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The gravel road that borders Dave Hynek’s North Dakota farm is designed to carry 10 tractor- trailer trucks a day. In a recent 24-hour period, about 800 passed by.

Some are traveling 90 minutes west to Williston, where schools Superintendent Viola LaFontaine expects as many as 3,800 students this fall, about 57% more than her primary schools were built to hold.

North Dakota’s economy outpaced every other state in 2011, with the fastest growth in personal income, jobs and home prices, according to Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States, or BEES, index data. Yet the oil boom fueling the nation’s lowest unemployment rate also has a dark side. It’s pushing rural North Dakota’s housing, electric, water, police and emergency services to the breaking point.


“It’s absolutely destroying our infrastructure,” said Hynek, a Mountrail County commissioner, as he sat in a pickup truck on the 1,400-acre farm where his family has grown wheat, flax and sunflowers for four generations.

“A few years ago, our board set a goal that Mountrail County would be a better place to live and work as this oil play works itself out over the next 30 years,” he said. “Right now, I would be hard-pressed to find people who agree with that.”

Drilling in the Bakken formation, a 360-million-year-old shale bed two miles underground that geologists believe holds a 15,000 square-mile region of oil in North Dakota alone, foisted big-city concerns onto rural communities where everyone knew each other, no one locked doors, and business deals were sealed with a handshake.

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