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Hatzenbuhler: Oil development in our 'playground'

Western North Dakota is a playground. With beautiful vistas, rich history and abundant opportunities for outdoor sports, it’s little wonder so many are in love with the area. So it’s right that, when there’s a rise in industrial activity in a place so many enjoy for so many reasons, people are concerned about its impact.

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According to some, oil and gas development are wrecking the playground. But is that accurate?

We appreciate that the state of North Dakota and the oil industry are working together to develop the state’s oil and gas resources in a responsible way. The recent decision to relocate a well that would have been near the Elkhorn Ranch site and the ongoing efforts to identify other “extraordinary places” that would require extra care for siting and future developments are examples of responsible development for which Theodore Roosevelt himself would have advocated.

We have enjoyed sharing “the playground” with the new residents of our state. Earlier this fall, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation announced that at the conclusion of the 2013 Medora Musical season, 92,462 attendees had taken in the “Greatest Show in the West” — an increase of 9 percent over the previous year. That gain comes on top of 2.5 percent growth in 2012.

It’s not just the Medora Musical that’s thriving in western North Dakota. Bully Pulpit Golf Course, named one of the best in America by Golf Digest, enjoyed its best year ever with over 17,000 rounds played this season.

We’ve read reports from other areas of tourism as well that suggest the oil activity has not been a detriment.

Earlier this year reported, “Statistics compiled by the (North Dakota) Game and Fish Department revealed more than 218,000 fishing licenses were sold (in 2012), 20 percent higher than the previous record set in 1982. In terms of actual individuals participating in fishing, the past year was again record-setting with more than 200,000 active anglers and about 2 million days of fishing.”

A study from North Dakota State University released earlier this year found a significant increase in the economic impact of hunting and fishing enthusiasts in the 2011-12 season, compared to the previous decade.

We recognize the challenges that fast-paced development of the Oil Patch have brought.

Because we are near the activity, we see these challenges first hand. However, we also see many benefits.

Because of the growth in the area, many of the companies working in the energy industries have held business meetings, conferences and retreats in Medora. Likewise, many in the area for energy work have brought their families to enjoy a mini-vacation in Medora.

Medora is part of the third-largest industry in our state: tourism. Tourism helps develop, preserve and showcase entertainment, history, culture and recreation — the things that make us love living in North Dakota and the same things the energy industry needs and wants for its employees.

Actions speak loudly. The oil industry encourages its employees to enjoy our state’s offerings and it is in their good interest to safely and responsibly develop the natural resources of our state.

It is clear that tourism and outdoor sports can exist side-by-side with development in western North Dakota.

Randy Hatzenbuhler is the president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.