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Preparing for tomorrow: Western Dakota leaders speak to community, industry needs in region

Government leaders, energy industry representatives, school officials and lobbyists made presentations at the Western Dakota Energy Association's annual meeting in Dickinson last week, all of which spoke to the Bakken being a long-term source of ...

ND Lt. Gov Brent Sanford spoke to his experiences as Watford City mayor when addressing members of the Western Dakota Energy Association Wednesday night. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)
ND Lt. Gov Brent Sanford spoke to his experiences as Watford City mayor when addressing members of the Western Dakota Energy Association Wednesday night. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)

Government leaders, energy industry representatives, school officials and lobbyists made presentations at the Western Dakota Energy Association's annual meeting in Dickinson last week, all of which spoke to the Bakken being a long-term source of energy resources.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford told WDEA members that communities should embrace the Main Street Initiative advocated by Gov. Doug Burgum in order to remain viable.

"This is what we've been talking about for the past 10 years, ever since we realized we have a tremendous workforce attraction problem," he said. "We don't have that many people in the west. So what do we have to do to grow these towns so that people want to live there?"

Speaking from his experience as mayor of Watford City, Sanford said the Main Street Initiative essentially boils down to community building, something Sanford said Watford City, Dickinson and Williston have all spent time trying to do. He said communities need to find ways to keep workers living there, instead of commuting from larger cities like Bismarck.

"That's no way to build community," he said. "What more do we need for workforce retention? Training? What are those things that communities need for those retirees who are sticking around? We need to keep all those age groups (in mind)."

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Sanford recalled when Watford City lacked a day care facility, which meant a young family couldn't move to the city if both parents had to work. He cited Dickinson's West River Community Center as a successful example of investing in community infrastructure, noting that indoor recreation centers in the wintertime are rare in the western part of the state.

"People want to have a community," Sanford said.

During his presentation, Charles Gorecki from the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center spoke about the future of oil recovery in the region.

He said there are about 500 billion barrels of oil the the Bakken formation, but only about 20 billion barrels can be produced with current technology.

"That's why I really believe that enhanced oil recovery techniques will be the next technology that really pushes the Bakken, and doubles our recovery from 20 billion barrels recovery to 40 billion barrels recovery," Gorecki said

He said coal facilities in North Dakota are already capturing carbon dioxide emissions from their facilities and transporting that gas via pipeline to Canada, where it is used in oil recovery. More can be done, however. He said only a small fraction of the 30 million tons of CO2 per year produced by the state's power plants is captured.

"If we can capture that CO2 from our coal-fired power facilities, we can produce a massive amount of oil using enhanced oil recovery," Gorecki said.

Mike Holmes, of the Lignite Energy Council, spoke about how North Dakota has been a pioneer in the reduction of fossil fuel emissions, with more than $2 billion invested on technologies in North Dakota since 1970 to make the production of electricity cleaner and more efficient.

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Holmes said North Dakota remains a viable state for coal development, particularly as carbon capture becomes more profitable.

"Basically we have 25 billion tons, an 800-year supply of lignite (in the Bakken)," he said.

Related Topics: BRENT SANFORD
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