AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
While oil activity has been rebounding across McKenzie County for the past year, the big question that many people may have had was what impact would this uptick in the oil patch have on the communities in our county?
What was known for sure is that the occupancy levels in our apartment buildings and motels were holding steady and increasing. The traffic on the highways and county roads in McKenzie County was definitely increasing. And retail sales throughout the county were rebounding from where they were in 2016.
The question that wasn’t able to be answered until last week was does this uptick in oil activity translate into more families living in McKenzie County.
And, if school enrollment numbers are any indication, the answer to that last question is a definite yes.
All of the McKenzie County schools, with the exception of Mandaree, saw a very healthy gain in the number of students enrolled this year compared to last year.
For Watford City’s schools, 2107 saw another enrollment record set when 1,554 students showed up for classes on the first day of school.
While some of the increase in student numbers may be coming from this recent increase in oil activity, area school administrators believe that the trend that we are now witnessing of an ever increasing enrollment is based on the communities becoming more stable. And that stability is being brought by all of the gas plants that are in operation in the county and the oilfield service companies that are servicing this region of the Bakken.
In other words, while the days of $100 per barrel oil may be gone, oil companies have figured out how to make money at a much lower price. The oil industry in western North Dakota, and in particular in McKenzie County, is becoming very stable. New wells are being drilled, uncompleted wells are being put into production, more oil and gas pipelines are going into the ground, new gas plants are being built and existing plants are being expanded in order to meet the new demands.
The oil industry in western North Dakota has matured a lot in the last several years. Companies know the opportunities that exist in the Bakken and they are investing millions of dollars in infrastructure in the county. And more importantly, they are hiring workers that are now bringing their families to our communities to live and work.
That is why our schools are seeing increasing enrollment numbers. And that change is what will drive Watford City’s and McKenzie County’s population and economic future forward in the future.
Being at the very center of the Bakken Oil Shale development has been a blessing for Watford City and McKenzie County. When there was a slowdown in oil activity when oil prices plummeted, this core area of the state’s oil patch was more resilient to job loss than were those communities that were on the fringe. And now when companies start to ramp up their activities again, this is the first place that will see an increase in employment activity.
Which is why our school districts continue to show enrollment growth. As the oil industry becomes more stable in McKenzie County, the county will see a more stable population.