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Legislators witness reality of oil patch

Kathleen J. Bryan / Forum News Service From left, Sen. Phil Murphy, D-Portland, Rep. Alan Fehr, R-Dickinson, Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, and Rep. Rick Holman, D-Mayville, listen to QEP Resources operations consultant Doug McCartney at a drilling rig site in McKenzie County during a two-day tour in western North Dakota Tuesday.

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — When legislators and local government leaders in the Oil Patch make their case for more funding in the next legislative session, they want those from outside the region to have seen the situation firsthand.

“We want them to have visual images in their minds of seeing RV parks and these roads — not perceptions — of what it’s like out here,” Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said Wednesday. “... I think it hit home, they were all looking and watching, very quiet and reflective.”

Watford City and McKenzie County, the county that produces the most oil in the state, were the setting for part of a two-day tour of 40 legislators this week in advance of the 2015 session, which begins Jan. 6.

Sanford and Oil Patch leaders were laying the ground for having a greater share of oil production tax revenue collected by the state returned to oil-producing counties.

Rep. David Drovdal, R-Arnegard, who said he will not seek re-election after 22 years in the Legislature, said about 20 western legislators have been meeting to discuss a 60 percent local-40 percent state split in the oil and gas tax revenue disbursement.

Currently, 75 percent of the oil tax revenue goes to the state, while 25 percent goes to political subdivisions.

The oil boom’s impacts on communities and infrastructure are real, said Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton. He said he’s more sympathetic to the region than he was in the 2013 session.

“We need to give back more. I understand the needs — EMTs, day care, housing, all the infrastructure — I’m getting more of an education. … They have a lot of needs here,” he said.

Rep. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, said it was the Legislature’s previous session where she first heard about the region’s infrastructure needs such as water, day care and workforce housing.

“What I’m seeing isn’t a surprise. (It’s similar to) the difference between reading a travelogue and going there,” she said.

A retired youth worker for the Bismarck Police Department, Larson said she’s well aware of the law enforcement needs due to the changing demographics. She cited safety as a primary concern, especially in light of what she called a criminal element moving into western North Dakota.

Rep. Naomi Muscha, D-Enderlin, who is in her first term, said she wanted to see for herself and not fall prey to the “devastation stories” of the effects of oil development.

“I’m coming with a very open mind. There are always two sides to a story,” she said. “Of course there are spills and negative effects, but there are good sides, too. If you don’t see for yourself, then I think people tend to have more narrow minds and limited knowledge.”

Muscha and Sen. Phil Murphy, D-Portland, were among the several eastern North Dakota legislators on the tour.

“It’s important for us to see,” Murphy said.

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