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Letter to the editor: The Bakken is back


Today we're busier in the Bakken than most people think.

It's hard to believe that only 10 years ago, in May 2008, the state's oil production totaled 156,420 barrels of oil per day.  

In the last 18 months, production has grown by more than 300,000 barrels of oil per day, from 942,156 in December 2016. In May, the North Dakota oil and gas industry set a new production record, 1.244 million barrels of oil per day. Experts today anticipate we could exceed 2 million  barrels of oil per day. To grow any industry by eight fold in 10 years is truly remarkable, and the North Dakota economy has been transformed.

The oil and gas industry employs 20 percent of North Dakota’s workforce! And at incredible wages, paying more than 30 percent of total wages. North Dakota mineral owners reap more than $1 billion per year in royalty. And the taxes paid by the industry are astonishing, benefitting all North Dakotans. The average new well pays more than $1 million in oil taxes in its first year - and we completed nearly 900 new wells in the last 12 months! Because of it, our state's roads are in their best-ever condition, we have new law and medical schools, water diversion and aversion projects across the state, and a budget, though difficult, much stronger than it would have been without oil production.

It hasn't been without challenge. Western North Dakota worked hard to build our communities during the boom and to survive the downturn. For many, balance sheets will take longer to repair than income statements. A lot of iron remains underutilized in shop yards. Several investments in oil and gas, real estate and other projects have and continue to face challenges. 

While such situations cause hardship, the Bakken is fundamentally sound. The downturn forced rapid technology advancement in the industry. Often called simply "efficiency," it is far more in scope. Better operations, knowledge and technology have doubled production per well in only a few years and decreased the cost of each well.

Our people changed too. Williams and McKenzie counties are among the youngest in the nation. The young guys who came out during the boom are five years older now, married and feeding growing young families. Our community events are packed with strollers, and even newly-built schools are full. The Bakken became a place for young adults to create families, friends and career opportunities (very often with six-figure paychecks). Now our next challenge in western North Dakota is growing community amenities to make this a place they love even more.

Record production, record employment and record births. There's no question the Bakken is back. 

(Rolfstad is the retired director of Williston Economic Development.)