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WDAY: The News Leader

Published May 01, 2010, 12:04 PM

Stanley, ND, flush with oil but not women

STANLEY, N.D. (AP) — Oilmen are having far better fortune unearthing crude in North Dakota's booming oil patch than finding women to date.

By: JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press

STANLEY, N.D. (AP) — Oilmen are having far better fortune unearthing crude in North Dakota's booming oil patch than finding women to date.

"I've barely seen a woman in three months," said Alfonso Luna, a divorced 49-year-old welder and oil field worker from Fort Lupton, Colo. "There's not much out here — either they're married or somebody has beat us to them."

While census workers fan out across the country to conduct a decennial head count, people in Stanley don't need to wait for the Census Bureau to tell them the number of men has exploded in the northwest North Dakota town, where females outnumbered males just a few years ago.

"Just look around," said 32-year-old Somer Halvorson, who's engaged to a local man. "There are more men than women and it's getting worse."

Ten years ago, before advanced drilling techniques made it economical to retrieve oil from two miles underground, Stanley's population was pegged at about 1,280 people, with about 100 more women than men.

Since then, hundreds of oil workers have moved to the area.

Tessa Peterson, a 33-year-old single bartender, jokes that the current ratio of men to women seems like 200-to-1.

"Women who never got dates before are getting a lot of dates now," she said.

Just outside Stanley, a so-called "man camp" of portable homes has been built for the influx of workers. The compound is home to about 350 oilmen and has helped shrink the pool of available women in town, said local construction workers Chris Bieri and Joe Borgen, who are both bachelors.

"It lessens the odds," said Borgen, 32.

Bieri, 29, said he often travels to Minot — an hour's drive — to combat an otherwise monastic-like existence in Stanley.

Law enforcement officials and bartenders say there have been scuffles over women between local bachelors and outside oil workers.

"So far, we have been able to keep a handle on it," said Mountrail County Sheriff Ken Halvorson, who worked as a roughneck in the 1970s, North Dakota's last oil boom.

Despite the gender disparity, some single women say the pickings are not as good as they may seem.

"A lot of the single ladies are turned off because they're overly aggressive," Peterson said of potential suitors. "Most of these guys are from other states and probably have some baggage so we don't know who to trust.

"But if you want to find a man, this is where to find one," she said.

Besides being in the hotbed of the oil-rich Bakken formation, Stanley is known for its Whirla Whip ice cream treat and as the hometown of the late Ray Rude, the multimillionaire philanthropist who invented the modern diving board.

The oil boom has changed more than just its men-to-women ratio.

Nodding oil pumps are scattered throughout the region, and roads are heavy with oil traffic, stirring up so much dust "it makes it hard for cattle to breathe," said Halvorson, the sheriff. He said his department has switched from squad cars to four-wheel-drive pickups to better negotiate roads damaged by oil trucks.

Oil activity has caused a housing crunch in Stanley, where home prices are increasing at a rate of more than 10 percent annually, said Nicole Worth, a real estate agent with Reynolds Reality. One-bedroom homes rent for up to $1,500 a month, three times what they were fetching about five years ago, she said.

The Painted Horse, the town's only motel, has been booked for three years. Dusty vehicles with out-of-state license plates fill the parking lot of the 41-unit building.

School enrollment and sales tax revenue are up, and many businesses along the town's American flag-lined Main Street are busier than ever.

Some are targeting people flush with cash because of the oil boom — oil workers can make more than $80,000 a year. At the local auto dealership, Prairie Ford, a $50,000 Shelby Mustang GT500 muscle car sits in a showroom that may have featured a pickup or minivan before the boom.

Until the census is complete, no exact population numbers for Stanley are available, though residents believe it will surpass the 1960 count of 1,795 people, which was the highest in 50 years.

The clientele has changed to largely non-locals at the town's sole pharmacy and soda fountain, Dakota Drug, where the twirly ice cream concoction is sold, employee Karen Arndt said.

"It seems like more people we don't know are coming in that people we know," she said. "We're also seeing younger families that have moved in and people who have moved back."

North Dakota has seen its population slide since a peak of 680,845 residents in 1930. The state ended the decade with 646,844 people, its highest population since 2000, according to Census Bureau.

Oil development has helped boost the state's population, said Richard Rathge, the state Data Center director and North Dakota demographer.

Rathge said he expects the 2010 census to show a statewide population increase and higher numbers of men in oil-producing counties, since female oil field workers lag far behind their male counterparts in numbers.

"I'm sure we're going to see the impact of oil development and its gender orientation," Rathge said.

More than 100 rigs operate in North Dakota's oil patch, which each employ about 40 workers.

Casey Howe, 35, an oilman from Oroville, Wash., said many workers are on the job for 20 days and get 10 days off. Howe, who is married, said many out-of-state workers travel to their hometowns during their time off to see their spouses or sweethearts.

Howe said he and other rig workers are "unimpressed" with the number of single females in Stanley.

"I look but I don't chase," he said.

Debbie Lidstron, 59, tied the knot with an oil field worker during North Dakota's last boom, but the marriage "went bust before the oil boom did," she said.

"There are way more men than there have ever been in this town," she said. "But I'm single and I like it that way."

Eric Steinberg, a 31-year-old local delivery driver, got married four years ago, just when the area began teeming with oil workers. He said love has a way of finding people, despite overwhelming odds.

"It helps to know where to look, but I don't have to look anymore," he said.

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