This week, the number of oil rigs working in North Dakota passed the total in Oklahoma, making North Dakota the third most active state for oil exploration.
The state ranks fourth in oil production, behind only Texas, Alaska and California.
But these figures don’t tell the whole story.
Oil recovery in North Dakota has reached a level of efficiency unequaled elsewhere. Fully 98 percent of wells drilled produce oil, and the percentage of known reserves recovered from the Bakken and Three Forks formations is higher than anywhere else.
Of course, the boom is not without challenges. Housing is one. Roads are another. In fact, just about all the infrastructure in the oil-producing region is under severe stress.
Yet, there is growth where once there was decline.
The state treasury is bursting as a result. North Dakota is one of very few states that aren’t broke — Minnesota being a prominent example of the financial troubles facing almost all of the other states.
All of this will be documented in a special project being prepared by a team of reporters, photographers and editors working for Forum Communications Co.’s properties in North Dakota, including the Grand Forks Herald. Plans are to publish the project, called “Running with Oil,” beginning Aug. 15.
The issues confronting the state are diverse — but one transcends all others. How can this boom be extended? How can it be used to build a stronger and more stable economy than the state has enjoyed in the past. In short, how can the boom make North Dakota better and more secure?
Last week brought good news on that front. Regulation of hydraulic fracturing — fracking, for short — will remain with the states. Some in Congress had sought to extend the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to that process, a move that could have stymied timely approval of drilling permits.
The state government is working to help communities in Oil Country to plan for growth.
This is critical because many local governments are overwhelmed by the pace of change. They could hardly be otherwise because Oil Country is largely rural, and county and city governments don’t have much in the way of planning departments.
Still, there might be something missing in all of this — a larger vision for the state’s future. With growing evidence that the boom is long term and sustainable comes the opportunity to widen, deepen and strengthen the economy and to improve the quality of life for people who have made North Dakota home — and for those who will find homes here as oil and other energy development builds the state’s future.
Strangely, there’s little attention to that in the state’s political campaigns.
It’s early in the election cycle, of course.
But the boom is going ahead very rapidly. North Dakota needs ideas about how to use it to build a richer and a more secure future.