WASHINGTON -- One of the largest shale formations responsible for America’s oil boom has a crime problem.
Point blank: It wouldn’t be far off the mark to describe North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken oil field as the Wild West.
To deal with the issue, the Justice Department formally announced its plan to dispatch an organized crime strike force to the Bakken -- which produces well over 1 million barrels of oil per day -- to tackle human trafficking, drug and weapons trafficking and white collar crimes.
The region's problem with organized crime is no surprise, and the FBI, as well as other state and local law enforcement agencies, has been trying for years to rein offenders in. But the task force launched by the Justice Department on Wednesday is different. The new crime force will be aimed at “identifying, targeting and dismantling” organized crime.
“The strike force will have the capability of not only dismantling local criminal organizations in the Bakken, but also to take out the national and international components of these organizations wherever they may be located,” acting U.S. attorney for North Dakota, Chris Myers, said in a statement. “The strike force will take a regional approach to a regional problem, coordinating with Montana law enforcement.”
The strike force will have bases in four cities and work with designated prosecutors and agents.
The Bakken formation, which spans roughly 200,000 square miles over North Dakota and Montana, reaching to Canada, has experienced a dramatic influx in population given the job opportunities to work in the oil patch.
As a result, those living there have seen an increase in “serious crimes, including the importation of pure methamphetamine from Mexico and multi-million dollar fraud and environmental crimes,” the Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday.
North Dakota and Montana have asked for federal help for some time as drug dealing and sex trafficking have increased in the Bakken. The oil field is a prime spot for such trades given the thousands of workers who flock to the region for grueling work that pays well. “Man camps,” which house male oil workers who have left their homes to work for months at a time in the fields, are a target for traffickers.
“The Bakken’s criminal impact transcends borders and so should our law enforcement response,” said Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter. “The strike force is a welcome addition to our existing multi-jurisdictional law enforcement efforts in the region.”
The Justice Department's announcement offers a look at the darker side of the oil boom, which shot the U.S. to its place as the No. 1 energy producer in oil and gas in the world.