— He dropped out of north suburban Richmond-Burton Community High School, and a few years later Andy Turco found himself staining decks in the summer, plowing snow in the winter and going without work for a month or two in between.
Nearly homeless, he saw himself on a dead-end path.
Then he talked to a buddy working here, in a barren corner of North Dakota, where an ugly-sounding word — fracking — has driven oil from the ground and pushed unemployment down to 0.7 percent. That's right: seven-tenths of one percent.
Turco sold his car, hopped in a van and drove west.
Today, he's earning nearly six figures working about 90 hours a week on a drilling rig, one of many Chicago-area transplants who have joined thousands in a remote region experiencing an oil boom while much of the country tries to shake off a recession hangover.
"It is the best thing I ever did; no doubt about it," said Turco, 24, who arrived in Williston in October 2011. "I'm finally living an adult lifestyle, instead of a teenage dropout lifestyle."
And it's all thanks to fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, a relatively new and controversial drilling technology in which highly pressurized water, sand and other substances are driven into oil-rich shale thousands of feet deep, creating cracks that release the oil deposits and send them up the well.
Illinois, particularly its far southern counties, is dealing with the early stages of fracking, including the legislative wrangling over it. On Tuesday, a coalition of grass-roots groups citing health, safety and environmental concerns descended on Springfield to call for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and a reconsideration of what the groups call "an industry-backed fracking regulatory bill."
In Williston, a town that sprouts from rolling, windswept plains and crystal blue sky about 65 miles south of Canada, fracking flourishes, bringing with it thousands of jobs, explosive population growth and an array of consequences.
With a population experts place somewhere between 38,000 and 42,000, Williston is the fastest-growing "micropolitan area" in the U.S., the city's 2012 impact statement reports. In 2010, Williston's population was less than 17,000.
That explosive growth created a housing crisis, and oil and drilling companies responded with "man camps," temporary housing shells that resemble military barracks and trailer parks. Also, a village of hundreds of trailers, recreational vehicles and semitrailers covers a large swath of land north of town.
Monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment, if one can be found, is about $2,500. Houses can rent for $5,000 a month.
Traffic is heavy with large pickups and semis that generate a great deal of dust and mud. The local Wal-Mart has difficulty keeping the shelves stocked and shifts staffed. Crime, particularly against women in a town flooded with men, is a touchy subject.
The city, the impact statement notes, is "ground zero" in the largest oil rush in the lower 48 states.
Tapping into the prosperity requires north country fortitude. Turco lived in the Wal-Mart parking lot for several weeks, even though he found a construction job shortly after arriving. He then bounced to an oil field job "where I was knee-deep in mud."
For those first months, he had neither a car nor a cellphone. A better oil job allowed him to move to a trailer. Now, he's worked his way up to the dangerous but well-paid job on the drilling rig in which he logs 121/2 hours a day for two consecutive weeks then takes off two weeks. He and his girlfriend, Melissa Tate, of Bozeman, Mont., share an apartment with a roommate, Ian Hernandez, 24, who like Turco is from the McHenry County town of Richmond.
"I have an oil-field lifestyle," Turco said. "It's a different life experience. It's kind of cool to learn about a new job that no one else knows about."
Amy Drehobl took a distinctly different path to Williston. After graduating in May 2011 from Eastern Illinois University with a degree in elementary education, she couldn't find a teaching job.
By last spring, Drehobl, of Libertyville, was managing The Limited women's clothing store in Vernon Hills. Then her grandmother called and told her of this charming town experiencing dramatic growth that she was driving through on vacation — Williston.