Inside oil town where men work hard, make bank and get into trouble…

In May 2013, Michael Patrick F. Smith moved to Williston, North Dakota, to find a job in the oil fields.

On his first night in town, he went to a bar called DK’s Lounge, where he was introduced to something he calls the Williston Hello.

All his conversations with the men there could be boiled down to two short sentences:

“What kind of work you do?” and “Man, my dad whipped my ass!”

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Everyone seemed to have a violent relationship with their father, and almost everyone had a job in the oil fields or was looking for one, Smith recounts in his new book, “The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown” (Viking), out now. They came from across the country, from states like Montana, Idaho, Washington, Tennessee, California, Texas and Florida, to make their fortunes in the oil boom.

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Williston sits near the center of the Bakken Formation, “a subsurface rock unit bigger than the state of California,” Smith writes, “and one of the largest contiguous deposits of oil and gas on the planet.”

In 2008, as the US economy was in shambles and the housing market collapsed, Williston’s oil boom was just beginning, with prices peaking at $145 a barrel.


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