Tornado Tears Through North Dakota Oil Patch, Pummels ‘Man Camp’ (Video)

man camp

Workforce housing. (Photo courtesy of

Confirmed by the National Weather Service, a tornado wound its way through an oil workers’ “man camp” Monday night, pulverizing 15 trailers in the western North Dakota oil patch along U.S. Highway 85 around 9:50 p.m. (EST).

The tornado struck five miles outside of Watford City, roughly 15 miles south of the Antelope Creek State Wildlife Management Area and 30 miles southeast of Williston, an oil boom hub city. The McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office and McKenzie County Hospital both refused to comment on the status of the man camp, stating they did not yet know the full extent of the damage (or injuries) if any. Local NBC station KVLY out of Fargo, however, reported golf-ball-size hail. Additionally, according to a McKenzie County 911 dispatcher, emergency responders were present and no injuries were reported at the camp.

Many believe the positive lack of injuries to be a result of tornado warnings issued for Dunn and McKenzie counties earlier in the evening, allowing those staying in the camp to seek alternative shelter.

Though the tornado warning was later lifted, local officials asked folks to stay off the roads as much as possible to allow emergency vehicles adequate access and urgency to the numerous accident sites.

Local worker William Bunkel took several photos and estimated the twister ran amok on the ground for almost a minute. He told the Associated Press he’d watched it with co-workers after they’d moved their vehicles inside, away from the large hail.

“We saw it form, come out of the sky, hit the ground and go back up into the clouds.”

Bunkel said he didn’t see any debris, though.

“It was a little bit too far away. We just saw the clouds and the rotation.”

North Dakota is currently experiencing a massive oil boom, bringing with it a rapid expansion in population as people seek viable employment by the tens of thousands. Along with them comes a surge in housing, pay, development, but also prostitution, drug abuse, crime and general violence. Many workers live in the man camps, which are really nothing more than shoddy trailers slapped together. Other companies rent clumps of hotel rooms for their workers while others even live in their cars, or tents. Though workers are paid well, housing prices skyrocket to New York City prices, so any form of housing subsidy from the oil companies for the workers is sorely needed. The oil hub city of Williston mentioned earlier, for example, will rent you a quaint little one-bedroom apartment for the meager sum of $2,000 a month. Word around camp is it will even cost you $800 to rent a space to park a trailer.

And while it is very good news, indeed, that all made it out of man camp safe and no injuries have been reported, still, it’s stories like these that make one wonder how horrible it would be, what kind of disaster could be unleashed should a tornado devastate any of the gas or oil pipelines stretching across the country, should they ravage any of the numerous, numerous fracking operations pocking the country? Everyone can be thankful that the oil workers living in the camp were able to flee when the tornado warning was sounded — that’s worth lingering on a moment and appreciating — but it also instigates one recurring thought — pipelines, wells and fracking sites can’t flee.

Accidents can happen and are inevitable no matter what. All it takes is one “act of God” to kick the door down. It’s time to turn away from fossil fuels.

This piece was originally published by Take 10.