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From boom to bust: Officials, candidates look at the future of North Dakota

Gov. Jack Dalrymple

It's an economic principle. For every boom, there is a bust. And the oil industry is booming in North Dakota.

That means oil is on the minds of many North Dakotans, officials said Tuesday, and some are concerned about what happens when the drills stop pumping.

"I like to look at where North Dakota wants to be 20 years from now," said Ryan Taylor, the North Dakota Senate minority leader from Towner. "We can be a little more proactive in terms of getting ahead of some issues before they become something we need to react to."

The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division has projected an oil boom in western North Dakota lasting at least 20 years, according to several presentations throughout the year.

Taylor, who has shown interest in running as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said North Dakota does not have a plan for the future, including for when the oil boom slows.

"Those are the things I would challenge people to think about," Taylor said. "You have to accommodate the growth, but can we do it smarter so that what we are left with transitions to a period that maybe requires fewer workers?"

Fargo architect Paul Sorum, who is seeking the North Dakota Republican endorsement for governor, has accused Gov. Jack Dalrymple and North Dakota's government of not planning for the future.

"Jack Dalrymple is the most liberal governor in the country," Sorum said. "There has been a complete lack of leadership with him as lieutenant governor and governor."

Dalrymple said North Dakota does have a plan, the Legacy Fund, which will accumulate 30 percent of oil tax revenue. Though it cannot be touched until 2017, when the interest can be spent, he expects a big payoff from the savings account.

"We are projecting that (the fund) is going to hit a billion dollars a lot sooner than originally forecast," Dalrymple said, adding it could potentially be used for when the oil boom levels off.

Despite oil being a large part of North Dakota's industry, Sen. George Nodland, Dickinson, said there are other businesses that contribute to the economy. Agriculture continues to be No. 1 in the state.

"If (the oil industry) drills and completes one-forth of what it predicts, then the service industry will last a long time," Nodland said.

Nodland added the state is looking to retain people after the oil boom has declined.

"We know that we continually have to try to build and try to get young people back here for other industries," he said. "We are exuberant on the oil industry, but we are not hanging our hats on it alone."

Dalrymple has announced he will run for governor in 2012. Sorum said the people should vote for someone that will lead them in the right direction.

"I realize that we are actually heading in the wrong direction, much like California and Illinois," Sorum said. "We need to turn around and have the state government serve the people of North Dakota."