North Dakotans are strong people, not often prone to uttering discouraging words, but one can tell when that strength is tested.
Last week, as a member of the interim energy development committee, I heard phrases like ‘we are in crisis,’ ‘we need help,’ ‘our quality of life is gone,’ and ‘I am heartbroken’ from sincere, reasonable leaders of Mountrail, Williams, McKenzie and Dunn Counties – where oil drilling and development has been fast and furious.These folks are not anti-oil. They know firsthand what development has done for our economy, but they are not blind to the challenges of living in the Wild West that has been created. The support the state has provided is appreciated, but it’s been too little and too late.
So how did we get to this point? How best can we, as leaders, begin to remedy the ailments of overheated growth in oil country?
First, we need leadership that understands it isn’t all roses in the west and is willing to address these problems head-on. If the problems require a special session of the legislature in order to adjust course, provide critical funding, or find solutions that get us ahead of the next crisis, we must do it.
When our residents have real, justifiable needs, from public safety to public roads and school space, we need leaders who will address them quickly and creatively. We can’t simply take direction from those who profit from rapid exploration. We must also hear the voices of those who pay the price.
The governor we elect next November must be proactive, not just reactive, and use all the tools we have in order to heal western North Dakota, to bring sensible, sustainable development of this resource, and to make sure these communities and their residents’ quality of life are still intact once the oil has been harvested.
We wandered into this oil boom without proper state planning, but it’s not too late to recover and put in place a long-term plan that brings some common sense back into the equation. The “Lasting Harvest” outline I proposed as state senator could be used as a blueprint for such a collaborative effort. All of North Dakota – from our families and our schools to our road, water and flood needs – can benefit from this boom if it’s done correctly.
But if we fail, and these changes are allowed to break the spirit of the people of western North Dakota, our state will never be the same.
Senator Ryan Taylor, Towner
Senate Minority Leader
Candidate for Governor (D-NPL)