BISMARCK - A study into the next five years of the oil boom showed making Oil Patch cities more livable with housing and public infrastructure will become more and more important to fill the jobs needed to keep oil flowing.

KLJ CEO Niles Hushka presented the findings to the interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee on Wednesday at the state Capitol.

Open jobs will bring substantial housing needs by 2019 - in Williston, need will increase by more than 15,000 units; in Dickinson it will increase by 9,500; and in Minot by 6,400.

Committee chair, Dickinson Sen. Rich Wardner, said the presentation showed “what we’re gonna have to deal with” as the next session looms.

Hushka’s presentation prefaced a press conference where Wardner and other western Republican legislators proposed an $800 million early “surge” bill to fund the 2015 construction season in oil communities.

Relating it to his own experience at KLJ, where most Williston-based employees see their work as a sort of “term of duty,” Hushka said the lack of affordable housing and other amenities to make a community livable could be a “critical disenabler” to the oil business.

He said while companies can try to be more efficient so they need fewer people, “when a valve goes out on a pipeline, you still need somebody to go out there and turn a valve and figure out what’s wrong with it.”

But housing isn’t a singular solution to employee recruitment. Hushka said at KLJ, he hears that everything from lack of daycare to expensive flights home as turnoffs for employees living in the Oil Patch.

In some cases, employees never intended to truly move to North Dakota.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, asked Hushka what his employees said would make them stay, but he said most simply never intended to, and that they would go back to their families “when their term of duty-slash-tolerance” expired.

Employee “churn,” or companies luring workers from each other with higher salaries and bonuses, is also an issue that could increase salary expectations to an unreasonable point, Hushka said.

With new housing units will come the need for more public infrastructure like roads and utilities. Hushka estimated that growth would cost Dickinson $300 million in subdivision infrastructure costs alone.

“Where funding comes from, that’s up to you,” he told committee members. “But the demands will not deteriorate.”

And western communities currently straining to cope with rapid growth are also struggling to keep up with operation and maintenance costs.

“So if they have a lift station that was probably shot before the boom, well they’re just piecing it together with duct tape now,” Hushka said.

Infrastructure-wise, Hushka said electricity will also be a big issue in the next five years,

including for the oilfield itself, on large multi-well pads.

Hushka admitted previous projections underestimated oil production and the impact that would follow.

In the past, he said the Bakken would peak at 1.4 to 1.7 million barrels per day, but Hushka said now predictions are for 2 million bpd by 2019. Forecasters in the past also considered multi-well pads to have four to six wells on them, but Hushka said in the most profitable areas, companies are putting more like 24 wells on a single pad.

Hushka said he based the report on trends of refiners finally catching up to sweet crude production, the global demand for the oil and it costing $70 to $100 a barrel.

Triplett said she was pleased with the final study presentation, though she acknowledged the study’s “rocky start.” In March, she accused the firm of being too private with the $125,000 study when it said it planned to submit draft assumptions to industry and government agencies for validation but wouldn’t be also share them with lawmakers.

The committee commissioned the study last October.

Lymn is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-456-1211.

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