment needs and housing requirements that fit the population expansion.

The study produced a number of materials for the stakeholders in western North Dakota. The report focuses on study assumptions and scenarios and covers an overview of the study results. County specific data files, a webinar, and a PowerPoint presentation were provided for each of the 19 counties.
The Williston Basin 2016: Employment, Population, and Housing Forecasts, July 2017 study and the all additional county materials are available at

Ask a researcher archive

Iyobosa Sonia Omoregie and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. Exploring Suicide Rates Among Youth
May 2024

Dean Bangsund and Nancy Hodur. Sugarbeet Industry in the Northern Plains: Economic Contribution in Minnesota and North Dakota.
April 2024

North Dakota Compass. North Dakota Compass Releases the 2024 Compass Points
March 2024

Nicholas Bauroth. City Governance: Commission or Council for Fargo, North Dakota?
February 2024

Ina Cernusca. 2024 Brings a NEW Visualization Tool and Data Updates to the North Dakota State Legislative District Profiles.
January 2024

Samuel Faraday Saidu and Chelsey Hukriede. Strapped for Safety: Exploring Insights into Car Seat Knowledge Among North Dakota Mothers.
December 2023

Debarati Kole and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. A Comprehensive Look at the Multifaceted Risk Factors of Postpartum Depression
October 2023

Valquiria F. Quirino and Avram Slone. COVID-19 pandemic in North Dakota: Significance, progression, and government response.
September 2023

Karen Olson. The Lasting Impact of Maternal Childhood Trauma
August 2023

Avram Slone. The Social Variability of COVID-19 Mortality in North Dakota between March 11th, 2020 and February 13th, 2022
July 2023

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. Agriculture a Key Driver in the North Dakota economy
June 2023

Karen Olson. Health and Well-Being in North Dakota. Understanding how the five social determinants of health are impacting the ability of North Dakotans to thrive
May 2023

Kendra Erickson-Dockter. North Dakota Compass: 10 years of Measuring Progress and Inspiring Action.
April 2023

Hannah Hanson & Grace Njau. Every Dad Counts: North Dakota Fatherhood Experiences Survey
March 2023

Nancy Hodur. Housing Market Conditions and Declining Homeownership Rates
February 2023

North Dakota Compass. 2022 Recap: Data highlighted throughout the year
January 2023

Kendra Erickson-Dockter. A Look into a Chronic Condition and Pregnancy: Preexisting Diabetes PRAMS Points 2022
December 2022

Nancy Hodur and Karen Olson. Lower-income households and baby boomers, main drivers for North Dakota housing needs in the near term
November 2022

Avram Slone. The Impact of COVID-19 on Group Quarters in North Dakota
October 2022

Chelsey Hukriede. Safe Sleep PRAMS Points 
September 2022

Kendra Erickson-Dockter. Gestational Diabetes PRAMS Points – A NEW Dashboard Format!
August 2022

Aastha Bhandari, Debarati Kole, Dr. Nancy Hodur. Mission Of Mercy: Giving hope through a smile.
July 2022

Ina Cernusca.Households with children have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the first year of the pandemic.
May 2022

Andy Wiese and Karen Olson. One Health System’s Approach to Improving Community Health. Understanding what the 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment Conducted by Sanford Health means for population health
April 2022

Mariel Lopez-Valentin and Grace Njau. North Dakota Title X, Family Planning Needs Assessment
January 2022

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. North Dakota Lignite Energy Industry Workforce
December 2021

Ina Cernusca. Vaccine Acceptance and Hesitancy in North Dakota
October 2021

Nancy Hodur and Karen Olson. Rural Communities Will Benefit from a New Cooperative in Walsh County
September 2021

Matt Schmidt and Grace Njau. COVID-19 Trends Among North Dakota Children, March 2020 – March 2021
August 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter and Ina Cernusca. COVID Hardship on North Dakota Households: New study on the impacts on North Dakota households that lost employment income during the pandemic
July 2021

Chelsey Hukriede and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. NEW! PRAMS Points – A Brief Infographic using North Dakota PRAMS Survey Data
May 2021

North Dakota Compass: A look inside the 2021 Compass Points
April 2021

Ina Cernusca: Households with children are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
March 2021

Ina Cernusca: Differences in COVID-19 Risk Factors at District Level
February 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter, Chelsey Hukriede, and Grace Njau: An Introduction to the North Dakota Study of Associated Risks of Stillbirth (SOARS)
October 2020

Karen Ehrens: North Dakota Families are Facing Food and Other Hardships in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic, and Helpers Respond
September 2020

Ina Cernusca: Taking the pulse of North Dakota households during the COVID-19 pandemic.
July 2020

Nancy Hodur:Challenges of Grocery Stores in Rural North Dakota
May 2020

North Dakota Compass:2020 Compass Points: Measuring progress. Inspiring action.
March 2020

Amy Tichy:Student Veterans in the College Classroom.
February 2020

North Dakota Compass:North Dakota Compass launches the 2020 State Legislative District Profiles
January 2020

Grace Njau, Nancy Hodur:&Chelsey Hukriede: Risk Behaviors among Women with a Recent Live Birth in North Dakota: Findings from the 2017 North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
November 2019

