Boom and Bust in Montana and Beyond

by lizard

In the last few days I’ve run across a few articles I think Montanans should read. The first is a piece from National Geographic, titled Bakken Oil Boom Brings Growing Pains to Small Montana Town. Here is an excerpt:

On a recent evening, as Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Deputy Avis Ball patrolled near Bainville, she pointed out a simple cross next to the highway. It’s the spot where in 2012 she found Brian Doyle, a 49-year-old oil worker from Florida, dead and partially buried in the snow. Doyle was run over and abandoned by his friend, who was later convicted of negligent homicide.

“He’d been laying there for a week in the snow,” said Ball, who patrols the eastern edge of the county alone, often an hour from the nearest backup deputy at the far end of the county.

Earlier this year, Ball said, four men beat a man nearly to death in Williston, put him in the trunk of a car, and dropped him off in a field in Roosevelt County. “When I started, I was taking dog calls,” said Ball, who joined the department in 2011. “Since then it has taken off.”

The FBI has warned that Mexican drug cartels are trafficking drugs to the area, targeting the large paychecks of the mostly young men who work in the Bakken. Felony drug arrests in Roosevelt County rose from 4 to 28 from 2008 to 2012, according to Sheriff Freedom Crawford. Crawford said methamphetamine is the biggest drug problem the county faces, followed by illegal painkillers. But a bigger problem, he said, is the increase in alcohol-fueled fistfights. From 2008 to 2012, assault arrests nearly doubled, to 173.

“Historically, we knew who our troublemakers are,” Crawford said. “Now after the oil field hit, we can’t keep up with it. We don’t know who these people are.”

Speaking of alcohol, the Flathead Beacon has a piece titled Montana and Alcohol—an Abusive Relationship:

A drive past the numerous saloons and bars that line city streets across the state will tell you that Montanans enjoy their alcohol. Montana has the second-highest ratio of bars to people in the U.S., and a new study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows the state also leads the nation in alcohol abuse.

According to the study, which was carried out between 2006 and 2010 and released in June, Montana ranks third in age-adjusted alcohol-attributable deaths (AAD) per 100,000 citizens, behind only New Mexico and Alaska.

Michael Cummins, the executive director at the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency Clinic, said the drinking problem in Montana is reflective of a broader issue sweeping the rest of the country.

“Most people who drink don’t have a problem,” but the large number of drinkers combined with a lenient culture make alcohol our most abused drug, Cummins said. In Montana, on average 13.2 percent of all deaths for people between the ages of 20 and 64 can be linked to alcohol. In a state that only reached 1 million inhabitants in 2011, an average of 8,713 people suffer alcohol-related deaths every year.

The article goes on to claim that, according to a CDCP study, the annual cost of excessive drinking for the US is 223.5 billion dollars.

The next two articles are personal stories about how folks fall on hard times. The first is a Montana story featured on the public radio series, Mountain West Voices, titled Middle Aged, Professional and Homeless in Montana. Go to the link for the audio—it’s a compelling interview.

The second story is from the Washington Post, titled This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps. Here’s an excerpt:

2007 was a grand year for me. I moved back home from San Diego, where I’d produced ‘Good Morning San Diego.’ I quickly secured my next big gig, as a producer in Boston for the 6 p.m. news. The pay wasn’t great, but it was more than enough to support me. And my boyfriend was making good money, too, as a copy editor for the Hartford Courant.

When I found out I was pregnant in February 2008, it was a shock, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Two weeks later, when I discovered “it” was actually “they” (twins, as a matter of fact), I panicked a little. But not because I worried for our future. My middle-class life still seemed perfectly secure. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do that much work.

Two weeks before my children were born, my future husband found himself staring at a pink slip. The days of unemployment turned into weeks, months, and, eventually, years.

Then my kids were born, six weeks early. They were just three pounds each at birth, barely the length of my shoe. We fed them through a little tube we attached to our pinky fingers because their mouths weren’t strong enough to suckle. We spent 10 days in the hospital waiting for them to increase in size. They never did. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my babies to put on weight. With their lives at risk, I switched from breast milk to formula, at about $15 a can. We went through dozens a week.

In just two months, we’d gone from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000 and leeching out funds to a mortgage we couldn’t afford. Our savings dwindled, then disappeared.

So I did what I had to do. I signed up for Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.


  1. Big Swede

    We should compare the Bakken with its increased pressures on law enforcement, schools, roads and general county services with that which is happening currently on our southern border.

    I’d also love a comparison between reservation crime statistics and those of northeastern MT.

    • JC

      Glad you asked Swede. Here’s the latest figures available from the state. Bring us back a report.

