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Dunn County preparing for more dust as spring approaches

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MANNING -- A mix of low moisture and increased oil activity has Dunn County leaders preparing for a dustier-than-usual spring.

Dunn County commissioners said there are an increased number of trucks on dry gravel roads stirring things up, which has become a common occurrence across western North Dakota because of oil activity.

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"We're looking at a lot of (oil) activity, guys," Commissioner Daryl Dukart said during a Feb. 15 meeting. "We're going to have to address the dust issue.

"The message that I'm hearing is huge population growth, huge impacts and somewhere between 45 to 50 rigs will be here in August or September."

Commissioner Glenn Eckelberg agrees that a dry spring could cause dust problems, and in order to keep up with oil growth, road workers should kick it into gear at the first sign of precipitation.

"We really need to hit when it's wet," Eckelberg said.

Without sufficient precipitation to soften the ground, Dunn County Road Superintendent Mike Zimmerman said trucks will have to be used to haul water to work sites -- an option commissioners say could put a dent in the county's pocketbook.

"It will be an issue because when it's dry, it's dusty," Zimmerman said. "What's happening right now, it's dry and the roads are raveling."

Rather than reaching into the county's budget, Zimmerman believes road workers can beat dry conditions with help from the oil industry. He added that oil companies, such as Occidental Petroleum Corp., based out of Los Angeles, have helped the county move water in the past.

"(Oil companies) haul water, try to keep the dust down here, and if they can get a truck to do a spare once in a while, they help us out where we're working," he said. "We pretty much give them a call and ask them if they're in the area, and if they're available, they say, 'Yeah, sure, we can help you out.'"

Zimmerman added that applying magnesium chloride to gravel roads near residential areas could also keep dust at bay, but it is just a temporary fix. When it comes to eliminating dust entirely, the key factor is more precipitation, or more water trucks.

"(Magnesium chloride) actually does help out, but it's not a cure-all," he said.

Mike Pigott, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, said it is too early to tell if the area will face dusty conditions, but he does not think people have reason to worry.

"I think Dunn County is kind of in that 'near normal' range, even though precipitation has been slightly below average this winter," Pigott said.

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