- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Aug. 11, 2016

Study offers opportunity for oil patch

When the oil boom exploded in North Dakota it was every man for himself. Companies jockeyed for the best sites, landowners pursued the most lucrative deals and government scrambled to improve infrastructure.

It was the Wild West.

Now, with falling oil prices, calm has prevailed on the region. Drilling continues, but at a less frantic pace. Highway traffic no longer seems like a racetrack and the number of wells in operation has declined.

There’s time to step back and evaluate the situation. That’s what the World Wildlife Fund hired the Covenant Consulting Group to do. Members of the World Wildlife Fund toured the Bakken region and they visited areas of the Badlands not impacted yet by the oil boom. They wanted to know how development, if it reached into new areas, could be handled better. They also wanted to know how things could be improved in the Bakken.

Rod Backman of Covenant Consulting Group has been explaining the study results. One thing he wants to make clear, none of the stakeholders in the Bakken want or expect oil drilling to go away. What they want is better planning and more reasoned development.

Backman’s team found people appreciated the jobs and community revitalization that resulted from the boom. They also found widespread support for protection of surface assets. Backman put together a team of industry, conservation and ranching experts and interviewed 71 people - 26 members of ranching and grazing associations, 21 state, local and federal government officials and 20 members of conservation groups. The team also contacted 11 oil companies and got responses from four officials.

The next step in the process involves the selection of five representatives from government, the oil industry, conservation and ranching who will meet six times over the next five months with the goal of developing salable solutions. Backman said the five North Dakotans are independent, charged with coming up with a plan for Badlands users by Badlands users. After five months the group can decide whether they want to continue to disband.

The wisdom of their plan will determine whether it’s adopted, in whole or part, or ignored.

Over the last few years there have been ideas floated about task forces or special committees to develop recommendations for oil development in North Dakota. Nothing came of the ideas. The World Wildlife Fund and Covenant have given the state a starting point. It’s unlikely everyone will agree with everything that the group of five proposes. It will benefit everyone to consider their suggestions. So far there’s nothing to indicate this project is guided by an agenda other than finding better ways for all stakeholders to work together.

The craziness of the early Bakken days resulted in outcomes unsatisfactory to all parties involved. We have a chance to improve the situation as we move forward. It will benefit residents and companies to pay attention to the proposals coming from the five. They should be given close scrutiny because of the potential impact on the state. It’s also important to remember all stakeholders expressed interest in protecting surface assets.

Finding ways to do this, whether it’s oil companies sharing roads or landowners working with companies to develop plans, will benefit us.

This study provides an opportunity for North Dakota and should be taken seriously.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, Aug. 8, 2016

Budget dangers are ahead

The recent revelation that Minot’s budget was held in check and that local residents would not see sizable tax increases in the next year was good news.

Make no mistake, however, that there will be budget challenges in the next few years and that is whether or not the economy rebounds.

The cost of government is only going to go up, even if there isn’t a reasoned expansion. Insurance is only going to become more expensive. Competing for quality employees and retaining them will only become more expensive. The nation is also facing an election in which neither candidate is offering anything resembling a coherent plan that will reduce costs across the board meaning inflation will affect everything government does. Furthermore, there appear to be vague expenses in the city’s hurried, somewhat veiled garbage scheme.

Some feel that should the price of oil boom, revenue will secure a taxpayer-friendly budget and tax levels. However, we have learned that with booms such as that come an increased population and an increased need for infrastructure and services. Already, an argument could be made that police and critical social services are underfunded. What will that picture look like with a 20 percent increase in population?

Of course the flip side of the situation is a prolonged slow economy. This would see the cost of government going up while the need for services goes up.

Things rarely stay the same for long, so one of these scenarios is likely to be in the near future. Good management of Minot’s budget and real expenses as well as strong leadership can, of course, steer a reasoned course but those aren’t things that have defined Minot generally.

Minot is in the calm before a storm. Only the type of storm is to be revealed.

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