By Rob Port | North Dakota Watchdog
RHETORICAL CONUNDRUM: Democrats seek to balance criticism of oil with positive impacts of energy development
BISMARCK, N.D. — According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, the number of North Dakota millionaires grew significantly from 2012 to 2013.
The state has 13,494 millionaires, according to the article, ranking it 29th, just ahead of Florida. North Dakota ranked 43rd the previous year.
A boom in energy production in the state’s western energy fields has been driving a roaring state economy for years. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in five out of the last six years North Dakota has led the nation in personal income growth.
In October 2013, the state had roughly twice as many job openings as there were active unemployment beneficiaries. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this month ranked three North Dakota cities — Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks — as having the lowest metro unemployment numbers in the country.
A fourth North Dakota city, Minot, just missed being included at the top of the list because its population wasn’t large enough.
This has created a rhetorical conundrum for North Dakota Democrats who are trying to campaign on the negative aspects of the oil boom, but can’t seem to help but acknowledge the positives.
A Democrat party fundraising email sent out to party supporters on Jan. 17th signed by state House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, cited a pipeline leak near Tioga and the explosive train derailment near Casselton as examples of “a disturbing pattern of government mismanagement that puts public safety at risk and jeopardizes job creation.”
Yet, by the end of the fundraising pitch, Onstead admitted that Democrats “deeply value the oil industry’s impact on North Dakota’s economy.”
The Dakota Resource Council, a left-leaning nonprofit based in Dickinson, has called on state oil regulators to slow down the pace of drilling. Yet on Dec. 26th President Obama signed legislation sponsored by North Dakota’s congressional delegation — Rep. Kevin Cramer, as well as Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp — streamlining authorization for fracking on federal lands in the state.
As the 2014 election cycle moves toward November balloting, it may be difficult for Democrats to pit their criticism of oil activity in the state against the goodwill the industry has created.
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