Why The Industry Needs You Involved

Despite the fall of prices and employment, North Dakota's oil and gas industry continues to employ nearly 50,000 people within the state. State leaders need to continue to learn and better understand the industry.
By Rob Lindberg | May 04, 2016

Despite the fall of prices and employment, North Dakota's oil and gas industry continues to employ nearly 50,000 people within the state. That figure represents roughly five times as many workers than ten years ago in 2006 and, in turn, means that roughly one of every ten workers in the state works within the oil and gas business.

Yet, few would say that the presence of this employment base has been fully integrated and understood by our communities, our media, our perceptions, or leadership.

I have never lived anywhere else, but I am continually surprised by the interconnectedness of our population. Sure, antagonists of the industry point to money and lobbyists, but this matters much less in a small state when the competition is the cousin or lifelong friend of a leader when setting broad policies. But that affects the ability of our industry, filled with new residents from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado and more, to integrate into our society and be effective. It makes it a slow process and that is largely a good thing. Our tightknit relationships are built on longstanding trust and working together, which are two things completed over time. It also means that a seat at the table is earned, not guaranteed, through the demonstration of a commitment to the community. Often, the first efforts can be tough when trying to create new relationships with the fiercely independent, unyielding Scandinavians and Germans of the upper Great Plains.

However, it is our responsibility as members of the oil and gas industry to make the first effort. Our industry is impacted by not only headline-grabbing policies but small decisions made on local planning and zoning commissions, the school board, and more. No local decision maker or entity owes our industry any concern unless we stand up and take part in the process early, consistently and with genuine interest in the community.

To be sure, there are many from our industry who have done so, many that we recognize almost as legends for their service to the community. There are numerous efforts like Pick-Up -the-Patch and its sister Clean-up Williston Day that grew from our industry (and others). American Petroleum Institute chapters throughout North Dakota raise and give away tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships each and every year. Of course, many of us know people who give enormously and shy away from any acknowledgement.

However, in western North Dakota where the local mayor might also be the PTA treasurer, hospital board president, and secretary of a local service club, a new generation is taking the helm and will continue to do so more as time passes. As the prominent employer of the region, members of our industry and their families must be willing to carry that torch. Throughout the boom, leaders grappled with seemingly insurmountable challenges and through their tireless dedication, they by-and-large made wise decisions that bettered their communities.

Where is our involvement needed? Practically everywhere.
Serve dinner at a church or homeless shelter. Talk about an aspect of the industry at a college class or student group. Become active on a sub-committee at your local Chamber of Commerce. Join the school PTA. Start a challenge at your company to collect coats and toys for the North Dakota Petroleum Council's annual coat and toy drives. Run for office. Help someone run for office. Join a committee for your local government (they always need volunteers). Coach a sport. Become a Big Brother  or Sister. The choice is yours.

But I challenge you to do something.

For many years, our industry worked at a breakneck speed. Concern was levied at drilling the next well and getting product to market. Many were new to western North Dakota. Today, however, two variants allow the opportunity to enlarge our community presence. Obviously, the slowdown affords many people more time. The greater change, however, is the nature of the positions in the industry. Sometime in 2014 or 2015, permanent production jobs grew to greater numbers than drilling and completions. This stable, more-localized work allows workers to call one community home and to become locally engaged and pursue leadership positions.

More need is coming. In 2022, new decennial census and redistricting efforts will take effect in their first election cycle and will send many districts westward towards the population growth of the Bakken, Bismarck, and Minot. It will greatly change the nature of politics in North Dakota. By becoming involved citizens today, those leaders can take that next step with the knowledge and experience they need to be effective because they will not only need to know about oil and gas, but also about the needs for public safety and of local systems for water, roads, schools, and much more. That information cannot be learned in a sudden and impassioned rookie run for office.

We must be vigilant voters as well. We must follow the candidates and the issues finitely. Top-level issues can garner attention, but what will a candidate really do once in that position of responsibility. Will they be a champion for jobs and energy development? Or will their daily decisions add new regulation and hamper production?

Involvement from the people of our industry is not about money and it is certainly not about control. It is more than voting, more than running for office, and more than battling individual issues. Getting involved in the community and political process allows our industry to be better represented by leaders who are better-informed regarding the issues that matter for efficient and proper oil and gas development. Most importantly, it is about being good citizens and creating opportunities for the next generation.

By being involved and knowledgeable in the happenings of our communities, the employees of the oil and gas industry will help make North Dakota a better place.

Author: Rob Lindberg
Bakken Backers