Boom or Bust! What Enigma’s newest project tells us about the economy of North Dakota


Explore Enigma's Boom or Bust project, delving into North Dakota's economy using CARTO for compelling visual storytelling.

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Boom or Bust! What Enigma’s newest project tells us about the economy of North Dakota

Open data is an important part of how we understand both local and global economies  how we discover new possibilities  and how we identify the key insights within data can reveal tremendous things about the world  continuing to transform it in the years and decades to come. Our friends at Enigma have embodied this idea fully  working tirelessly to maintain over 100,000 open datasets and develop insightful stories using technology including CARTO.

Recently, we sat down with the team at Enigma to talk about their recently released [Boom or Bust] microsite, which takes a deep dive into open data and compelling visual narrative with CARTO, to understand what’s next for North Dakota’s economy. Here’s what they had to say!

Tell us a bit about Enigma and the North Dakota Boom or Bust Project built using CARTO.

Enigma curates and maintains over 100,000 open datasets, available for non-commercial use to the general public. Within this trove of information are amazing stories across a wide range of topics. We enjoy creating microsites around data we find to be particularly rich with storytelling potential, not only to showcase the breadth and depth of our data, but to highlight the insight it provides and to make public data even more accessible to the public.

Our latest microsite, [Boom or Bust], profiles the dramatic rise and fall of oil and gas production in North Dakota over the last decade. Using nearly one million rows of raw data from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), along with CARTO’s Torque.js library, we can visualize the output of 15,000 individual wells over ten years in less than fifteen seconds.

It's an amazing data story with incredible insight. Tell us a bit about your decision to use CARTO  and your experience with the platform in the development of this story.

Several people on our team have experience using CARTO so it was a natural choice for this project. The CARTO is great for fast prototyping  regardless of what platform you end up using in production - you can quickly discover and explore temporal relationships in the data using a Torque layer from the map layers wizard.

On the microsite we used the standalone Torque.js library since we needed a bespoke front-end. We created two custom slider controls and synced them with the Torque animation by listening to the change events exposed by the API. We also used the CARTO.js API to extract individual well data for display in Leaflet popups.

A great thing about Torque layers is that they can be updated even while an animation is playing, meaning that you can give the appearance of multiple layers without actually needing more than one. We used this approach to achieve distinct color schemes depending on the active basemap by simply updating the layer’s CartoCSS.


 ...with CARTO  we can visualize the output of 15 000 individual wells over ten years in less than fifteen seconds.

Were you able to discover something you did not already know from the data?

Early on we noticed that the wells appeared to be located along very straight lines. Initially this was assumed to be an artifact from spatial aggregation, since using Torque with certain parameters results in a grid-like plot. We were quite shocked to discover that this was not an artifact at all, but the consequence of so many wells drilled along North Dakota’s rectilinear network of roads.

Another interesting spatial aspect of the data is the way in which oil fields are extremely segregated by operating companies. We chose not to make this a focus of the microsite, but North Dakota is basically carved up into drilling fiefdoms. And though there are more than two hundred different well operators in the region, most wells are operated by several of the largest companies.

With this deep body of research, where do you see the future of North Dakota's economy  and how can this project inform decisions being made?

The biggest discovery we made was that production is actually still on the rise in North Dakota, but it isn’t an economic boon to the area. Operators are profiting less than in the past, not only per barrel, but overall. This has resulted in North Dakota’s unemployment rate creeping back toward the U.S. average, in contrast to the real boom years during which the rate in oil-producing counties was historically low.

We hope you enjoyed this project and the insight created by Enigma. Stay tuned for more great insightful projects, and as always…

Happy data mapping!