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Officials give preliminary approval for $7M to help oil counties

BISMARCK -- State officials gave preliminary approval Thursday to set aside $7 million to help fire departments, ambulances and other emergency services feeling the strain of the oil boom.

Funding recipients are expected to be decided by late March.

Every few months, the state Energy Infrastructure and Impact Office accepts applications from the oil- and gas-producing counties asking for money to address oil impacts. The money for these grants comes from taxes paid to the state by the oil and gas industry.

During this funding round, the energy office received 163 requests from 20 western North Dakota counties asking for $40.4 million in impact grants.

Of that amount, $12.5 million were fire department related, $7.2 million were ambulance related and $8.2 million were joint law enforcement/fire/ambulance related.

The remaining requests were for law enforcement, infrastructure, hospitals, roads and schools.

This funding round is targeted at improving emergency response services by supporting training, equipment and facility needs. Volunteer firefighters who suffer burnout, quit or don't respond to emergency calls are a growing concern for some Oil Patch fire departments.

The largest number of grant requests came from Williams and Stark counties, which include Williston and Dickinson, respectively.

There are 21 requests from Stark County asking for $10.3 million, and 22 requests from Williams County asking for $9.8 million.

Now that all of the applications are in, the energy office will set up meetings to learn more about the requests before determining how to award money, director Lance Gaebe said.

"It's tough. Everybody's need, of course, is real and not overblown," he said. "The distinction will be trying to identify what is truly a need because of oil and gas activity."

The Board of University and School Lands gives final approval to the funding awards.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.