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Oil, corn strengthen ND's contribution to US fuel supply

TAYLOR -- North Dakota's contribution to the domestic fuel supply lies in both its production of oil and corn, farmers learned Tuesday at the Taylor Farm Institute.

From oil production predictions to a look into the future and what markets will hold for the price of crops this year, producers were offered a smorgasbord of interests at the 65th annual event held at Immanuel Church in Taylor.

"There are not too many programs across the state with this kind of longevity," said Kurt Froelich, North Dakota State University extension agent for Stark/Billings county.

North Dakota has had a 50-year history as an oil-producing state, but Tessa Sandstrom, communication manager for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said in the last five to six years the Bakken has been behind the state's race to the top of the leader board, where it is now the second-leading oil producer in the nation, behind Texas.

The Bakken alone, she said, has contributed to 40 percent of the increase in oil production nationwide.

"The Bakken is unique in that it has several thousand layers of impermeable shale and several layers of salt that help keep anything below from migrating up," Sandstrom said. "In addition to the natural protections that the Bakken affords it is also state law that all companies that use hydraulic fracturing in the Bakken have to disclose the chemical additives that they use in hydraulic fracturing."

The average lifespan of oil wells ranges between 30 and 40 years, but Sandstrom said the employment opportunities that follow could be around much longer.

"The production jobs stay here and continue to operate the wells, so there is potential for long-term employment growth, maybe until 2050," she said.

While oil companies continue energy production in the Bakken, corn producers across the state are aiding in the production of ethanol, which is now blended with about 10 percent of the fuel supply.

North Dakota's four ethanol plants "chewed through" 60 percent to 70 percent of the state's corn supply to create fuel between 2006 and 2008, said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Council.

A fifth ethanol plant could be in the works in North Dakota, he said.

"That shows you how important the corn industry's initiatives and the corn acres that are produced really are," he said. "Why use ethanol as a fuel source? It really comes down to the cost and mileage it offers non-farming consumers."