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Connie L. Nelson, Published June 15 2013

Letter: For a clear view of oil country, go there and see it for yourself

Here is a different view. Five Fargo women recently traveled west to see “oil country.” Actually, the media drove us to it.

Despite the implied danger from months of reports on the traffic and road issues, legislative battles, and crime stories that sounded more like the “wild west” than western North Dakota, the group simply had to experience the changing dynamics in person. So, on a recent Thursday night/Friday morning, they boarded a train in Fargo in the middle of the night, determined to get some unfiltered information. The train ride was a great experience with passengers from all age groups and walks of life. We saw a cross-section of the state without having to drive.

The sun came up as we left the Grand Forks depot, so we got to see North Dakota, east to west in about eight hours. We arrived in Williston a little late and were greeted by our pre-arranged chauffeur. A Georgia native, Todd Arline, came to the state to drive an oil truck and moved his family to Watford City. He is now a Realtor and property manager and an enthusiastic transplant. He hopes to move his dad to his adopted state later this year. We need more new residents like this guy.

The trip to Watford City down Highway 85 was narrated by Todd. We had pictured a two-lane farm-to-market road with no shoulders and stop-dead traffic. There were a lot of big trucks on the road, but it was a three-lane road with passing lanes. It was not crowded on the road, but the traffic moved at a fast pace. Hopefully, the new Highway Patrol cops funded by the Legislature, along with future road work, will improve safety for locals and oil workers.

Todd took us to an oil well and explained the activities and the unique equipment associated with oil fracking in North Dakota.

In Watford City, we met with the school superintendent, president of the hospital board, mayor, tourism director, economic development director and women who owned businesses on the main street. Later we stopped at the museum, toured the community (which is buzzing with activity) and saw the new fitness center. We also toured a work camp, managed by a young woman from Las Vegas. This was a quick course in “oil country issues.” We asked a lot of questions and learned a lot. Three findings sum it up:

• Most of the people we met with had attended college in eastern North Dakota and also lived and worked in “our” part of the state. They know more about us than we know about them.

• North Dakota natives were happy about the oil explosion, since it has provided an opportunity for jobs, so they can live in the area they love.

• People are coming to the area from all over the U.S. Many have lost jobs, homes and more. They get to start over. It’s rewarding to see families find success in western North Dakota.

Thanks to Jessie Veeder, musician, Forum columnist and “oil country” native, for making the connections for the trip, and to Mike Marcil for introducing us to Todd Arline.

Nelson lives in Fargo. Also on the Oil Patch trip were Marlene Saar,

Mary Ann Armbrust, Tammy Owens and Kim Thompson, all of Fargo.