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Published December 13 2012

Forum editorial: Williston growth amazing

Population projections for Williston and Williams County in North Dakota’s Oil Patch are startling. The numbers suggest a sustainable oil boom that will not be a repeat of previous oil booms and busts. That is good news for those communities and for the entire state.

The statistics also present unprecedented challenges to a part of the state that has never experienced the intensity of the current boom, even in previous oil up cycles.

The study was done by North Dakota State University’s Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics at the request of local leaders. It provides city, county and state officials with an outlook that is based on sound numbers. The stats are, in some ways, better than traditional census figures because the NDSU work includes both permanent residents and newcomers who might have homes elsewhere. Local officials understand that whether the new population is permanent or not, there are major impacts on services and infrastructure.

If trends hold (and there is little reason to believe they won’t), the projections are mind-boggling. The 2010 population of Williston was 14,716. The NDSU study said that by 2017 the “service” population (that includes temporary workers) will top 40,000. The 2010 population of Williams County was 22,398. In 2017 the county will be home for nearly 70,000, the NDSU study projects. The growth would make Williston the fourth-largest city in the state, provided, of course, growth rates in Minot are slower.

But, by any measure, the rate of population growth in Williston and Williams County is amazing, and all of it is tied to oil and gas development. Before the boom, the county and city were losing population.

The challenges facing oil country communities have been well documented. Williston is among those places feeling extraordinary pressures. The city is working hard to play catch-up – to close the gap between growth and the demands on services and facilities that growth generates. Significant progress is being made, but population projections indicate that Williston and other similarly situated oil country cities and counties will be playing catch-up for a long time.


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


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