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AS I SEE IT

Posted 1/25/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Last Friday two events occurred in Watford City that stand as a true testament to what private industry is willing to do when they have an opportunity to make a profit and they have governmental agencies willing to work with them to make these projects a reality.
The first example is the investment of upward of $1.5 billion that Tulsa, Okla.-based ONEOK Partners is making in the Williston Basin to capture, process and market the natural gas and its components that is currently being flared off.
Last Friday, the company, along with state and federal officials, officially commissioned the Garden Creek Gas Plant northeast of Watford City. The new plant, which is the first of three plants in western North Dakota to go online, is capable of processing 100 million cubic feet of natural gas a day and will mean that 250 natural gas flares that are lighting McKenzie County’s countryside will be eliminated. To put that number into perspective, that 100 million cubic feet of gas per day is enough to heat 260,000 homes.
What ONEOK Partners is doing by making this billion dollar investment in North Dakota is turning what would otherwise have been a completely wasted natural resource and turning it into a highly marketable commodity. That makes great business sense for private business. And their ability to make a profit by making this investment in western North Dakota means good jobs in the process.
The second equally important event happening last Friday in Watford City was the commissioning of the Bridger Pipeline’s Four Bears Pipeline. The new 77-mile pipeline, which runs through McKenzie, Dunn and Billings counties, will move just over 100,000 barrels of oil per day from McKenzie County wells to existing pipelines and rail terminals.
Again, while 100,000 barrels of oil per day may not seem like a lot, when you consider the impact of moving that amount of oil in a pipeline versus by truck, the impacts are very significant. By tying producing wells into it, the Four Bears Pipeline has removed 50,000 truck miles per day from Highways 22 and 85 and when further construction plans are completed, that number should jump to 75,000 miles per day. Ultimately that means when it is operating at full capacity, the Four Bears Pipeline will be able to take an amazing 25 million semi-truck miles off Highways 22 and 85 per year.
Both of these announcements by private business just proves that there are a lot of good things being done in North Dakota’s oil patch.
While North Dakota is encouraging private business to make the investment to build infrastructure in western North Dakota to help make America less dependent on foreign oil, one has to wonder why our federal government isn’t doing the same thing. President Obama’s reluctance to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring Canadian oil into the United States, is a prime example of what is wrong with our federal government when it comes to developing a sound national energy policy.
The realization that President Obama has to come to shortly is that the Canadian oil is going to find its way to the marketplace one way or another. The company would prefer that the pipeline be built through the United States and is willing to adjust the route to avoid environmentally fragile areas. If the pipeline is approved quickly it will mean that thousands of construction jobs will be made available, workers will be hired at the refineries in the United States and the gasoline will be made available to North American markets.
If Obama continues to delay the approval, then it is very possible that the pipeline will be built to the East Coast where the oil will be shipped to China or to some other foreign country. And that is not a prospect that anyone in this country should be endorsing.
If President Obama wants to see how government and private companies can work together, he needs only to look to North Dakota. Our state has developed good working relationships with private companies to develop the resources in a sound, logic manner. And because of that working relationship, private enterprise is investing billions of dollars, new jobs are being created and North Dakota’s economy has never been stronger.
It’s a lesson in economics that Washington, D.C. and President Obama should be following.