Tiny North Dakota Town Sitting on Oil Jackpot

Sometimes owning a farm isn't the lottery ticket it would seem. Ruth Zacher's family owns valuable land, but not the mineral rights to the oil that's been found underneath.

"We are not profiting. We will be losing money in the long run," said Zacher. "They will come in and offer us a certain amount for a well site. …They said to us you will have $6,000 for the site, and we turned the papers back to them and said, no, that's not enough, we need more than that, because of the agricultural loss over the years."

Zacher also worries about the quickly changing landscape of a vast farmland now dotted by drilling rigs, carved up by new roads and connected by a brand-new pipeline.

"It's not about the money," she said. "I just want to keep what I have. I want to keep everything the way it has always been. I've been here for 22 years."

Zacher isn't the only one. County Sheriff Ken Halvorson -- who moonlights as the coroner here -- worries about his town.

"I hope we don't go from a quick boom to a bust," he said. "That isn't good for a community."

'Great for All of Us'

Most people in Stanley are confident that the oil boom will be good for everyone. Oil profit taxes now bring in about as much per month as the county used to earn in a year.

Stores along the town's main street are experiencing the trickle-down effect of success. Ruth Hysjulien owns a clothing store on Main Street in Stanley and just expanded, adding an entire room devoted to oil rig worker clothing.

"I think it's going to be huge," she said. "You know, the way it sounds, it's going to be a huge oil field, bigger than what people anticipated, and I think it's just going to be great for all of us."

The oil boom has already been great for Warburg, who has been collecting payments from EOG, the company that maintains the rig on his land for almost a year. Warburg is using the first easy money he's ever seen to pay off farm debt, take care of his family and secure his future.

He's securing something else too.

"A lot of the people kept asking me what I was going to do with all of my money," Warburg said. "Well, my standard answer was I'm going to get my door hinges fixed on my old blue pickup."

Sure enough, this oil man's first big shopping spree was for a new set of door hinges. Warburg has been told to expect as much as 20 years of oil profits, but he's hedging his bets anyway. He's using the money to put his son through college where, ironically, he's studying how to design engines that run on alternative fuels.

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