Groundbreaking Opportunity

North Dakota Petroleum Council
By Tessa Sandstrom | April 22, 2013

In the same way that the Bakken pioneered the technology that has led to our nation’s recent shale-energy revolution and helped our nation increase its domestic production for the first time in decades, North Dakota is breaking new ground on something that hasn’t been done in 37 years—constructing a new refinery. In late March outside of Dickinson, MDU Resources Group Inc. and Calumet Specialty Products Partners broke ground on the Dakota Prairie refinery, making it the first new refinery to be built in the United States since 1976.  

The Dickinson Press recently editorialized that the Dakota Prairie refinery is a symbol of national progress. The fact that a new refinery will be built for the first time in nearly four decades is a major accomplishment for our nation, but an even bigger accomplishment for our state. Even as recently as five years ago, the question in the minds of many of our state and local leaders was how to spark economic growth in our rural communities. Today, North Dakota has become somewhat of an economic dark horse, rising from being a “large rectangular blank spot in the nation's mind” to an economic powerhouse that has been largely insulated from a national recession. While the nation continues to suffer with high unemployment, our state has grown jobs at a rate of 31 percent since 2000. Michael Ziesch of Job Service North Dakota commenting recently on that job growth noted: “For the first time in probably forever, it was the rural areas.”

Part of the reason for North Dakota’s economic growth is due to the Bakken formation’s vast oil reserves. Oil production has brought substantial wealth to many, including mineral owners and our state government, but the Dakota Prairie refinery represents the increasing potential the state has to seize new value-added opportunities and capture even more of those dollars and jobs within the state.

The refinery will process 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude a day to produce diesel fuel, which, due to our growing agriculture and energy industries, remains in high demand. Furthermore, located between Dickinson and South Heart, N.D., the refinery will be built in a primarily rural area, bringing about 400 to 500 temporary construction jobs during peak construction and 100 permanent jobs to the area. 

While the Dakota Prairie refinery is located near its oil source, new, value-added opportunities are not limited to western North Dakota. A plant is being planned for Jamestown, N.D., that will use natural gas to produce fertilizer, another product, that like oil, our nation must import. This plant will not only create a domestic supply of a much-needed product, but will create between 100 and 150 jobs for the Jamestown area.

These projects are just a few examples of how our energy industry helps diversify our economy to create even longer-term growth and stability for our state and nation. In fact, across the nation, we are seeing this trend as manufacturers relocate to the United States for its inexpensive energy source and growing demand for products used in energy development. This is a positive trend and one that presents a promising future for our nation. With the continued development of our domestic energy resources, we can expect to see growing opportunities. One needs to only look at North Dakota—a once half-forgotten state on the Canadian border—and these new projects to see how domestic energy production can reduce our dependence on foreign energy while creating new opportunities, economic wealth and permanent good-paying jobs for our citizens right here at home.

Author: Tessa Sandstrom 
North Dakota Petroleum Council