BISMARCK, N.D. — Across North Dakota's oil patch, so-called "man camps" cater to their hard-working tenants. Some offer deluxe amenities — Internet cafes, satellite televisions, free laundry services, fitness equipment, pillow-top mattresses — but all offer a place to stay in an area where housing is at a premium.
Yet some communities in the western part of North Dakota have placed moratoriums on the temporary compounds, saying the influx of thousands of new workers is straining law enforcement, emergency services, roads and water and sewer systems.
Others see the dozens of man camps as a temporary and self-contained salve, and one county even reversed its moratorium this week.
With the advances in drilling technology in the rich Bakken and Three Forks shale formations, North Dakota has solidified itself as the nation's No. 2 oil producer, a rapid rise from the ninth spot in 2006. Job Service North Dakota says there are 17,000 unfilled jobs, largely in the booming oil patch.
But finding a place to live is as unlikely as spotting a palm tree on the prairie.
Boston-based Target Logistics, Inc., touts itself as the biggest builder of the man camps, constructing 10 camps that house some 4,000 workers in North Dakota over the past three years. Brian Lash, the company's CEO, believes the moratoriums should be eased to meet the growing needs of the oil patch.
"We're not the boogeyman," Lash said. "We are a necessary and high-quality Band-Aid that will allow the Bakken to grow."
The company has hired a lobbyist and intends on meeting with local officials. It also has extended a standing invitation to Gov. Jack Dalrymple to spend the night at one of the facilities, Lash said.
Crew camp compounds are typically are made up of small, bedroom-sized units that are interconnected. The facilities usually are leased by companies in the oil industry, and can be deconstructed in days.
"When the bust comes, and it will, these facilities will be farming fields again," Lash said. "We're not sticking around, and will move them to the next great opportunity."
Most counties in western North Dakota are ill-equipped to handle the swarms of workers, many of whom have been forced to live in campers, cars and tents.
"We're running out of water, out of sewer, out of electricity, and until those get taken care of, how do you add more man camps to the mix?" said Dan Kalil, a commissioner in Williams County, the hub of the oil bonanza.
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Williams County has some 5,000 temporary housing beds and had approved another 4,000 before putting the moratorium in place last year, Kalil said.
Without a cap on man camps, "we would have them from one end of the county to the other," he said.
Mountrail County has more than a dozen temporary camps, collectively housing some 4,000 workers, said county commissioner David Hynek. Mountrail County, which borders Williams, stopped construction on man camps last year.
"It's not that we're opposed to them" Hynek said. "We just needed to take a pause and catch our breath."
But the housing situation in Dunn County has become too dire. On Wednesday, commissioners voted to lift its man camp moratorium — imposed about six months ago — on June 1.
"People need a place to live," said Commissioner Tim Steffen, who noted the 600 new temporary beds will barely make a dent in the county's housing shortage.
"It won't be enough, not by far," Steffen said.
In Dickinson, in the southwest corner of the oil patch, the planning and zoning commission on Wednesday approved what would be the state's largest man camp, a 3,000-unit facility in an industrial area near the wastewater treatment plant.
"Nobody can say it's in their backyard," City Commissioner Klayton Oltmanns said.
If the city council green-lights the camp, it would bump the city's population — now at about 23,000 — to more than 26,000 people. The camp alone would be North Dakota's 15th-biggest city.
North Dakota's last oil boom went bust more than 20 years ago, and Dickinson overshot the amount of housing needed.
"The boom retracted much earlier than anticipated and Dickinson was left holding a $19 million bag for overbuilding infrastructure — we had streets and sidewalks that led to nowhere," Oltmanns said. "Our priority is to find the right mix of temporary and permanent housing. It would be a disservice to the community if we weren't looking at man camps."