      • Big Swede

        Nice data except reservation crime isn’t included.

        On average NA reservation crime is 2.5 times higher that the national average.

        • Why, do you suppose?

          • Big Swede

            Page 18 from JC’s link.

            “Finally, this analysis did not include crime reported to tribal law enforcement agencies. Tribal nations make up a large land mass in Montana; as a result, a significant portion of Montana’s land area was also not covered in this analysis.”

            • JC

              Yes, that a small amount of tribal sovereignty still remains is an amazing and good thing!

              • Big Swede

                When the coal mines and oil rigs show up on tribal lands will you want crime stats then?

          • Big Swede

            From the NYT.


          • Big Swede

            This explains the “Why”.


          • It’s a wonder, socialism being so bad and all, that all those white people on Wall Street that so benefit from it are not criminals … Oh, wait. They are. Different kind of crime. Good crime. Different kind of socialism. Corporate socialism. Good kind.

            Your analysis, Swede, leaves much to be desired. Historical perspective, is lacking. The Native population here was thriving until it came in contact with the Europeans who overran them with superior weaponry, and took their lands and put them on those reservations you so despise. Genocide is the term often see used, and reduction of a population from maybe 14 million to a couple of hundred thousand seems to qualify.

            Early settlers who came west comment on the magnificent peoples they encountered, Adonis-like bodies, proud and stout. Within a few centuries we find defeated humans, distended bellies, alcoholism and despair.

            I am not sitting here in judgment, saying that the Europeans were deliberate in inflicting such suffering or that North American history is much different from history anywhere else. I’m just saying that your analysis is short-sighted. I’m pretty sure that socialism, which you don’t seem to have a strong grasp of, is probably not an issue here. Or anywhere. That’s just your Randian bugaboo.

            • Big Swede

              I’ll reply with a book description below.

  2. steve kelly

    I’d love a pony. What’s your point, Swede?

  3. Big Swede

    Amazon’s description of Keely’s book.

    “The myth of the peace-loving “noble savage” is persistent and pernicious. Indeed, for the last fifty years, most popular and scholarly works have agreed that prehistoric warfare was rare, harmless, unimportant, and, like smallpox, a disease of civilized societies alone. Prehistoric warfare, according to this view, was little more than a ritualized game, where casualties were limited and the effects of aggression relatively mild. Lawrence Keeley’s groundbreaking War Before Civilization offers a devastating rebuttal to such comfortable myths and debunks the notion that warfare was introduced to primitive societies through contact with civilization (an idea he denounces as “the pacification of the past”).
    Building on much fascinating archeological and historical research and offering an astute comparison of warfare in civilized and prehistoric societies, from modern European states to the Plains Indians of North America, War Before Civilization convincingly demonstrates that prehistoric warfare was in fact more deadly, more frequent, and more ruthless than modern war. To support this point, Keeley provides a wide-ranging look at warfare and brutality in the prehistoric world. He reveals, for instance, that prehistorical tactics favoring raids and ambushes, as opposed to formal battles, often yielded a high death-rate; that adult males falling into the hands of their enemies were almost universally killed; and that surprise raids seldom spared even women and children. Keeley cites evidence of ancient massacres in many areas of the world, including the discovery in South Dakota of a prehistoric mass grave containing the remains of over 500 scalped and mutilated men, women, and children (a slaughter that took place a century and a half before the arrival of Columbus). In addition, Keeley surveys the prevalence of looting, destruction, and trophy-taking in all kinds of warfare and again finds little moral distinction between ancient warriors and civilized armies. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, he examines the evidence of cannibalism among some preliterate peoples.
    Keeley is a seasoned writer and his book is packed with vivid, eye-opening details (for instance, that the homicide rate of prehistoric Illinois villagers may have exceeded that of the modern United States by some 70 times). But he also goes beyond grisly facts to address the larger moral and philosophical issues raised by his work. What are the causes of war? Are human beings inherently violent? How can we ensure peace in our own time? Challenging some of our most dearly held beliefs, Keeley’s conclusions are bound to stir controversy.”

    • Who here mentioned anything about “noble savages?” If you want to talk about brutal, savage, unending and internecine warfare. Study the history of Europe.

      First you decry socialism as the problem of the reservations, now you bring in a guy who says they might have been as violent as us … You ain’t making headway.

      What the hell is your point?

  1. 1 A primer on socialism | Piece Of Mind

    […] Words sometimes have a lingering effect … here’s some that are bugging me: Swede, reducing all of the dynamics of the European migration over the North American continent and the resulting devastation of the natives and their way of life to … “socialism.” Read about it in the comment section here. […]

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