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Posted 10/23/19 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

It doesn’t take an economist to realize the importance that the resurgence in the Bakken oilfield has had on Watford City and McKenzie County. Or just how important the Bakken is to North Dakota’s economy.
As we have witnessed in the past six years, the exponential growth of the Bakken with all of its new oil and gas wells and the development of new natural gas processing plants has played the major role in creating a major oil and gas industry in North Dakota.
During any given month, McKenzie County now produces upward of 40 percent of the state’s oil and just under 50 percent of North Dakota’s natural gas and is recognized as the largest oil producing county in the United States. During this past August, the county’s 4,548 producing wells pumped out just under 17 million barrels of oil and just over 46.5 million cubic feet of natural gas. And as more wells are being drilled into the “sweet spot” of the Bakken the number of new wells and the oil and natural gas production from those wells will continue to increase.
And when one looks at how the growth of the oil and gas industry has impacted Watford City and McKenzie County economically, the numbers are staggering.
Consider that in 2013, Watford City’s taxable sales and purchases for the entire calendar year were just over $197 million and around $242.5 million for McKenzie County.
Jump forward six years, according to data from the North Dakota Tax Department, in the first six months of 2019 Watford City and McKenzie County have very nearly equaled the total sales in 2019. During the first six months of 2019 alone, Watford City’s taxable sales and purchases topped $115.3 million, while the county’s sales have grown at the same pace.
That level of increase in sales is almost unheard of in the nation. And certainly it is unprecedented growth for any city in North Dakota outside of the Bakken.
But the impacts of the Bakken, both positive and negative, have been most felt in Watford City and McKenzie County, which are the hub of this new growing industry. The city has been forced to invest millions of dollars in new roads, streets and sewer systems as Watford City’s population has grown from 1,450 in 2010 to close to 10,000 people today. In addition, our school system has built a new high school and is in the process of building a second elementary school to meet enrollment growth.
The growth in the population has been good. Because of a growing population, in addition to adding new schools, we’ve seen the construction of the Rough Rider Center, a new medical complex, new retail come to the community and more housing being built.
While there are still challenges to be met, most notable the need for more single-family homes, the changes that the oil industry have brought to Watford City, McKenzie County and western North Dakota have been good.
With the continued development of the Bakken as the oil and gas industry continues to invest billions of dollars into new wells, natural gas processing plants and pipeline projects, there is no reason not to believe that Watford City and McKenzie County will continue to be the shining star of economic development in North Dakota.