By Don Cogger
The first day of last week’s Miles City Community College Energy Summit was an informative one, highlighted by a presentation by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, among others, discussing the current energy boom in eastern Montana.
The session began with a presentation titled “Community Change During a Boom,” by Brent Moore, a community planner with CTA Architects. Moore outlined issues communities like Williston, Sidney and Glendive have had to deal with as a result of the Bakken oil boom. Housing, or lack thereof, is a common theme shared by these communities.
“When you think about housing, in relation to the current boom, there are three phases of housing we are seeing,” Moore explained. “The first phase that we’ve largely seen so far is of a temporary nature. An example of that are man camps, and they come in a variety of different forms: RV parks, mobile homes, motel construction, things like that.”
Motel construction is moving ahead in leaps and bounds in these communities, according to Moore. There is currently one motel being built in Glendive and three in Sidney, with more in the planning stages. RV parks are full to overflowing, and many communities have issued a moratorium on man camp construction.
“It becomes a decision for the community to make as to how much of this to allow,” he said. “But communities need to know that there will be a demand for this kind of housing.”
Moore called community engagement critical to the future of eastern Montana to stay ahead of potential growth. Issues such as law enforcement, emergency services and infrastructure are of the utmost importance, as they’re the ones that get stretched to the limit early and often. The key is planning.
Moore referred to the classic western title, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” to describe the impacts an energy boom typically brings.
“Frankly, that’s some of the ugly in this boom; there is some ugly, and I think we have to acknowledge that,” he said. “Temporary and long-term housing is also critical, as is water and waste treatment systems. When the boom hits these communities, there’s an immediate need for local jurisdiction to respond to that boom. There’s an immediate need for all of these things. The next couple of years will be a challenge for many local communities.”
Gov. Schweitzer was the next to speak, presenting a comprehensive overview of energy resources in Montana. Wind energy, oil and gas, coal development and the on-again-off-again Keystone XL Pipeline project were all discussed as being vital to Montana moving forward.
“We are in the center of the most important energy core on the planet,” the governor told those in attendance.
“Some would say, no, it’s the Persian Gulf. It’s not. From Alberta to the Gulf Coast is the most important energy corridor on the planet. And in Montana, it’s not just oil and gas. We have 10 percent of the coal on the planet and 30 percent of the coal in the United States. We also have wind resources.”
Schweitzer called Montana oil and gas country, saying the Bakken oil play has led to more optimism for more development on similar shales across the state.
“The level of excitement for developing land in Montana has never been higher,” he said. “But folks are wondering why so many acres are being developed in North Dakota compared to Montana. There is a lot more action in North Dakota. Why? North Dakota is in the deep end of the pool. We’re getting our piece of the pie, and we’re happy to have it. But who knows what else might be out there? Bottom line is, you drill where there’s oil.’
The governor also offered his thoughts on the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Schweitzer supports the project despite the roadblocks thrown into the project by Nebraska, most notably a few politically connected landowners who oppose the project.
“The governor of Nebraska called a special session of the legislature, brought them all back to Lincoln,” he said. “The purpose was to change the permitting laws. They effectively said to TransCanada, we’re not going to abide by the laws we have in place, we’re going to change the laws, and we don’t know when we’ll have all that done. Bottom line is, you can’t put that pipeline where you proposed.”
That said, Schweitzer said he does believe the pipeline will get built, and when it does, it will be good for Montana energy.
“We’re going to continue to develop the resources of Montana,” he said. “Whether it be wind power, whether it be oil and gas, or coal. We also need to develop the infrastructure needed to do that. That includes pipelines, transmission lines, railroads, all of that. These resources combined are going to create generations of good-paying jobs. With our fine universities in Montana, as well as our fine community colleges, we have the capacity of training the next generation for these emerging jobs. We’ll be able to develop those resources on our terms, not by the terms of financiers of places outside Montana, but on our terms. The future has never been brighter for Montana.”
Published March 21, 2012