Editorial: Prosperity can be overwhelming

May. 06, 2013 @ 07:28 PM

Certainly, it's tempting.

Just like Gov. Pat McCrory, we can look at North Dakota's booming economy, towns with 1 percent unemployment, and think: That could be us. No, that SHOULD be us.

"Much of North Dakota's economic success can be attributed to investments made in energy exploration on private and state lands," McCrory wrote in a guest column for The Herald-Sun. "Growth has been so robust that energy production has surpassed agriculture as the state's largest economic sector."

McCrory wants the federal government to expand offshore leasing for energy exploration off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. He cited a U.S. Senate plan that would give our state at least 27.5 percent of royalties and energy revenues from coastal sales and 19 percent for investments in conservation and renewable energy projects.

And, after all the griping he already has heard about the need for better funding for education, transportation and health care, he dangled those as further temptation.

Plus, jobs. Lots of jobs.

"There are estimates that opening up the Atlantic shores to energy exploration could create up to 140,000 new jobs during the next 20 years," he wrote. "These are good-paying jobs that will allow families to save and build an economic future."

However, what the governor didn't mention in his offshore energy grab manifesto are the negative impacts that North Dakota has suffered since the Bakken formation boom.

It's one of those "be careful what you wish for" moments.

In a 2012 Bloomberg article, reporter Jennifer Oldham chronicled how newfound prosperity overwhelmed rural communities such as Williston, N.D., pushing housing, utilities, police and emergency services to their limits.

"It's absolutely destroying our infrastructure," said Dave Hynek, a Mountrail County commissioner. "A few years ago, our board set a goal that Mountrail County would be a better place to live and work as this oil play works itself out over the next 30 years. Right now, I would be hard-pressed to find people who agree with that."

The article talks about higher gas prices closest to the heart of the boom, hour-long lines for restaurants and waiting weeks for a plumber that you've got to pay three times as much. Rents shot up from $350 to $2,000 a month. Violent crime spiked in formerly quiet rural towns.

North Dakota officials never expected to have to spend $600 million to rebuild roads that became too treacherous to travel. In 2011, Williston got $1.5 million from North Dakota's oil extraction tax revenues and that comes nowhere close to paying for those infrastructure needs.

So, before we go leaping headlong into plans to drill, baby, drill, let's learn from North Dakota's mistakes and make sure that we're ready for the price of prosperity.