"An average oil well runs 2,000 truckloads of equipment to start it and another 2,000 loads once they get it up and going," says Al Anderson, commissioner of the state's Chamber of Commerce. The trucks carry everything from frack sand, chemicals and water to pieces of the rigs to the oil itself, once production begins.

"All of the traffic and thriving businesses were what everyone wanted in small-town North Dakota in the past," says Ward Heidbreder, city coordinator of Stanley, N.D. "And now they have it."

With the wish granted, officials now have pressing needs. They are extending water and sewer systems and trying to find housing for the new workers. They are expanding schools to make room for all the new children. The city of Williston alone is spending $500 million on infrastructure upgrades.

"We're spending $150 million on a regional water system, $150 million on updating the airport, $90 million on wastewater treatment and $100 million on a four-lane truck route around the city with diamond interchanges," says Tom Rolfstad, the city's executive director of economic development. Tulsa, Okla.-based natural-gas distributor ONEOK is adding capacity, putting in two natural-gas processing plants "at $180 million dollars each," Rolfstad says.

Basin Electric Co-Op is constructing two $60-million, 45-MW, natural-gas-fired peaking powerplants in the area. One will be west of Watford City and the other near Williston, says Curt Pearson, project representative at Basin. A $347-million, 200-mile, high-voltage transmission line from Basin's Antelope Valley Station to a substation east of Tioga, near the Bakken fields, is scheduled to start construction in mid-2014.

More Congestion

Meanwhile, the roads are taking a beating. With 6,500 oil wells in operation, 217 wells under construction and another 35,000 projected, the semis just keep rolling, crowding the thin highways stretched across the vast state. State legislators set aside $1.2-billion for infrastructure in their last session, says Anderson. Some is simply for widening and paving dirt roads.

"Every town used to want the highway running down the main street—that's how shops survived," says Anderson. "Now that's all changed," he says, as towns endure ever-more congestion.

"Between 2006 and today, we went from an average of 2,000 vehicles a day on [Williston-area] highways to 6,500," says Francis Ziegler, director of NDDOT and president of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "If they were all cars, we could handle them, but 40% to 60% are trucks."

"The speed of development here is about two years ahead of the speed of government," says Stanley city coordinator Heidbreder. "I started with the city eight years ago and was told if we had one major infrastructure project every three years, that was busy. This year we'll have over 20."