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Fargo-Moorhead officials get first-hand look at oil boom

WILLISTON -- Officials from the Fargo-Moorhead area toured the Williston and Dickinson areas Thursday and got a taste of what their counterparts are facing living in modern boomtowns.

And while challenges abound in North Dakota's Oil Patch, communities like Williston appear to be holding their own, said Justin Pearson, vice president of business expansion and retention for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., which organized the trip.

About 20 people made the journey from the Fargo-Moorhead area, as well as Casselton and Barnesville, Minn. The group included city officials and business leaders.

They learned about how the hydraulic fracturing process, commonly referred to as "fracking," is used to extract hard-to-reach oil from the earth.

The group also made a stop at one of the region's "man camps," which have come to symbolize the housing crunch and other challenges facing Oil Patch communities.

Pearson said that while difficulties exist, communities are making progress in addressing the demands placed on them.

He said many apartment complexes are going up, along with attractive, single-family homes.

"I'm amazed at where they are. The leadership out here is phenomenal," Pearson said by phone Thursday while traveling in Williston.

He added that connections he and other members of the delegation made this week will help local companies that are thinking about doing business in the Williston Basin.

"I have contacts. I have people out there I know," Pearson said.

State Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said the delegation came away convinced that oil production can be a major source of income for North Dakotans for many years to come.

He said the Legislature can help ensure that by:

- Supporting infrastructure projects, including quality roads.

- Maintaining a favorable business climate in the state.

- Addressing homestead tax credit issues to help individuals stay in their homes in areas where the oil boom is boosting property values.

Flakoll said even though the Williston area is already experiencing an economic boom, "we certainly see a lot of pent-up opportunity."

He said, for example, the state's research institutions could play a major role in enhancing the region's oil recovery rate. Currently, he said, about 7 percent of the area's oil can be extracted.

The group arrived in the Williston area Wednesday and was expected back in the Fargo-Moorhead area sometime Thursday night.

Olson is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.