GREEN
07/21/2014 08:47 am ET

North Dakota's Oil And Gas Boom Has Brought Prosperity, But Critics Wonder About The Costs

fracking

This story was published by , a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

This report is part of a joint project by the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s Heritage Center makes for a jarring sight in this Midwestern prairie capital. The newly-expanded museum consists of four interlocking cubes of stone, steel and glass, a gleaming architectural statement poking out of the otherwise drab Capitol grounds. Each cube features a gallery devoted to an era of North Dakota’s history, but the state’s present is everywhere.

The Northern Lights Atrium at the Hertitage Center mid-construction, in Bismarck, North Dakota Facebook

The legislature approved the dramatic $52 million expansion in 2009, but required the museum to come up with $12 million of that to supplement state money, and more than half has come from energy companies — including a $1.8 million gift from Continental Resources Inc. that put its name on one of the galleries. The gifts have “given us a chance to do some things that we’ve never really had a chance to do,” said Merl Paaverud, director of the State Historical Society.

Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it’s hard to find a place or person that hasn’t been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota’s rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state’s oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.

An aerial view of the Heritage Center Facebook

In addition to the tax revenue they’ve brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money — new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They’ve also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.