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Fatal crashes in oil patch double those of 2010

By DAVE CALDWELL For the Associated Press

MINOT (AP) — Traffi c ac- cidents in the oil patch region of the state have reached dizzying numbers in 2011, with fatalities suffered on the roadways higher for the northwest region of the state than in any other two regions combined. Unfortunately, that trend is al-

most sure to continue, according to au- thorities. The North Dakota Highway Patrol’s

Northwest Region includes three of the most heavily oil-impacted counties — McKenzie, Williams and Mountrail. And although it has not seen much drill- ing activity, Ward County is also heavily oil-impacted as a business hub for many companies moving into the eastern edge of the bountiful Bakken shale play. Capt. Gary Orluck, administrative

commander for the Northwest Region, says there’s no doubt that accidents, and more specifi cally fatal accidents, are on a meteoric rise. “We’re double what any other region is in the state,” Orluck said recently. “So far, in 2011, year-to-date, we have 55 fa- talities in the Northwest Region.” By comparison, the Southeast Region,

where the state’s largest city, Fargo, is lo- cated, has 24 fatalities. The Southwest Region, home to Bismarck as well as oil impact counties Dunn and Stark, has 25, while Grand Forks’ Northeast Region has 26.

Those 55 fatalities occurred in 50

total fatal crashes, a trend not unusual with other regions. The vast majority of fatality crashes only kill one person, for- tunately. Alcohol has been involved in approxi-

mately 45 percent of the traffi c fatalities statewide, but the Northwest Region’s 40 percent is actually holding that number down. In the eastern regions, where there is virtually no oil impact, alcohol is in- volved in 50 percent of the fatalities. Thus far in 2011, the Northwest Re-

gion has seen a 5 percent boost in the number of property damage accidents when compared with the total from 2010, and a 7.5 percent jump from 2009. However,

injury accidents are up more than 45 percent over 2010, and 30

BAKKEN NEWS Continued from page 1

Thursday, December 15, 2011 ■ Page 5 Governor updates funds

state highway maintenance program with plans for improvements to U.S. Highway 2 through Williston, N.D. Highway 23 east and west of New Town and N.D. Highway 8 north and south of Stanley, among other highways. Ziegler said while N.D. Highway 22 is

now reopened, there is another possible problem one-half mile north of the pre- vious slide area. There is a crack in the highway and

the DOT is monitoring the area. Another $142 million was appropri-

ated from the general fund for work on county and township roads. Ziegler said with an abbreviated

percent over 2009. Fatal crashes in the region have al-

ready more than doubled over 2010. McKenzie and Ward counties have

the state’s highest number of fatalities, with 15 and 13 respectively, and when combined exceed any other entire region. Adding in Williams’ 10 and Mountrail’s six, those four counties have suffered 34 percent of the state’s total. Orluck said he is puzzled over the exact cause of so many fatal accidents. “The reasons? I don’t know,” he said.

“Alcohol is only one facet. Thirty of our 55 fatalities were not wearing seat belts. If we could impact those two areas in a meaningful way, hopefully we could bring those numbers down.” All in all, the increase in the num-

ber of traffi c accidents is a function of mathematics, Orluck said, and cannot be placed on the shoulders of the oil in- dustry. “It’s easy to blame the oil industry, and a lot of people tend to do that,” he said. “I think that’s somewhat unfair. Not all the crashes are caused by a commer- cial driver, driving an oil truck that’s vio- lating all kinds of laws. “Does that happen? Yes, and we stop

them. But we also stop everyday drivers, driving cars every day. It’s just the num- ber of people and the number of vehicles on any specifi c stretch of highway at any given time. “It also doesn’t mean that some of

these crashes could be prevented if peo- ple followed all the rules of the road.” Orluck said speed, tiredness and dis-

tracted driving are huge factors as well. The keys are defensive driving and

personal responsibility. “To blame it all on the oil industry and out of state drivers? That’s just not fair,” he said. “We’ve got just as many North Dakotans that we pick up for traf- fi c violations.”

“We built our home in Misty Waters in 2009 and absolutely love the area. Going home at the end of the day is like going to our favorite vacation destination.”

Kent and Gail Jacobson, Misty Waters homeowners and owners of Jacobson Contracting (Aug, 2011).

1022 E. Divide Ave. Bismarck, ND 222-2217

construction season because of the wet spring, more than 86 percent of $596 million in highway contracts have been completed. Dalrymple said housing, water devel- opment and emergency services are oth- er areas that must be addressed sooner rather than later. He said nine new highway patrol of-

fi cers are being stationed in the West with another four headed that way this

spring. Dalrymple said another pressing is- sue is the lack of housing, something addressed in the last session with an ex- panded Housing Incentive Fund and $15 million in tax credits. During the special session, Dalrym- ple pushed for an increase of nearly four times in the Housing Incentive Fund and changed the terms of the program to al- low for 100 percent of the tax credit to be claimed during the year of the invest- ment. Prior to that, the credits were doled out at 20 percent a year over fi ve years. During the upcoming road tour, Dal-

rymple said, he and other state offi cials are prepared to be somewhat fl exible when it comes to hearing what is needed in oil country. And it’s likely to change depending on circumstances, he said. “We want to be out there listening,”

Dalrymple said. “It’s a dynamic situation. The reality changes month to month.” (Reach reporter Brian Gehring at 250- 8254 or brian.gehring@bismarcktribune. com.)

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