Huffpost Politics

Rick Santorum: North Dakota Oil Town 'Feels Like Afghanistan' Because Of Obama Regulators

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LIVONIA, Mich. -- Rick Santorum told a story Monday morning of a recent trip to Tioga, N.D., a burgeoning oil town that he said reminded him of a very far-off place, for which he blamed the Obama administration's regulators.

"It's a boom town. They're drilling everywhere. They're being overwhelmed by the growth there. But you can't find a builder to come in and build homes. You can't find anybody to invest in Tioga, North Dakota. Why? Because they're afraid the government's going to shut it down," Santorum said.

Builders, Santorum contended, "don't want to risk it. So they're building temporary structures that feel like you're in Afghanistan, because investors are afraid of what government might do."

"It's America, folks. We have people who are afraid of their government," he said.

On Feb. 15, Santorum had traveled to the town, where North Dakota's first oil was discovered in 1951, and visited one of the temporary housing installations known as "man camps."

It's likely that Santorum's Afghanistan comparison was meant to reference the U.S. military bases in the war zone, where soldiers are often housed in trailer-like barracks and the population is majority male. As the New York Times reported last fall, one of the concerns with the man camps is there are not many women or children to domesticate the overwhelmingly male population of workers.

But the comment was a striking reminder of how often Santorum communicates provocatively, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It draws attention and prompts discussion, but can also be misunderstood or mislead.

It is true that North Dakota officials have expressed concern the Environmental Protection Agency may issue regulations on fracking, which could hurt oil production in the state. "If they overregulate ... they can shut down our oil industry in North Dakota immediately, and that's a worry," state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told the Associated Press last fall. The state legislature has set aside $1 million to cover the legal cost of challenging possible EPA regulations.

But Marshall Goodman, whose company, Bakken Builders, is putting up 280 homes in Tioga, Minot and Powers Lake, said that the temporary housing units are unavoidable because of how fast the oil industry has grown. "There's no way to accommodate all the people who are working here on the oil fields unless you do temporary housing," he told The Huffington Post.

Goodman, who had grown up in Powers Lake but just started working in North Dakota last year, said that he is aware of the regulatory concerns but that they have not affected his calculus in deciding whether to build homes.

"There's a lot of oil here," he said.

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