Man discusses state's oil boom

RAY (AP) -- Jerry Ranum witnessed two oil booms in northwestern North Dakota, but he's more than an observer of the third boom currently impacting the state.

RAY (AP) -- Jerry Ranum witnessed two oil booms in northwestern North Dakota, but he's more than an observer of the third boom currently impacting the state.

Ranum, president of the Ray City Commission, has a front row seat this time.

A native of Stanley, Ranum is familiar with the ripple effects of major oil development in the state in the 1950s. He came to Ray in the 1970s to work for Northwest Communications Cooperative after serving four years in the Navy and studying electronics at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

He saw the effects of the oil boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s and a bust that left his employer with unpaid accounts. He retired after 34 years with the cooperative. He then worked for 6-1/2 years for Farmers Union Insurance, retiring last December.

He had been involved for many years with Ray's local fire department and chamber of commerce, and in 1990, he joined the city commission. He is in his second term as president.


The last couple of years have been busy ones for the commission, he said.

Not only has Ray seen its building permits spike, but R & T Water Association expanded from Ray and Tioga to include Stanley. It now is reaching out to Wildrose and Crosby, along with trying to quench the enormous thirst of oil companies that use water in the drilling process.

"We have maxed out our plant at 1 million gallons a day now for the last three years," said Ranum, who is chairman of the R & T board. The association plans to expand the plant to 3 million gallons a day. The association also is participating on a Western Area Water Supply project that involves construction of a pipeline bringing 5 million gallons of water a day from Williston to northwestern North Dakota.

Ray has other concerns about its own water, sewer and street systems. Ranum said the city has an aging infrastructure, some of which dates back to the first oil boom in 1952.

"We haven't had the money to upgrade," Ranum said. "The specials (assessments) are going to be so much for the ordinary person."

Ray made the news last August when it appeared the city would be getting $3.2 million from leasing minerals on 622 acres owned by the city and park district. Ranum said the city hasn't seen the windfall and probably won't.

"When we got to looking it over, we didn't have near the mineral acres," he said. Given what could be a smaller acreage, American Gas and Oil might withdraw its $5,175-an-acre bid and offer less, he said. Whether mineral holdings of the city or its individual landowners generate keen bidding interest will depend on the results of drilling taking place on the city's west border.

Funding for infrastructure projects also takes a back seat to regular maintenance, including this year's higher than normal costs in water line repairs and snow removal. Finding a place to put the snow is a problem, too, because vacant lots have become a thing of the past.


Ray's population dropped from 1,049 in 1960 to about 500 people before the current oil boom hit. Based on water meter numbers and a conservative calculation of two people per household, the city should have 725 residents, Ranum said, noting that excludes people living in recreational vehicles.

More people means city concerns are the same. There's just more of them.

"I get a lot more calls some good and some not so good. You have everything from dog problems to parking on streets," Ranum said.

Ranum plans to leave the commission when his term expires in June 2012.

It will be hard to see Ranum go because of the knowledge that he brings from his years working with the communications cooperative and with business people in the community, said Myron Eide, a commissioner and fellow member of the R & T Water Association Board.

"He's a big asset to not only other commissioners but to the city. It's going to be a tremendous loss," he said.

Although the challenges that Ray is experiencing are new for all the commissioners, Eide said Ranum has a good handle on things.

"And he has a way with people," he added. "He's a communicator. He's very good at that."


Retirement will give Ranum and his wife more time to spend with their two children in Dickinson and three grandchildren as well as take care of farm property that they own.

"The only board I am going to stay on when I am done is the cemetery board because that's my next stop," Ranum joked. "I want to make sure they still have a place for me out there."

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