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North Dakota Eyes $800M to Keep Up With Oil Boom

North Dakota's state lawmakers continue to scramble to maintain and expand infrastructure impacted by the oil/natural gas boom in the state that spills over from the Bakken/Three Forks shale plays into the western counties and local communities.

Following up on a $720 million infusion that the state legislature allocated this year for expansions in the state highway system, state Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner has come up with an $800 million package he intended to have passed early next year to address county and city roads and other infrastructure.

Wardner, a Republican, told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday that he is confident he has the bipartisan support needed for another infusion of infrastructure dollars coming from North Dakota's understandably high oil tax revenues. "The money comes out of a fund [oil taxes] that we happen to have the luxury of in this state," he said.

"There are a lot of impacts [principally in four counties], Wardner said. "They need roads, streets sewers/water, and the cities and counties have to hire more people to take care of things, so the needs are great in terms of services and infrastructure."

While various academic and industry studies have confirmed that the oil boom has put billions of dollars into the state economy (see Shale Daily, March 19, 2013), Gov. Jack Dalrymple said earlier this year that since 2011, the state has pumped about $4 billion back into local communities, and still the need for additional local services and infrastructure continues to grow.

Each year Dalrymple and state lawmakers have called for funding to support more infrastructure, water and housing upgrades in western North Dakota to keep up with the robust growth in oil and gas development

While most of the needs are concentrated in four western counties -- Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams -- the proposed funds will be spread out more widely, said Wardner, adding that in the latest proposal, $650 million would be in the west, and another $150 million would be scattered in other counties around the state.

"The whole $800 million doesn't go to the west," Wardner said. "We have roads that need to be fixed in the east, too."

Wardner said the latest proposal mirrors the state legislative funding last year that allocated $720 million, but that was to shore up the state highway system, adding extra lanes and creating truck relief routes. That allocation send $620 million to the west with another $100 million spread around the rest of the state. It was all for state highways.

"We have worked on the state highway system and the improvements have been made; you can see it, including truck relief routes around some communities and we have four lanes now [instead of just two] between Watford City and Williston," Wardner said. "There are now a number of passing lanes on the state highways, and what a difference that makes."

The next step is to help the counties upgrade the roads flowing into the state highways, he said. "They're in pretty rough shape because there are a lot of trucks rolling over those roads every day [as part of the oil/gas activity]."

Wardner said he was in the process of "getting all the details worked out" for the submittal of a legislative proposal early next year. "We came out with the proposal now so we have time to sell the idea; there are still some citizens and legislators that think we spend way too much money; they don't think we need it."

As an example of the impacts that the oil boom has created, Wardner cites Watford City in McKenzie County in the northwest part of the state, which before the shale boom began less than a decade ago had a population of 1,500. There are more than 10,000 people living in and around the town today, he said.

"Watford City now has something the local citizens had never seen: traffic jams," Wardner said.

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