- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The year in news in North Dakota was led by slipping oil prices and a slowdown in the state’s oil patch. But there were many of other topics that made headlines, from agriculture and abortion to a fiery train derailment and an end to a lengthy dispute over the University of North Dakota’s nickname.

Here is a look back at some of North Dakota’s top news stories of 2015:

OIL SLOWDOWN

Depressed crude prices and a drop in drilling has North Dakota - once the nation’s economic darling - contemplating a dose of austerity. The price of North Dakota sweet crude has fallen by half from a year ago and the number of drill rigs has dropped by two-thirds. That’s been bad news for state government. Overall tax revenues are already nearly $152 million less than projected for the two-year budget cycle that began July 1. Most of the drop comes from weakened sales tax revenue due to a decline in drilling.

The Legislature ended its 2015 session in April after spending a record amount of money. Slumping oil prices forced lawmakers to re-evaluate their budget plans throughout the session, though they didn’t cut spending too severely, setting aside $5 million for a new governor’s mansion and $1.5 million to buy a rare mummified dinosaur, among other expenditures.

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UND NICKNAME

The Fighting Hawks was selected in November to replace Fighting Sioux as University of North Dakota nickname.

The NCAA disputed the Fighting Sioux nickname and UND decided to retire it after the school failed to win approval to keep it from the state’s two tribes. State residents voted overwhelmingly in early 2012 to dump the nickname and American Indian head logo that was first unveiled in the 1930s and redesigned by a Native American UND alumnus in 1999.

UND had been without a nickname since 2012, when the state retired the Fighting Sioux moniker after the NCAA deemed it “hostile and abusive.”

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GOVERNOR

North Dakota Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who helped lead the state through the most prosperous time in its history thanks to the oil boom, announced in August that he won’t seek re-election in 2016. Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who had been on a short list of strong contenders for governor, announced a month later that he had an extramarital affair that had ended and would not seek a higher office.

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WAL-MART SHOOTING

An Air Force airman fatally shot a Grand Forks Wal-Mart worker and wounded another before killing himself. Police say Marcell Willis, a 21-year-old senior airman stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, walked into the store at about 1 a.m. on May 26 and killed 70-year-old overnight cashier Gregory Weiland and wounded 47-year-old overnight grocery general manager Lisa Braun. Willis then killed himself. His motive isn’t known.

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ABORTION CHALLENGE

A federal appeals court in July upheld a 2014 ruling that struck down a North Dakota law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Abortion rights supporters have called it the most restrictive abortion law in the country. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.

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CORPORATE FARMING

So-called ham-and-cheese legislation that relaxes North Dakota’s Depression-era ban against corporate farming was to go on the books this year, but the state’s biggest farming group successfully pushed the matter to a June 2016 public vote. The North Dakota Farmers Union is leading the campaign to overturn the Legislature’s decision to exempt pork and dairy operations from the state’s anti-corporate farming law. The measure, one of the most contentious non-oil related bills considered by lawmakers in 2015, is intended to revitalize dairy and swine farms after years of decline, supporters said. Opponents believe the current law blocks unfair competition, and changing it even slightly will be an invitation for big, out-of-state corporations to set up operations in North Dakota.

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OIL TRAIN DERAILMENT

An oil train derailed and caught fire in May in a rural area of central North Dakota, prompting the evacuation of a nearby town where about 20 people live. No injuries were reported in the derailment of the 109-car BNSF railway train. The Health Department monitored air quality and advised people not to breathe in the thick, black smoke. The six cars that caught fire were carrying approximately 180,000 gallons of oil.

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BISON FOOTBALL

The North Dakota State University football team won its fourth consecutive Football Championship Subdivision title in January and is on the brink of its fifth straight crown. The Bison overcame the loss of their star quarterback Carson Wentz, an NFL draft prospect, to a wrist injury. The season included a victory over University of North Dakota in the first game between the two longtime rivals in a dozen years.


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