Our View: Western North Dakota’s oil story is far from told

The story of the Bakken oil boom was — and is — the biggest economic tale in the history of North Dakota and is arguably one of America’s most important stories of this young century.

The recent slowdown is not the end of the story, nor will it be the beginning of something else. Instead, it’s the continuation of what now is the post-boom stage and establishment of North Dakota’s energy industry.

The excitement of unprecedented growth in western North Dakota brought stories of individual, business and community success, and gave the state a financial reserve that has been the envy of the nation. However, with opportunities came challenges — skyrocketing rents, empty store shelves, traffic jams and sophisticated crime the likes of which were rarely, if ever, seen in the area.

Now the story is about falling oil prices and the effect it has on everything and everyone in western North Dakota.

Over the past month, The Press has run an ongoing series titled “What’s Next? The oil slowdown in western North Dakota.” What we’ve found is that many people in the Bakken, and southwest North Dakota in particular, are taking deep breaths and welcoming the slowdown in activity. To some others, however, it signaled an end to another boom — a bust.

Stories of opportunity have been replaced with those of the challenges for individuals, businesses and the state. Rents may be dropping, but many folks have lost their jobs and have gone back to from where they came.

Two years ago, North Dakota legislators debated how best to spend record-breaking tax revenues. This winter, they sharpened their budget pencils and used erasers to try and best to meet everyone’s needs as revenue fell.

The price of oil is the result of the global economy and not a reflection of the American industry.

Energy development in our country has arguably been the lone bright spot of our economy since the recession began. Remember, this all happened despite the White House doing almost everything in its power to curtail the very real potential of American energy independence — something that was almost unthinkable until this decade.

Removing the trade embargo on crude oil and authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline would go a long way toward strengthening the industry and restoring lost jobs. Realistically, however, neither will move forward as long as the current administration occupies the White House.

Nonetheless, development will continue as long as there is a need for oil. Value-added products and plants, like the Dakota Prairie Refining diesel topping plant west of Dickinson — as well as future fertilizer and plastics plants elsewhere in the state — will add stability to North Dakota’s oil industry.

The price of oil rises and falls like any other commodity, and that’s nothing new for the industry, which knows how to take it all in stride. Short-term low oil prices help make good companies great, encourages consolidation, and can be devastating to businesses that refuse to show high concern for their environment or the safety of their employees.

The Dickinson Press, The Drill and Forum News Service will continue to tell the story of what’s happening in western North Dakota, be it flattering or unflattering. Our responsibility is to report and give an honest appraisal of a story that continues to test the imagination.

In short, we want to help you answer the question, “What’s next?”

The recent drop in oil prices has certainly changed the story that is the Bakken. But in no way has it ended the story.