Listen First, Develop Partnerships, Respect Others

Even following guiding principles of the North Dakota Petroleum Council's Oil Can! program, there is room for improving public perception of the oil and gas industry.
By Tessa Sandstrom | February 10, 2014

These are the guiding principles of the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s North Dakota Oil Can! program, and through events and programs like the Bakken Rocks CookFest and Pick Up the Patch, we have worked hard to adhere to those principles.  These programs–among others operated through North Dakota Oil Can!–offer many opportunities for us to engage the public and give them an opportunity to learn from the industry. Education, however, must go both ways, and one way we try to learn from North Dakotans is through a public perception survey we conduct annually.

This year marks the third year that the NDPC has commissioned the survey to learn what the general perception is of the oil and gas industry and to also learn what the top concerns are. Each year, the survey has given us similar results–the industry is widely supported for the positive impacts it has had on our state’s economy, employment, and role in reducing our dependence on foreign energy. In fact, 83 percent of North Dakotans favor oil and gas development, half of whom strongly favor it.

But as in many cases, there is always room for improvement, and it is no secret that these benefits have also come with some challenges. As in past years, housing, traffic, safety, and roads and infrastructure continue to be among the top concerns of North Dakotans, both within the oil and gas producing counties and throughout the state, and most agree that more dollars need to be targeted to these impacts. The industry has been working hard to address many of these issues, whether it is through building the pipeline infrastructure we need to get trucks off our roads, giving contributions to local emergency responders or advocating that more of the tax revenues generated in western North Dakota be returned to these impacted communities. We look forward to continuing these efforts in 2014.

North Dakota has seen significant changes over the past five years, becoming a younger and more diversified state. Statewide, 73 percent of North Dakotans agree that this and the economic benefits of oil development are good things outweighing risks. Regularly, there is news about a new restaurant opening in Williston, or new affordable housing going up in Watford City, N.D. These are all things that will improve the quality of life for many–and are all greatly needed.

These investments are fueled by the positive business climate and certainly that surrounds oil and gas development, and the employees and young families it brings with it. With past boom and bust cycles, many investors were leery of building in North Dakota, but today, that situation is much changed. The oil and gas industry has become a strong part of our economy, generating billions in tax revenues that fund our roads and schools. With that has come certainty: certainty that the industry is here to stay and so are its employees and families to live in the homes being built and to work in and buy from the businesses opening up.

Some have disagreed with the pace of development and have asked for a slowdown. Yet, this sentiment brings with it a sense of uncertainty. The Dickinson Press editor perhaps said it best: “Free enterprise, infrastructure and the real estate markets are all catching up in the Oil Patch. Why slow down just when things are beginning to balance out and life is beginning to stabilize?”

Yes, there are impacts and risks–impacts and risks that are better addressed by investments in better safety protocols, better pipelines and more infrastructure. It is not beneficial, however, to remove the certainty of oil development that may cause developers to rethink those much needed investments in homes, businesses, hotels and other amenities. When 83 percent of North Dakotans believe that the pace of development should stay the same or increase, we cannot afford to have developers back out of these important investments. We cannot afford to have families continue living in campers while they wait for homes to be built, or administrators uncertain about getting enough teachers for their growing schools because they cannot get investors to build affordable housing.

But lastly, we cannot afford to slow down the industry’s contributions to state coffers when investments must be made in our roads, hospitals, schools, and essential services. Whether we live in the east or west, these are concerns and investments, as shown by our survey, that we can all agree on.

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Author: Tessa Sandstrom
Communications Manager,
North Dakota Petroleum Council
tsandstrom@ndoil.org
701-557-7744