WILLISTON, N.D.  — City commissioners in Williston have given initial approval to an ordinance that would eliminate oil field crew camps within city limits next year, even though oil companies saying there remains a need for temporary worker housing despite the oil slowdown.

Commissioners on Tuesday voted 3-2 to set a July 1 deadline for crew camps to close, The Williston Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1La1j33 ). A final vote will come later.

Some people believe crew camps are unsightly and feed crime problems in the city. They also say a multimillion dollar expansion of apartments and hotels in Williston has eased a housing crunch.

A recent report from a consultant concluded that if all crew camps in the city and surrounding Williams County were to close, there would still be a surplus of nearly 1,300 apartments and hotel beds in Williston.

John Sessions, who has invested in apartments in the city, said rents have fallen by half as activity in the oil patch has slowed due to slumping crude prices. There are also fewer renters, which he said could lead to financial failures or fire sales.

"The average (occupancy rate) as of a week ago was 60 percent," he said. "This is not what the investment community expected."

Commissioners who voted against the ordinance say it could lead to an exodus of workers, and that it contains no provision for seasonal workforce housing. Oil companies said banning crew camps in city limits isn't a good idea because hotel and apartment rates are still high, and companies are operating on tight margins.

"We are in a fragile time in the industry," said Nabors Industries official Orlando Romero.

Halliburton official Brent Eslinger said housing oil workers in apartments and hotels isn't always the best solution, anyway.

"Crews come and go," he said. "They may work down in North Dakota or travel out of state. They follow where the work is at. They may be gone a couple weeks or be back. We cannot guarantee hotel rooms if we don't know where they're going to be from week to week."
Information from: Williston Herald, http://www.willistonherald.com