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Page 10 ■ Thursday, April 12, 2012


BAKKEN BREAKOUT WEEKLY Reservation oil issues look familiar The explosion of oil exploration and development

on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota looks a lot like the rest of the Bakken play — rapid growth of quality crude oil production, an in- crease in good-paying jobs and a scramble to maintain roads and fi nd housing for workers. If anything, the im- pact may be tougher because the reservation typically has less transportation and housing infrastructure in place. Reservation offi cials, like state offi cials, are playing

catch-up. More than 400 wells tapping Bakken shale have been

developed on the Fort Berthold reservation in the past three years. Expectations are that 200 more wells will be drilled this year and 900 more over the next fi ve years. That’s a lot of drilling in an area of just more than 1,300 square miles. The reservation traditionally has had high unem- ployment, many times that of the state. One hope must

Forth Berthold feeling the oil boom, also playing catch-up

be that American Indian workers from the reservation can fi nd jobs with oil crews. Certainly, oil royalties will make a difference in lives on Fort Berthold. U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar last week saw

fi rsthand the impact of oil development in the New Town area. He could see the need to get the Bureau of Indian Affairs up to speed on evolving issues on Fort Berthold. The BIA and the Three Affi liated Tribes have signifi cant challenges ahead in dealing with oil develop-

ment. They can learn a lot from looking at how North Dakota state government responded. Key to the state’s initial response was to funnel funds

into improving the roads and bridges — it’s a matter of safety as much as anything else. And then efforts were put into expanding housing opportunities. And, fi nally, more law enforcement offi cers were stationed in the oil patch. It has been a reasonably effective strategy. Like the state, the Three Affi liated Tribes have been

trying to become a player in the energy industry and it’s paying off. In addition to crude oil production on the reservation, there are signs that a proposed refi nery project being developed by the Three Affi liated Tribes will also get approval. These oil projects could dramatically change res-

ervation life on Fort Berthold. How that change goes down will be determined largely by how well federal, state and tribal agencies respond to the rapid growth. It will be a challenge all the way around.

Oil patch needs better roads Turning U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and

Williston into an improved four-lane highway can’t come soon enough. The northwest North Dakota travel lifeline moves a

huge and growing volume of traffi c. Even recent im- provements — $40 million spent last summer widen- ing the 42-mile stretch of asphalt — fall short of “fi x- ing” the situation. Foremost, it’s a safety issue. And it’s a matter of cost in time spent on the road,

slowed down by heavy traffi c. The state Department of Transportation needs to

continue to push at its highway construction “to do” list in the oil patch. In relative terms, historically, the DOT is in high gear and everyone should appreciate that. But people who have to get around in western North Da- kota are beyond patience. The DOT is in the process of completing an envi-

ronmental impact statement on this section of High- way 85, which is necessary before any major improve- ments can be made. The same goes for the Highway 85

bridge over the Little Missouri River south of Watford City. The state must do its homework, get appropriate approvals and execute a thorough planning process, all before construction work can start. It’s an aggravating business for the citizens, and

there’s a growing sense that the state needs to get past the point of “catching up” with oil development. In this two-year state budget cycle, roads and bridges

in western North Dakota will see more than $900 mil- lion in maintenance and new construction. Less than half of that has been spent so far. The rest is still to come. While planning continues on some projects, other

work is ready to go: Rebuilding and repairing Highway 2 north of Williston, widening state Highway 23 east of New Town, expanding state Highway 22 north of Dickinson, adding turning lanes on Highway 22 north of Killdeer to the Lost Bridge, developing temporary and permanent truck-reliever routes at Williston and rebuilding Highway 85 through Alexander. Ducking road construction has become a science for

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Improved roads lead to improved safety for western N.D.

residents living in northwestern North Dakota. It’s always important for people to drive safely. But in the state’s oil patch it’s critical that drivers are alert and practice defensive driving skills. Improving the highways will help with safety. But more to the point, whoever is behind the steering wheel must be alert and aware when navigating the oil patch. It’s great news that Highway 85 will become four lanes on the important Watford-Williston stretch. It will be even better news when the work is done.


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