Dunn County and Watford City, North Dakota: A Case Study of the Fiscal Effects of Bakken Shale Development


The Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana has experienced perhaps the greatest effects of increased oil and gas development in the United States, with major implications for local governments. Though development of the Bakken began in the early 2000s, large-scale drilling and population growth dramatically affected the region from roughly 2008 through today. This case study examines the local government fiscal benefits and challenges experienced by Dunn County and Watford City, which lie near the heart of the producing region. For both local governments, the initial growth phase presented major fiscal challenges due to rapidly expanding service demands and insufficient revenue. In the following years, these challenges eased as demand for services slowed due to declining industry activity and state tax policies redirected more funds to localities. Looking forward, both local governments describe their fiscal health as stronger because of the Bakken boom, though higher debt loads and an economy heavily dependent on the volatile oil and gas industry each pose challenges for future fiscal stability.

This research was carried out at the Duke University Energy Initiative with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.