Inside a North Dakota 'Man Camp'

WILLISTON, N.D. - In the boom country of Williston, North Dakota oil isn't difficult to find. A place to sleep on the other hand will take more than just sophisticated drilling equipment.

"There's a huge shortage of housing, so there's a lot of people living in campers, RVs, in their cars on the streets," said Detective Amy Nickoloff with the Williston Police Department.

The population has nearly doubled in Williston in just the last few years. People keep showing up and there's no place to put them.

"A lot of people who have come up here have been laid off and they can't find jobs in their hometown," said Terry Legions, Bear Paw Lodge General Manager.

Bear Paw Lodge is one of several "Man Camps" in Williston.
Chad Keller is from Little Falls and is a chef at the Bear Paw Lodge and lives there too.

Target Logistics, the company that runs this housing unit refers to the building as a "Crew-Camp" because about five percent of the population is made up of women, including one of its managers.

"It took 78 days to put it up. It probably took longer to build the buildings than to construct the whole camp," said Legions.
These camps are appearing all over the region in North Dakota because of the nonstop drilling in the oil fields.

From the outside, they look more like a construction site, but on the inside, it's a cross between an army barracks and a college dorm room. Hundreds of people live here with nearly 700 beds. Each room is outfitted with its own bathroom. Some have one bed, others two.

There are even places to break up the long days with pool tables and computer rooms, along with a weight room. And the kitchen makes food from scratch with meals prepared three times a day.

"After that you can hit the sandwich bar, make a sandwich, get chips, cookies, bake goods, a coke, ice cream anything you want," said Legions.

All of it is included in the price, but you can't just walk in off the street. Most people who live here either work in the oil fields and their companies pay for it or they work and live for the Bear Paw Lodge.

"There are really no expenses here. We have free room and board. We eat for free. So if you want to go in to town to get some small supplies that's what we do," said Keller.

And compared to other locations, it's fairly reasonable. It costs $100 to $150 per night per person. That's compared to a hotel down the street that charges about the same without the food included.

But there are rules. There is no drinking, no drugs, no guns and no visitors allowed because of the liability.

The money is good, but the work is long.

"We're basically on campus all the time. Six weeks on, two weeks off," said Keller.

"That's seven days a week, 84 hours a week," added Legions.

Yet for so many who left home for better days, landing a job here is like striking oil. And as hard as it is to be away, that's almost as good as gold.

"I probably won't go anywhere for a while," said Keller.


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