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Boomtowners

(Smithsonian Channel, April 26, 9 p.m.) 4/20/2015 8:00 AM Eastern

This is a ridiculously interesting topic: learning what it’s like for people in shale-oil boom towns like Williston, N.D., and Sidney, Mont.

 

Places where, according to this docuseries, real estate (in Williston anyway) is the most expensive in the country, often for shabbily built pre-fab homes where the counters peel and drawers won’t close. That kind of thing happens when there aren’t enough homes for all the workers coming in, and only one home supplier has any to sell. “They’re taking advantage of all of us, because we needed a place to live,” as one man said.

 

If you have an entrepreneurial idea that involves finding a contractor who’ll see the job through, that can be a problem, too.

 

High costs for housing, food and utilities mean that when work is available, a worker needs to spend long hours at it. That stresses out the wife, in the case of several families shown here. Families move in from Phoenix or California; some love it, but all are stressed.

 

Mechanics of the hydraulic fracturing that generates oil and natural gas from shale buried 2,000 feet deep in the ground are shown close up, in live action and with animation showing what happens underground. Temperatures rise when a huge well operation has to shut down because rocks are getting mixed in with the hydraulic fluid, gumming up the works.

 

Service suppliers, such as truck drivers and welders, are profiled here, some of whom are emigrants to the Bakken field region and others who were born nearby and are trying to be entrepreneurs.

 

Longtime locals deeply concerned about possible destruction of the land from greedy exploiters also have a voice. There’s an evangelical preacher who has to work extra hours inspecting wells for hazardous chemicals. There’s also a lesbian couple struggling to keep a pipe-hauling truck business afloat.

 

Two episodes in, Boomtowners is an entertaining, engrossing way to move to a boom town without leaving the living room.

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