'Man camps' to be phased out in North Dakota oil county

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At the height of the oil boom, "man camps" housed thousands of workers seeking their fortune in North Dakota's Bakken formation.

But with the demand for labor down as oil prices fall, and with an increasing number of more permanent affordable housing being made available, moves are being made to phase out temporary housing for oil workers.

The Bismarck Tribune reports that Williams County Commission approved new guidelines Tuesday that will limit the creation of crew camps, RV and trailer parks, and modular home estates.

Starting Aug. 1, it will not renew any permits for temporary housing, unless they meet one of several exemptions.

The newspaper notes that Williams County has 18 temporary housing facilities comprising of 4,179 beds – but only 2,000 are currently occupied. In 2012, during the boom period, there were 8,000 beds available.

According to the Williston Herald, exemptions to the rule will mean "man camps" that open seasonally from March 1 to Dec. 1, with a minimum of five beds; operating seasonally for the state of North Dakota; or operate year round with 50 or more beds, could still get their permits renewed.

The county doesn't want to phase out the camps completely, the newspaper notes, because of fears from commissioners, as well as oilfield and trucking companies, that it would bump up apartment rents and house prices in the area.

Temporary housing failing to meet the exemptions will have to stop operating from May 1, 2016, and the properties restored to their original use by July 1, 2016, the Williston Herald notes. Those that remain will see temporary housing fees double to $800-per-bed every year.

The decline of the camps in North Dakota reflect a national trend, with Bloomberg noting the camps are "turning into ghost towns" as drillers cut back on free housing and air travel it used to offer to attract shale workers, having previously spent $40 million a year on average to feed and house 1,000 workers.

The news agency says companies operating in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado are looking to slash $114 billion in spending this year and will lay off "tens of thousands" of employees.

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