Courtesy of Kyle Crow

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WATFORD CITY, N.D. — It’s 7:30 a.m. Kyle Crow, 19, inhales biscuits and gravy at a greasy- spoon diner after finishing a grueling 12-hour night shift on a nearby oil rig.


His mother urged him to go to college, but Crow had other plans. Instead of taking out a student loan for school, then toiling for years in a menial job trying to pay off his debt, Crow decided to chase the promise of a what some are calling a modern-day Gold Rush.

So far, he's got no regrets. Crow hopes to pocket $100,000 this year from North Dakota's oil boom. That's a six-figure haul for grunt labor — not too shabby in an economy where the average Ph.D.-holder earns around $80,000, according to a Georgetown University study.

Kyle Crow, 19, poses for a photo outside a diner in Watford City, North Dakota, after a 12-hour night shift. Crow expects to pull in a six-figure salary this year. (Photo: Geneva Sands/Fusion)


"I can come right out here and be making what most people don't even make with their degrees,” said Crow, who's been in North Dakota for only a month. “I'll never have to pay off student loans to college or anything like that.”

Other young men go to college first, then flock to the oil fields to pay off their student loans.

Indiana Jones (real name) got an oil job to help pay off a debt he accrued from cosmetology school. The 20-year-old said the fracking boom has presented him with an opportunity to get out of debt fast.

“I’m not the brains in my family and I wanted to prove I could make it,” he told Fusion.

And make it he has. Jones says he too hopes to net triple figures, which will allow him to comfortably pay off his debt in one year. Few cosmetologists can say the same.


"Fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory."

Most people in the Williston area don’t have higher-education degrees, but most people do quite well without them. Unemployment in Williston is less than 1 percent. While the oil boom is driving the high wages, peripheral industries like hospitality and food have also seen gains. The local Walmart offers a starting salary of $17.29, and McDonald’s pays more than $15/hour. Around town, the buzz of chain saws heralds the constant construction of new homes. Hotel rooms run nearly $300 per night.


“They thought I was crazy,” Crow, a Colorado native, said of his family and friends. He says when he first told folks he was moving to North Dakota, everyone everyone was puzzled. "But I think they're starting to understand that the money is so good that that's why,” he said.

The oil and the money are expected to flow for decades, and Crow says he's game to stay.

“I'm planning on staying here for as long as they'll have me,” he said.

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Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.


Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.