Ina Cernusca:& Karen Olson: Behind the scenes – The story of the North Dakota State Legislative District Profiles
October 2019

Ina Cernusca: Key demographic trends in North Dakota.
August 2019

Karen Olson: The 30th edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book finds that 175,772 children will shape the future of a more diverse North Dakota.
July 2019

Shweta Arpit Srivastava & Dr. Ann Burnett: “Giving rope and pulling it back”: Parental dilemmas to prevent adolescent substance use
June 2019

Ina Cernusca: 2019 Compass Points: Setting direction for improving the quality of life in North Dakota
May 2019

Joshua Marineau and Onnolee Nordstrom: Learning from Fargo -- An Exploration of the Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
March 2019

Nancy Hodur: Improving Oral Health for Older Adults in North Dakota
November 2018

Rachelle Vettern: Engaging Volunteers across Generations
October 2018

Karen Olson: The 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book reveals strengths and challenges for children in North Dakota – and emphasizes that an inaccurate census in 2020 threatens to worsen existing challenges for North Dakota youth
July 2018

Lori Capouch: Is food access a concern in rural North Dakota?
May 2018

Deb Nelson: Williston Basin 2016: Employment, Population, and Housing Forecasts – An Overview
January 2018

Karen Olson: North Dakota among Top 10 States in Country for Child Well-Being
July 2017

Nancy Hodur: SEAL!North Dakota: A School Dental Sealant Program
June 2017

Grace Njau: A Brief Introduction to the North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
April 2017

Ina Cernusca: North Dakota’s Women study: A brief overview
March 2017

Dean Bangsund: Effects of Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion on Spring Planting for Producers
February 2017

Deb Nelson: Vision West: Leading, Educating, and Collaborating to Mobilize the 19 Western North Dakota Counties Towards Resilience and Prosperity
December 2016

Nancy Hodur: North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment: A Brief Overview of the Population and Housing Forecast component
November 2016

Social Isolation: Experiential Narratives of African Refugee Women in the Fargo-Moorhead Community
September 2016

Sean Brotherson: Father Involvement and the Future of Children and Families
July 2016

Carol Cwiak: Bakken Oil: What Have We Learned and What Will We Do Differently Next Time
June 2016

Jessica Creuzer: The Changing Face of Western North Dakota: What are the Effects of Increased Travel from Energy Development
April 2016

ND Compass: City Profiles
February 2016

ND Department of Health: Making Change Happen
January 2016

Jennifer Weber: A Bold New Direction for the North Dakota University System - The NDUS Edge Dashboards
December 2015

Wendy Troop-Gordon: What Has Science Taught Us About Bullying?
November 2015

ND Compass: A Look at the Youngest North Dakotans
October 2015

Kendra Erickson-Dockter: Growing Older in North Dakota
September 2015

Michael Ziesch: Data You Can Trust: The Labor Market Information Center
August 2015

Malini Srivastava and Troy Raisanen: efargo: City Scale Sustainability
July 2015

Kevin Iverson: The State Repository of Census Information- The North Dakota Census
June 2015

Wonwoo Byun: Reducing Sedentary Behavior is a Key for Obesity Prevention in Children
May 2015

Kathryn Gordon: The Science of Suicide Prevention
April 2015

ND Compass: Tell a Story with Data! The Importance of Crade-to-Career Success
March 2015

Abby Gold: Community Food Systems: Food Charters and More
February 2015

Heather Fuller-Iglesias: The Importance of Recognizing the Role of Social Support in Human Development Across the Lifespan
January 2015

Michael Carbone: Using Data to End Homelessness
December 2014

Randal Coon: Tribal Colleges Contribute to the State's Economy
November 2014

Deb White: Women's Representation in Elected Office
October 2014

Randal Coon: Pull Factors Measure Retail Trade Performance
September 2014

Karen Olson: North Dakota ranks Well Nationally with Regard to Overall Child Well-Being; However, Substantial Opportunities for Improvement Exist
August 2014

Julie Garden-Robinson: Guard Against Grilling Gaffes: Healthy Grilling and Food Safety Tips
July 2014

Michael Noone: Extreme Weather Patterns- North Dakota Has It All
June 2014

Kathleen Tweeten: Why All Community Development Decisions Should Use the Community Capitals Framework
May 2014

Clayton Hilmert: Stress effects on pregnancy: The impact of the 2009 Red River flood on birth weight
April 2014

Karen Ehrens: Food Deserts and how they impact North Dakota
March 2014

Gretchen Dobervich and Kendra Erickson-Dockter: New Geographic Profiles: How they can work for you
February 2014

Compass Staff: "New Compass Team Brings Changes in 2014"
January 2014

Donna Grandbois: "Fargo-Moorhead American Indian Community-Sponsored Health Needs Assessment"
November 2013

Karen Olson: "North Dakota KIDS COUNT - why it counts for you
October 2013

Nancy Hodur: "Western North Dakota School Administrators Face Challenges"
August 2013

Megan Chmielewski: "Annual population estimates tell interesting stories about North Dakota's growth patterns"
July 2013

Ramona Danielson: "Learn how to make the ND Compass website work for you"
May 2013

Karen Olson: "About the American Community Survey (ACS)"
February 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2024. All rights reserved.