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Posted on April 1st, 2014

Our Changing Landscape – An Oil Boomtown, Williston, North Dakota

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 5 billion square kilometers of data. This month, we look at one of America’s most rapidly growing oil boomtowns, Williston, North Dakota.

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers a daily revisit time to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a base price of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data available in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

Oil Boomtown, Williston, North Dakota

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color imagery collected over Williston, North Dakota on April 19, 2009; June 28, 2010; August 3, 2011; June 30, 2012; and August 29, 2013. In this animated series, focus on the outskirts of town to see where growth exploded over this five year time span. Also note that the 2009 image is not well registered to the rest of the data. (Images Courtesy: RapidEye)

One of the greatest drivers of economic growth in the world is the exploration for and extraction of fossil fuels. And in the United States specifically, the development of the Bakken and Three Forks shales has spurred forward the economy of one of our least populous states, North Dakota. In 2013, North Dakota was the fastest growing state (by percentage) in the Union and also the state with the lowest unemployment at just 2.6%. The Bakken and Three Forks shales are part of the Williston Basin which extends across Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and southern Canada. These formations are particular attractive as they are wet shales, meaning that they produce high-quality liquid oil once they are hydraulically fractured, or ‘fracked.’ In fact, there is an estimated 7 to 8 billion (some even suggest up to 24 billion) barrels of oil trapped in the Bakken and Three Forks. As natural gas prices fell in 2009, interest in the Bakken and Three Forks increased; and today, North Dakota produces more than 700,000 barrels of oil per day, while in 2008 it produced far less than 100,000 barrels.

A booming oil industry demands thousands of workers to drill new wells, lease lands and expand infrastructure to handle the black gold. One of the fastest growing towns in America is now Williston, North Dakota, located in the heart of the Bakken and Three Forks shales. In 2000, Williston was home to just 12,579 people. By 2007, the population reached 19,540, and then in 2010 the population was 22,398. The most recent population estimate has the city at 26,677 and it is expected to blossom to more than 90,000 in just 15 years. With 9.3% population growth in 2013, Williston is truly a boomtown – consider that the fastest growing metropolitan in 2013 was Austin, Texas and it only expanded by 2.7%. In 2013, the city built 2,500 new housing units and issued nearly $350 million worth of building permits. The booming population has caused housing shortages and drove up rent to per square foot prices even higher than in New York City!

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.

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