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Pleasanton and Dickinson: 1,500 miles apart but stories much the same

Traffic backs up on a Pleasanton, Texas, road in a scene similar to the daily traffic patterns in and around Dickinson. Both cities are experiencing an oil boom.

Though they are separated by four states and more than 1,500 miles of terrain, the cities of Dickinson and Pleasanton, Texas, have a lot in common.

Both cities are proud of their western heritage: Dickinson features a cowboy on a horse as its official city logo while Pleasanton boasts being the "Birthplace of the Cowboy." Both cities sit on the edges of America, Dickinson in the far northern region and Pleasanton just a short drive from Mexico.

The important comparison is that both are dealing with all the pros and cons that come with being an energy boom city.

"Since things started to really pick up here, during the summer of 2011, we have about three-and-a-half times the amount of vehicles passing through," said Pleasanton City Manager Bruce Pearson. "I watch them from my office every day. We're the largest city in the play and we're seeing all the things that come with that."

The "play" referred to by Pearson is the Eagle Ford Shale in southeast Texas. Though it represents a smaller area than North Dakota's Bakken, Eagle Ford shares a lot of similarities with oil and gas exploration up north, not the least of which is the impact in area communities.

Though the 2010 Census reported just more than 9,700 residents for Pleasanton, Pearson said that number has swelled to about 11,400 today. With all the drilling activity, Pleasanton -- which is a little behind Dickinson on its energy boom timeline -- is seeing many of the same problems that Dickinson has faced in recent years.

"The traffic is just crazy and you can't get into a restaurant here during the lunch rush," said Tressy Merrill, a Pleasanton resident and a member of the city's Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. "There are pros and cons. A lot of money has come into the community and that's been great for us, but there are also 18-wheelers everywhere and crime is up."

Any of this sound familiar, Dickinson residents? Like its energy boom neighbors in the north, Pleasanton has seen a massive increase in housing costs, one of the big negative developments for the community.

"Our rents doubled overnight," Pearson said. "We have had RV parks built for the workers here and it's been very busy around here. The oil companies have helped out a lot too with roads and things like that. They've been great."

Like Dickinson, Pleasanton hopes to have a truck diversion route soon so that the city is not so inundated with traffic. Like Pearson, Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said the diversion issue is a hot-button topic for residents.

"We're currently working with the state of North Dakota to create a truck reliever route and truck bypass route," Kessel said. "We're looking at the route beginning north of town on Highway 22 and going three miles to the west, creating a new path to the interstate. We hear a lot about traffic and we're working hard to help that situation."

Kessel said one thing that aided his city in preparing for the boom was the fact that Williston -- sometimes referred to as "America's Boomtown" -- saw impacts much sooner than Dickinson.

"We had the benefit of watching Williston," Kessel said. "We were able to see some things coming and that helped. We knew there would be traffic issues and we started a comprehensive plan a long time ago. All in all, I think we've done a good job. There are always things you look back on and think you could have done differently, but our reputation as a community throughout the state is pretty good."

Also like Dickinson, energy companies are making investments in infrastructure in Pleasanton as forecasters for both the Eagle Ford and Bakken energy plays see a long-term commitment.

"We've had three different industrial parks pop up in the last two years," Pearson said. "We have oil companies that are building complexes here -- I don't think they'd do that if they were going to leave in a year. It's been estimated that they could pull 450 (million) to 500 million barrels of oil per year from the Eagle Ford over the next seven years."

With America thirsting for domestic energy sources and environmental concerns about the retrieval of oil and gas seemingly on the back burner nationwide, cities like Dickinson and Pleasanton can probably expect to be dealing with boom-related issues for quite some time.

So, what is Kessel's advice for Pleasanton city leaders? It's pretty simple.

"Plan, plan, plan," Kessel said. "Make sure your planning and zoning and base documents are in place and make sure to staff up. When we started this boom, we didn't have a city planner on staff. It's absolutely amazing how many projects we have out there right now. What citizens won't see for another year, we're planning today."

For two cities struggling to keep their down-home western way while juggling all the positives and negatives of a boom, it's a constant balancing act.

"It used to be quiet here," Merrill said. "Now we have buildings going up all around us and you can't get a hotel room."

So, while Dickinson doesn't share a lot with Pleasanton weather-wise (average temperature year-round for Pleasanton is 70 degrees), the two cities are very similar in many other ways and only time will tell how their respected energy booms will play out.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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