The takeaway from a Tuesday webinar on shale predictions was clear: what’s happening in western North Dakota is hard to predict.

Comparing current predictions for oil production and related community growth to lower ones from just a year ago, economist Dick Gardner said the change between the years shows the boom is here to stay and hasn’t peaked yet.

Especially because of new fracking technologies, drilling efficiencies and multi-well pads, oil production is growing more and expected to last longer than most thought a year ago, said Gardner, from the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.

Permanent population in the Dickinson region - which includes eight southwestern North Dakota counties - is projected to increase from about 43,300 now to about 66,400 in 2020 and 82,000 in 2039. Permanent housing units, meanwhile, will grow from approximately 23,000 now to nearly 45,000 in 2039. For both projections, the year-over-year growth will slow down a little after 2020, according to analysis.

Gardner said the new projections showing the increased duration of the boom are an opportunity for communities to turn temporary oil workers into permanent family residents.

“This boom is here to stay, and they might as well face up to it and just relocate,” he said. “It’s gonna be simplest and best for everyone.”

The presentation incorporated analysis and projections from the Department of Mineral Resources’ Lynn Helms, and North Dakota State University’s Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. About 20 people from southwestern North Dakota listened into the webinar, part of the Western North Dakota Energy Project and sponsored by the Strom Center at Dickinson State University.

Gardner leaned toward the oil industry’s more optimistic projections for recoverable oil because the government doesn’t have as much data to look at.

He projects the number of rigs is going to stay steady at about 175 to 190 for 25 years. It’s at 191 currently.

But while the rig count will hold, drilling will be faster.

Last year, projection was a rig in 2015 would drill 12 wells a year. Now, Gardner said a rig will be about to drill 14 a year by 2015 - just one way technology will intensify and prolong this boom.

Gardner also showed diagrams from big-time producers like Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum that displayed the companies plans to drill into up to five different layers of shale - the Bakken and, below that, four levels of the Three Forks formation.

New fracking techniques, like “plug-and-perf” also allow fracking of more stages in a well, and more quickly, Gardner said. The new technique from Whiting, for example, increases oil production as much as 60 percent.

With brine recycling and the buildout of gathering systems like pipelines long-term, Gardner said traffic and job opportunities might be lost.

But the job growth will still be massive - again, even more than predicted last year.

Now, analysts predict petroleum sector temporary employment for the state will peak at about 61,000 jobs in about 2026. Long-term, permanent employment will hit about 50,000 jobs in 2038.

Similar presentations for the Williston and Minot regions will be Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, both at 2 p.m. MST. The webinars can be accessed at

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