Ryan Holeywell is a staff writer at GOVERNING.E-mail: email@example.com
The oil boom in North Dakota is causing a major strain on communities in the western part of the state. Cities like Dickinson, Williston and Minot have identified about $100 million each in infrastructure needs that are the the result of a population surge they haven't seen in years. And because of the way oil is taxed here, they’re not flush with the cash, making it difficult to address problems like short-staffed police departments, congested roadways and strained sewer systems.
Hear Ryan speak to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple describe the challenges facing western North Dakota.
Legislation championed by Dalrymple may change that. A new law state law will provide a combined $35 million for Williston, Minot and Dickinson, the largest cities in oil country, and $65 million for counties, townships, school districts and smaller cities in the area. That money will pay for projects like sewer and water systems, and police and fire substations. That's on top of a state transportation budget that includes $228.6 million for state highway projects in the oil zone as well as $142 million for city, county and township roads in the affected region. Dalrymple says the moves were needed to keep the region from being overwhelmed by the growth.
“We don’t want the counties and townships to get buried by these projects,” Dalrymple says. “We just gave them a whole bunch of money.” Whether that level of aid will continue in the future remains to be seen.
Hear Dalrymple describe aid the region is receiving.
Still, challenges remain. One of the greatest headaches facing the region is a housing crunch that has caused rent in rural communities to approach that of major U.S. cities. Shantytowns of trailers dot the landscape throughout the western part of the state. Even though workers can afford the bloated housing prices – the average oil field worker here earns more than $90,000 per year – housing is impossible to find in some places.
Dalrymple says the state government is subsidizing the cost of infrastructure like streets, water and sewers so that communities can build new housing units and subdivisions, which could provide relief. He expects that builders, who were initially skeptical of the region due to previous oil booms that went best, are now more confident.
Hear Dalrymple explain the housing crunch.
The oil industry has brought other challenges, too. When the state experienced record flooding this spring, waste pits – holes in the ground used to store muck associated with drilling – flooded with water, carrying the goo into the ecosystem. Oil companies were fined millions of dollars. Meanwhile, a landscape that is one of the most beautiful in the country is now dotted with thousands of oil wells.
Though Dalrymple dismisses concerns about the controversial hydraulic fracking process, he says he takes environmental issues seriously. The state is in the process of overhauling its environmental regulations of the industry, and he says he expects there to be special rules for wells near sensitive areas.
Hear Dalrymple discuss the environmental impact of the oil industry.
Still, some local leaders say with 6,000 wells already built, and another 20,000 on the horizon, it’s all too much, too fast. Williams County Commissioner Dan Kalil, for example, decries the “wholesale industrialization of western North Dakota.” But Dalrymple doesn’t take that view, arguing that most people appreciate the newfound economic opportunities.
Hear Dalrymple describe the future of western North Dakota.