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Opinion

The Negatives Of A Boom

From CNN: Locals to big oil: We want our town back!

A recent oil discovery in North Dakota has people flocking there for jobs, that pay as much as 100,000 dollars a year; and in the process, crowd out resources in the small towns there. There’s no housing left; people live in their cars and in RVs on parking lots.

"At first, we were excited about the prospect of bringing in new people and money … but it slammed us so hard, in such a little time that a lot of locals now are kind of resentful," said Deone Lawlar, a 57 year old native of Watford City, which is located in the middle of the oil play. "Now we want our town back."

The land Lawlar’s home is built on has belonged to her family for generations. Last year, the dirt trail that led to her house was extended past her home by an oil exploration company to build two oil rigs, a pipeline company and housing facilities for oil workers. Now, the once-solitary road plays host to semi trucks at all hours of the day.

Many drivers throw trash out their windows as they speed by. Lawlar said she even came home one evening to find a truck driver urinating on her lawn.

"While the majority of us appreciate the additional revenue the energy industry brings to our community, the problem for a lot of us is that it’s not just our community anymore," said David Rolfson, who has farmed in Watford City all his life. "We liked it better when it was ‘the middle of nowhere’."

Harold Hugelen, who has lived in the 1,000-person town of Belfield for the last 40 years and owns a local bar and restaurant, said all the money in the world isn’t worth the chaos that has been brought to his town.

"Business-wise, it’s been great — the cash has been rolling in," he said. "We all work all our lives to get enough cash to do what we want: to retire, to have our little spot. And okay, so I’ve got this big pile of cash, but now I don’t have this little private spot anymore, and where do I go? I can’t find that anymore."

The downside of a boom is this – that the growth prompts lawlessness, boorish behaviour (since there aren’t enough cops at first), inflation in terms of housing costs and prices, a divide between outsiders and residents, and of course, irritation at lives being turned upside down.

While not at this scale every large Indian town has now experienced this: Bangalore has it’s unveiled kannadiga versus everyone else, Mumbai has an MNS and ridiculous housing prices, Delhi and NCR have policing issues and hostile villagers; the negative outcomes of a boom.

It’s interesting to study the social impact of a bust after such a boom, though. Do towns become violent? Do they just wither away? Do people who uprooted their lives and paid through their nose to buy housing in an overpriced environment continue or default? Do local businesses that expanded because of the boom, and took on massive debt, shut shop? How does it scar behaviour?

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