July 29, 2014

Lawmakers to visit state’s oil patch

By Stephanie Allums
Farmer Staff Writer

Nearly 40 North Dakota lawmakers will swarm the Bakken oil patch on Aug. 26 for a North Dakota Petroleum Council sponsored two-day tour event. They will be exposed to the booming oil fields and get to see its impacts firsthand.
Many officials in the western part of the state have high hopes for a drastic shift in the distributing formula of the oil and gas production tax revenue. Currently, 75 percent goes to the state and only 25 percent goes back to local governments.
Chairman Ron Anderson of the McKenzie County Board of Commissioners and Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford both said they want to see a 60-40 split in favor of the local governments in all of the oil-producing counties.
“Last session we fought for a 50-50 split,” Anderson said. “We were successful in getting our share increased; however, it was not close to the 50-50 we thought we needed at that time. We have now fallen even further behind.”
Watford City received about $46 million in state money during the current two-year budget cycle, according to Sanford. But the city’s infrastructure needs are nearly $284 million.
The city’s wastewater system that was designed for 1,000 residents is being used today by more than 6,500 people.
Sanford also said that hundreds of housing units in Watford City are hamstrung by the lack of infrastructure that the city can’t afford to fund on its own.
Watford City is just one of the many towns within McKenzie County that need financial support and help.
“A formula change to 60 percent county, 40 percent state is absolutely necessary to put our county back together,” Anderson said.
The roads are overrun with more traffic than ever. Road construction is taking place all over the Bakken.
Ten years ago, there were probably 5,000 people living in McKenzie County, according to Sanford. Now, he said, it can take five minutes just to make a left-hand turn in town because of the increased traffic.
“We need to at least double our budget for roads,” Anderson said. “This would not only include bringing our present paved roads up to all-weather status, but paving new haul roads as well. It makes no sense to regrade and apply gravel every year to many of our haul roads.”
Each county in the state is receiving some portion of the billions of oil and gas tax revenue. But only the western portion of the state is paying the price.
Sanford said he doesn’t want to come across as egotistical, but the Bakken is the “golden goose” of the state, and he thinks more money should be allocated here.
“We welcome any legislators that will come and see what we are dealing with in McKenzie County,” Anderson said. “That goes for the rest of the Bakken play, too.”