Study: ND electrical demand to triple in oil patch

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Electrical demand in North Dakota's energy-producing counties is expected to nearly triple over the next 20 years, according to a new study.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission provided $100,000 for the study to estimate growth in electricity demand in the state's booming energy industry. Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. and Basin Electric Power Cooperative also provided funds for the $284,000 study.

The state Industrial Commission said in a statement that the study provides valuable information that will be used in addressing the future power demand and infrastructure needs in 22 western North Dakota counties. The commission, made up of the governor, agriculture commissioner and attorney general, oversees the state's oil and gas regulation.

Over the past six years, North Dakota has risen from the nation's ninth-leading oil producer to its second, trailing only Texas, because of advanced horizontal drilling techniques that opened up the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations.

The study projects North Dakota will have between 30,000 and 40,000 oil wells by 2032, up from about 7,700 now. Every well requires the same amount of electricity as three farmsteads, Dale Haugen, general manager of the Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, told The Forum newspaper.

The study also estimates a 52 percent population increase in the region in 20 years.

"It's the type of problem that while it's daunting _ it's huge _ it's something that we're up for, it's something we're accustomed to doing because we've been providing electricity in that part of the world for over 80 years," David Goodin, MDU's president and CEO, said during a Tuesday news conference unveiling the study.

The need for more electricity is expected to be sharpest in two northwestern counties. The study says Williams County's demand could rise by 232 percent in the next two decades, and McKenzie County's by 339 percent.

Mountrail-Williams Electric has brought in as many as 300 workers to help build up the power infrastructure in the region, Haugen said. Basin Electric is building power plants near Williston and Watford City.