North Dakota Oil Cities' Detours Could Make 'Huge Difference' In Perception Of Oil Industry

02/21/2012 01:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2012

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Plans are under way to detour heavy truck traffic around several cities in western North Dakota's oil patch, Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced Tuesday.

A $10 million temporary highway bypass is slated to be completed this summer in Williston, along with a similar $6 million detour project in New Town, Dalrymple said. Other bypass projects are being planned for Watford City, Dickinson, Alexander and Killdeer, he said.

"I think this will make a huge difference in peoples' perception" of the oil industry, Dalrymple told The Associated Press in an interview. The detours, he said, "should change the whole atmosphere of the cities."

Bypasses, he said, "are the single biggest thing we can do to relieve the impact on people."

The projects were outlined in a report issued Tuesday that was crafted after state officials toured western North Dakota last month and heard from residents about the rapid growth in the oil patch.

North Dakota oil drillers produced a record 152.9 million barrels of crude in 2011, up more than 35 percent and nearly 40 million more barrels than the previous record set a year earlier.

The state has spent about $400 million in the past few months to address problems associated with record oil production, Dalrymple said. More than $800 million is still available over the next year and a half to rebuild roads and streets, improve housing, upgrade water and wastewater treatment systems, address growing student enrollments and improve law enforcement and emergency services, the governor said in a news conference.

Dalrymple said he and officials from nine state agencies met with residents at 14 public meetings last month to listen to concerns. Dalrymple the state now intends to hire a so-called energy impact coordinator who will be based in the oil patch to relay residents' worries directly to his office.

Dalrymple told the AP that the bulk of the workforce associated with oil drilling already is in place and should not grow more than 10 percent, based on conversations he has had with industry officials.

"We're running like heck to try to catch up and we will get everything caught up," he said.