In Chris Hennen’s recent column “With oil dollars all but gone, what did we get?”, the writer bemoaned North Dakota’s revenue shortfall and the benefits reaped from the state’s oil boom.
Hennen presented some facts and figures that I feel need some clearing up.
First of all, the Budget Stabilization Fund is not a rainy day fund. The state legislature established this fund in 1987 to offset any revenue shortfalls.
What Hennen is likely referring to is the Legacy Fund, a source of funds derived from oil and natural gas revenue. State voters approved the Legacy Fund in 2010. None of the Legacy Fund’s $3.5 billion can be touched until after June 30, 2017; so as of today, the “rainy day fund” Hennen is likely referring to is actually intact (for now).
Next, Hennen appears to make the claim that simply because of a slowdown in the Bakken region, all businesses must be suffering. This assumption is not the case.
In the past two months in Watford City, two ice cream shops and a brewery/restaurant have opened. A young professionals group is blossoming in the town as well. A mixed martial arts fighter just opened a school. The city’s $83 million event center is set to open Sept. 15, a space which will house high school sports, concerts, conventions, classes, etc. Even more, a North Dakota Humanities Council grant landed a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist in Watford City to present his former work and photograph the area for a regional photo essay.
Hennen cites active drilling rig numbers from recent years as evidence of the slowdown; that may be a fair comparison, but even in that short span of time, technology has improved. Oil companies are putting more wells on fewer pads, reducing footprints on the landscape for more efficient extraction of oil and natural gas (and as a side note, the state had 91 percent gas capture this spring).
Third, Hennen makes it seem as if road construction and education needs are small benefits of the oil boom. I disagree entirely. Watford City, Williston, Killdeer and other communities have much-needed bypasses, roundabouts and alternate routes—roadways that have severely alleviated traffic congestion in what were once quiet towns on the Great Plains.
Those towns are quiet no more due to an influx of people from outside North Dakota, many of whom have now settled here with children and young families. And if there’s any doubt that North Dakota is not a place to raise a family, please inspect the recent Kids Count numbers released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. North Dakota is ranked No. 8 overall nationwide this year for children’s well-being. The state is also ranked No. 2 for economic prosperity.
Hennen’s column decries doom and gloom for the state in a situation which pales in comparison to the 1980s when oil prices bottomed out and the state drained of people like a colander. Today North Dakota is one of the youngest states in the nation and appears fit enough to ride out this slowdown until better days arrive. In the meantime, we must be realistic in our outlook and understand the true confines of the situation before delivering any opinion.
Jack DuraWatford City, N.D.
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