A couple months ago, I had occasion to have lunch at the North Dakota Governor’s residence with, among the other assembled dignitaries, the Governor himself. After lunch, the Governor asked those gathered around the table if they had any questions for him. One of the first questions asked was “Governor, is there ever a day that goes by that you don’t think about or talk about oil?” No, it comes up sometime pretty much every day, the Governor responded.

Well, it’s been coming up pretty much every day for me, and most North Dakotans lately. Here are some items from recent newspaper accounts.


On Wednesday of this week, North Dakota’s Mineral Resources Division chief Lynn Helms announced the population of North Dakota is going to hit a million. From the Thursday, May 24 Bismarck Tribune:The jump in (oil) production in North Dakota and the resulting economic activity likely would push the state’s population to more than 1 million residents, Helms told an audience of several hundred at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo in Bismarck.”

“A population of a million. That is a cool number,” Helms said. “It would be a wonderful state to live in.”

After that sank in with reporters, the Tribune’s political reporter Nick Smith wrote in Friday’s paperWith record oil and gas production driving a period of historic growth, North Dakota may eventually reach a population of 1 million. Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, provided the estimate Wednesday at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.”

In the same paper, oil baron Harold Hamm, affectionately known as “The Man Who Bought North Dakota” (don’t miss this story) reaffirmed Helms’ prediction: “Continental’s president, Harold Hamm, said he thinks the state will hit 1 million people due to the Bakken development and that the state won’t feel crowded when it does. ‘A million people spread out over this state is not going to seem very populated,’ Hamm said.”

Problem is, Helms and Hamm forgot to brief the Governor, which proved a little embarrassing. Smith’s May 25 story said: “Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the governor is pleased that the state’s population is on the rise after decades of decline. ‘To talk about a population of a million, it’s speculative at this point,’ Zent said. ‘We haven’t seen any data that backs that up.’”

Um, Jeff, it was your guy, Lynn, who works for the same guy you work for, the GOVERNOR OF NORTH DAKOTA, who made that prediction. Maybe the three of you ought to talk? And then maybe you ought to bring Harold Hamm in and talk to him as well? Or does that $20,000 check Hamm wrote to the Governor’s campaign a little while ago make it kind of hard to call him on the carpet?

Oh, by the way, the fact that the Governor hasn’t seen any “data” on population increases ought not be too bothersome. Just six or seven weeks ago, the Governor told attendees at the Conference on the Future of Hunting in North Dakota “The oil companies say we are within 10 per cent of the largest workforce we will have.” Hmm. He probably didn’t see their “data” either. Didn’t stop him from telling those hunters what he thought they would like to hear though. Too bad he forgot to tell Lynn Helms. WHO WORKS FOR HIM.


The other news to me from the big Petroleum Conference here this week was the discovery a new oil field called the Pronghorn. It’s oil buried somewhere down there around the Bakken and the Three Forks, and it’s located out between Dickinson and Medora. Named for the animal, the pronghorn antelope, who used to live there. The ones we used to hunt. In case you missed it, there’s been an announcement we won’t be hunting them again this year. Got two population problems. The pronghorn population is pretty much decimated out there in oil country, where pronghorns used to live. Probably because the human population has taken over. The Bismarck Tribune reported last year that a North Dakota Game and Fish Department study showed bands of pronghorns are three times more likely to settle into a summer area that is at least a mile from the nearest road, according to Bruce Stillings, big game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “Stillings said it’s not just oil wells that are an issue, but other things like roads and traffic in the West that may impact the population. ‘It’s a huge concern,’ he said. ‘Antelope need that open landscape and do best in areas that are free of disturbance.’” Not many places left in the Bad Lands where the nearest road is more than a mile away. I suggest the oil boys rename the new oil field the “Pronghorn Memorial Formation.”


A couple of weeks ago, my doorbell rang. It was my FedEx driver bringing me a plant we had ordered from a seed house. The driver looked down at my name on the package and asked “Are you the prairie blogger?” I replied cautiously that I was and asked his name. “Bob Bry,” he replied. “As in . . . Ed Bry?” I asked. “Yes, Ed was my father,” he said. We talked about Ed for a minute or two. Ed was a longtime employee of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, editing the Department’s magazine, “North Dakota Outdoors.” When Bob left, I kept running his name over in my head. Bob Bry. Bob Bry. Finally it came to me. About a year ago, Bob wrote a very thoughtful letter to the editor of the Bismarck Tribune, and just tonight, when I was writing the short article above on pronghorns, it came back to me. So I went looking. Found it. Among other things, Bob said “Professional biologists have listed a host of serious concerns about mule deer, elk, antelope, bighorns and many other species.” You should go back and read the whole letter. Worth re-reading.


From the Bismarck Tribune May 7, 2012:  BISMARCK, N.D. – The 2012 deer season has been set and will have the fewest licenses available since 1988. Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said a total of 65,300 licenses will be available this year, 44,650 fewer than last year. Two major changes for hunters this year will be no issuing of mule deer doe tags in the state’s Badlands units and no concurrent season . . . The decline of fawn births in the the Badlands units — 3B1, 3B2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 4F — was especially severe. It was the lowest fawn birth rate observed between 2009-11. Survey numbers show mule deer in the Badlands are down 23 percent from last year and 52 percent below 2007. You can read about some earlier concerns about this issue, and the report to which Bob Bry refers in the note above, by going here.


