In North Dakota’s oil patch, a “Fracking Mess”

The fracking party is over, and a quiet desperation has descended on the state’s once-booming communities and the thousands of people who were drawn to them.

WILLISTON, N.D. – Dave Van Assche didn’t fret too much when oil prices started to slide in late 2014.

The postal services business he had built over three short years was thriving, catering to the tens of thousands of people who, like him, had streamed into North Dakota to strike it rich during an unprecedented oil boom.

But the price drop quickened, due in part to a supply glut from the 1.2 million barrels of oil North Dakota was pumping each day. Within a year, oil prices were down more than 70 percent, and North Dakota’s oil rush stalled. The daily take at Van Assche’s business has sunk from a peak of $2,500 to at best $600 now.

Unwilling to lay off his four employees, Van Assche has been taking short-term jobs around the country to cover costs. He cleaned corn residue from rail cars in Ohio last month. Up next: cleaning a defunct nuclear power plant in California. Van Assche’s wife, finance manager for the business, took a job as a substitute teacher for Williston’s public schools.

“My business was decimated,” said Van Assche, 29 years old. He prays for an oil-price jump, “but now it’s very quiet.”

By 2014, the U.S. energy boom, supercharged by the revolution in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, had made North Dakota’s economy the fastest-growing in the nation. Its unemployment rate was lowest among states. Its gross domestic product of roughly $50 billion that year was more than double 2002 levels.