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Published June 25 2012

Forum editorial: A mixed bag in Oil Patch

News from North Dakota’s Oil Patch continues to be mixed. Contrasting views of the mix often depend on economic fortunes.

On one side are the obvious benefits of the oil boom: a flood of revenue, oil company philanthropy, good jobs and the myriad of economic development plusses associated with oil development. On the other side are social problems and dislocations never before seen in western North Dakota: organized crime, housing shortages, escalating rent, evictions, deteriorating roads, price inflation and a general sense of cultural loss and environmental degradation.

“Aw, c’mon,” say economic development and chamber of commerce types in oil cities and counties. “It’s not that bad. You media people are only reporting negative stories.”

Not so. A perusal of coverage of the oil boom by most North Dakota media outlets will find a realistic balance between what can be characterized as “positive” stories and “negative” stories. The truth is the negative is a clear and present reality, not because the media say so, but because that’s what is happening in oil country. Anyone who sugarcoats the situation is either lying or blissfully wearing blinders.

Reports from official and anecdotal sources catalogue a litany of boom-related problems. Most are new to western North Dakota. Among the most worrisome is the apparent movement into oil country of organized crime groups that traffic in drugs and prostitution – a development that has energized the U.S. attorney for North Dakota and several federal agencies, including the FBI. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have met several times to coordinate a response to what clearly is a new phenomenon. Does anyone really believe the feds are exaggerating or overreacting?

And the spike in “regular” crime – assault, theft, domestic calls, etc. – is unprecedented. Not happening? Of course it is.

Let’s be clear: The benefits from oil money cannot be minimized. It’s a new economic era for western North Dakota and, for that matter, the entire state. The spillover effects as far east as the Red River Valley are significant and welcome. But there is a cost. There is a trade-off. North Dakota has not yet done an honest cost-benefit analysis.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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