From the Forum, May 5, 2012: WILLISTON, N.D. — Paddlefish snagging season will close early today, in part because of an influx of oil boom workers who participated this year. Fred Ryckman, fisheries supervisor for the northwest district of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the harvest season will be one of the shortest ever at 6½ days. The monthlong season began May 1, with some days designated as catch-and-release days. The department can close the season early if anglers near a cap of harvesting 1,000 paddlefish. Ryckman said early Thursday afternoon that 750 to 800 paddlefish had been harvested. The harvest season will close at 1 p.m. today. Ryckman said nice weather and low river flows contributed to the shorter season, but a major factor was the sport’s popularity with oil boom workers. Ryckman said he noticed one day at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, one of the sites for paddlefishing, that about two-thirds of the vehicle license plates were from out of state. “There are tens of thousands of new people up here, and many are looking for something to do in their spare time,” Ryckman said.

Just sayin’.


Governor Dalrymple, Senator Hoeven, Congressman Rick Berg and a host of others keep saying we’ve just got to get that Keystone Pipeline built so we can move our Bakken oil to refining markets, and begin solving America’s energy problems. Uh huh. Well, that’s not why Harold Hamm wants to get those pipelines built. The Tribune reported that Hamm told the Petroleum Conference this week “What we need is pipeline to get oil to water so we can export it,” Hamm said. Hey, you guys have just GOT to get Harold into a room and get your stories straight. This is getting downright embarrassing.


Speaking of a lack of communication, Congressman Rick Berg and Kevin Cramer, the Republican who wants to replace him, better talk pretty soon too. They’re going to be on the same ticket this fall, for Pete’s sake. The Forum’s Teri Finneman reported this week: “Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had a news conference this morning stressing the need for a national energy policy to create certainty in the energy industry and a plan for energy independence. Both spoke at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck. Berg and McCarthy discussed the need for an all-of-the-above national energy policy, which includes oil development.”

The same day the Forum reported that, the Bismarck Tribune featured Cramer. Among other things, they reported: “One thing that sets himself apart is his free-market philosophy, he (Cramer) said. If elected, he won’t be promoting a national energy policy.”


Earlier this spring I wrote about a threat to drill for oil on Bullion Butte in southwest North Dakota. It looks like that threat has gone away, for now at least. Last fall I wrote about a threat to mine gravel across the Little Missouri River from the Elkhorn Ranch. That threat has not gone away. I‘m working on updates to both those stories. I’m hopeful I can report more next week. If the fishing wasn’t so darn good right now . . .


4 thoughts on “Weekenders

  1. Thanks for your help in at least temporarily saving Bullion Butte. I sure hope the Elkhorn will not be dug up. I have heard that the national Theodore Roosevelt Association is sponsoring a move to declare the ranch site a National Monument.
    The oil people with their near complete control of the state government are doing their best to destroy the very things that make western North Dakota so great. Now they are even taking over state parks. In a letter to the editor of the Grand Forks Herald Lynn Helms stated openly that by giving Burlington Resources complete control of Little Missouri State Park he has saved it for the future and the people of the state. It immediately reminded me of a quotation from the Vietnam War where after obliterating a city with air and artillery bombardment a general commented to a reporter that “it became necessary to destroy the city in order to save it.” Better see Little Missouri State Park this summer because next fall at the latest the drilling will begin.
    I was almost nauseated by this weeks three day lovefest on the Joel Heitkamp show between Heitkamp and the oil industry. He could not say anything but over the top praise for the people and companies who are major sponsors of his show. Don’t ever believe this show is unbiased. Just write a big check and you will get appropriate praise and publicity. The ethanol industry did and he praises them continually. The wind industry has not. It gets only an occasional negative comment. The oil boys were smart. They bought Heitkamp a long time ago. He has become nothing but a bought and paid for shil for the oil indistry.
    Another sign of how the state government is using the media to help the image of the oil industry is the Doug Lier show on KFGO-Fargo. Lier is a Game and Fish Department who does an Outdoors show on the radio. He can talk for fifteen or twenty minutes on how recent bad winters have lowered the population of deer or antelope or elk in western North Dakota without once mentioning oil. Obviously he has been told by his Fish and Game superiors to avoid the subject. This whole department has obviously been muzzled by the governor. Oil developtment has no effect on wildlife.


  2. Take a look at our documentary on energy booms in the West which begins with ND. the URL is above. I think you’ll find it interesting. I am the director of the Rural West Initiative at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford. before that I spent 30 years with NPR as an editor and correspondent. Thanks.


  3. John, Thank you for sharing that information. The video is a tremendous piece of work. The website, which I haven’t had time to look at completely, is valuable. I want to learn more about the Bill Lane Center, and will do that. You are doing important work. Readers can access the video by going here:
    or by clicking on John’s name, above, which will take you directly to the website.


  4. I know this comment is not pertinent to this discussion, but I wanted to let you know that yesterday, driving along Hwy 281, about midway between New Rockford and Carrington, I discovered a fox crossing the highway eastbound.

    A state with a million people should accommodate all our wildlife fairly well. After all, while working in the Greater Cairo, Egypt metro area (a population of some 22 million during daytime, but far less area geographically than North Dakota, I found a gray fox setting behind me while I was playing left field in a softball field.

    But, then again, after all, I was out in left field…

    Love your blog, BTW.


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