By The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead
Some 3,500 registrants are expected at the three-day Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, which opened Tuesday in Bismarck. Don’t be surprised if that number reaches or surpasses 4,000. The conference has become one of the largest (if not the largest), and one of the most important in North Dakota.
The Bakken oil play is international news. It has put North Dakota on the world energy map. It has become a key component of reaching the goal of North American energy independence in shorter time than anyone would have predicted a decade ago. Thus, the conference, that this year is 22 years old, is among the most important energy meetings in the nation.
There will be a lot of back-slapping and high-fives in Bismarck during the next three days, as there should be. There is a lot to celebrate from all sorts of perspectives: record oil production, economic growth, state tax revenues, rising incomes, new drilling research, renaissance of small western cities. That’s the good news.
But, as with any boom, there is not-so-good news. The industry is trying to stay ahead of mounting national criticism of wasteful flaring of natural gas, questions about the unique volatility of Bakken crude, stressed rail capacity that is angering North Dakota’s agriculture sector, and rising rental rates that border on gouging and are pushing long-time residents out of their homes, among other matters. Industry leaders and state policymakers soft-pedal those concerns at their peril.
The conference agenda includes sessions on all those topics and more, not the least of which are expected industry sessions on everything from oil geology to global energy markets to pipelines, refineries and much more. It’s a comprehensive examination and exposition that attracts not only oil and gas operators but countless other industries and businesses at work in oil country. Among those are enterprises from all over North Dakota and the region, including many headquartered in Fargo and Grand Forks.
So the reach of the Williston Basin boom is very long, and the benefits from the boom extend to nearly all corners of the state’s economy — a reality everyone in the state, whether in the Bakken or not, should understand and appreciate.