Black Gold and the Dark Underside of Its Development on Human Service Delivery

Kenneth Flanagan, Thomasine Heitkamp, Randall C Nedegaard, Dheeshana S Jayasundara


This paper examines perceptions of human services workers regarding their employment experiences and adaptations in oil-impacted rural communities in the Upper Missouri Valley of North Dakota. This study is part of larger pilot project designed to better inform health and human service professionals and elected officials about the nature of human service delivery systems in boomtowns. Qualitative methodologies were employed to analyze information gathered by interviews conducted with 40 human services workers. Both individual interviews and focus groups were conducted. Study findings indicate that the impact of oil on the human service network is complicated. Human service workers in the study were burdened with new and more complex challenges than before the boom, and had fewer resources to address these additional challenges. Their burden was eloquently summarized by one worker who stated, “While somebody else benefits, we carry the burden of oil boom repercussions.” Smaller scale local strategies appear to creatively meet many needs, and show signs of worker resilience in strategy adaptation.


Boomtowns; oil booms, human service workers, human service sector burdens, human service sector adaptation

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