Northeastern Montana is experiencing a fracking boom and the influx of workers is fundamentally changing the region.

Hydraulic fracturing — or fracking – involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep down well bores to crack open fissures and boost the flow of oil and gas.

Much of the activity in the U.S. has been focused in North Dakota's Bakken formation, but drilling has also spread across the border into Montana. The streets of Sidney, Mont., are busy these days awash with a stream of big rigs and service trucks.

Fracking Boom

CBC's Erin Collins takes a look at hydraulic fracturing in a four-part series this week on radio, television and online.

Lease operator Gary Fifer moved to this area during the last energy boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Now he is seeing some familiar signs.

"There's probably a couple of hundred rigs in North Dakota. There are only eight or 10 here, but I heard they are going to be moving this way."

Fifer says just the anticipation of those rigs has the local economy heating up.

"It’s a whole new world," he said. "The streets can hardly handle the traffic."

Housing problems

Labour shortages and skyrocketing living costs for those who come to work in the region are some of the major downsides of this boom.

Real estate agent Allan Seigreid has sold one home twice in recent years — for $18,000 three years ago and a little over $90,000 more recently.

"Typically our homes are up considerably. Many are up more than 30 [and] 40 per cent."

Those rising costs have forced many newcomers to spend the winter in less traditional accommodation.

"Living in an RV a fifth wheel or a motor home — that's extremely cold and children [are] living in there. It’s tough living," he said.

Environmental concerns

Mike Wilson has 17 wells already producing on his ranch. He likes the money that comes with fracking, but worries about the land.

"Have you talked to anyone that says … 'We know exactly what it’s doing and its plum fine?'" he asked. "Nope. Nobody really knows."

Last month, Canadian environment commissioner Scott Vaughan tabled a report concluding the government does not know enough about the chemicals the industry uses in the fracking process and that "environmental protection may not be keeping pace with resource development."

Fifer has some advice for anyone going through their first energy boom.

"Save your money," he said. "Don't never think this thing's going to last forever. Nothing lasts forever."


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