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Power, perspectives related to oil country

This issue of North Dakota LIVING focuses on what some call the “mixed blessings” of North Dakota’s new-found oil economy. We trust our readers throughout the state, and especially those who live outside the oil patch, will gain a better understanding and appreciation of the dramatic change brought about by this economic boom that’s taken place, with much more to come.

North Dakota’s electric cooperatives are right in the thick of this change. Seven of the state’s 16 electric cooperatives provide power to the nearly 9,000 producing oil wells in the state. These cooperatives have responded to the challenge of powering this oil patch with a “can do” attitude .

Taken together, the state’s electric cooperatives that serve producing wells have seen a 57.7% increase in sales over the past three years. In 2010, those seven sold 2.1 million megawatt hours (MWHs) of electricity; that rose to 3.4 million MWHs at the end of 2012.

To meet this increasing load growth, North Dakota’s electric cooperatives are feverishly planning and building new generation and high voltage transmission projects. Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Bismarck, has 270 megawatts of new gas-fired generation planned or under construction at projects near Watford City and Williston. In addition, Basin Electric and its member cooperatives are investing millions of dollars in new high voltage transmission lines and substations and other system upgrades to get power from several generating sources into the region.

As member-owned businesses, electric cooperatives are uniquely positioned to see the mixed blessing of oil and gas development. Our commitment is to serve each of our members and in doing that, the oil industry growth has increased sales, created jobs and spawned the development of many service related businesses in co-op service territories. From the eyes of a member who perceives a decline in quality of life, it’s more mixed than blessing. The one area where that feeling does affect the electric cooperative is in securing easements. There is certainly landowner fatigue in the oil patch, brought about by repeated asks for easements for roads, power lines, water lines, pipelines, telecom cables or other public infrastructure.

At a recent meeting dealing with infrastructure, a participant said he thought the traffic was getting better in western North Dakota. Another said, “You are probably just getting used to it.”
North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources reported last month that average oil production topped 810,000 barrels of oil per day in May from those 9,000 wells. The industry predicts the state could be home to 30,000 to 50,000 more wells over the next decades depending on a number of factors and finds in new formations yet to be explored.

If that holds true, it’s going to take a lot more time, investment, patience and understanding  “getting used to it.”

.Dennis Hill, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Mandan. Comments can be mailed to Dennis Hill, NDAREC, P.O. Box 727, Mandan, ND 58554-0727 or by email to


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