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North Dakota awards $3.9 million in oil impact grants

BISMARCK -- For North Dakota's oil and gas producing counties, Thursday was like waking up on Christmas Day and finding out how generous Santa was this year.

The state Board of University and School Lands approved $3.9 million in grants to 253 oil-impacted townships and fire/ambulance departments.

The townships will receive $2.7 million, while fire/ambulance will receive $1.2 million.

Approved funding includes $40,000 for Killdeer Area Ambulance, $20,000 for the West Dunn Rural Fire District, $20,000 for Belfield's fire department and $20,000 for the Dickinson Rural Fire District.

A complete list of the entities that received money and how much they received is available at Jeff Engleson, director of the Energy Development Impact Office, said there were $62.5 million in requests for funding and 422 applications from 314 political subdivisions.

The money for these grants comes from taxes paid to the state by the oil and gas industry. Funding is used for infrastructure repair and improvement projects in political subdivisions affected by oil and gas activity.

Engleson said they focused on townships and fire/ambulance this funding round because the process for these grants will change starting this month.

Up to Thursday, the Oil and Gas Impact Fund had an $8 million cap per biennium. Once the fund reached that amount, oil tax revenue trickled to other state funds.

The Legislature voted this year to raise the cap on the fund to $100 million per biennium to address the growing needs in western North Dakota's 17 oil- and gas-producing counties. The new biennium begins today Friday .

Williston, Minot and Dickinson are eligible to share $33 million during the two-year period, while other political subdivisions -- such as counties, townships and smaller cities -- are eligible for $61.4 million.

Rapidly growing enrollment schools are eligible for $5 million, and $350,000 will go toward updating road studies. The remaining funding is for administrative costs, Engleson said.

Due to the funding change, the award process will change from annual grants to quarterly.

"Trying to transition from one program to another, it was kind of decided as a group that we should focus this grant round on townships and fire and ambulance services, which are the functions that this program has focused on most in the past," Engleson said.

The funding round scheduled for late July will focus on projects that build and improve infrastructure in the oil and gas impacted cities.

Community projects like water treatment and waste water facilities, trunk lines, projects that support population growth and direct response to damage caused by oil activity will be considered.

October's round will focus on township infrastructure, and January's will focus on emergency services/response assets and training. The April round will provide grants to airports, counties, parks and other infrastructure.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.