Date of Award

January 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Social Work

First Advisor

Bret A. Weber


Technological developments within the oil and gas industry (namely horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking") combined with record-high average oil prices have propelled North Dakota into the midst of the nation's largest oil boom in decades. Information about the boom has been dominated by the media, while scholarly attention--especially about the social impacts--has been unfortunately limited. Accordingly, the author (an MSW student) and two professors with the Department of Social Work at the University of North Dakota conducted a focus group with the state's county social service directors to explore the pressures and challenges faced by the social service delivery system. While housing and other related challenges dominated the focus group discussion, the county directors also spoke about the boom's benefits and the challenges associated with finding effective solutions. The emergent themes from the focus group were juxtaposed against a variety of independent sources, including archival data and government reports. This allowed the researchers to examine how the directors' narratives aligned with available data. The results highlight social and environmental justice issues that social workers are uniquely qualified to address. The study concludes with implications for the social work profession by recommending future areas of research and suggesting interventions to mitigate the impacts of North Dakota's oil boom.