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Natural gas needs to expand to rural communities

Every day producers of natural gas in North Dakota set new records of production for this valuable natural resource. Likewise, every day there are communities in our state that are asking the question: “What does it take to bring natural gas to our town?”

For those of us who live in communities where natural gas is available, we take the benefits for granted. Natural gas is a reliable, cost-effective energy source to heat our homes, our water and fuel our industry. It affords us greater options in choosing our energy sources, another arrow in the quiver, so to speak. The shortage of propane this past winter emphasized the disadvantage that communities not linked to natural gas supplies must deal with. Rural communities are becoming more aware that they will be disadvantaged in future years if natural gas is not available to their residents and businesses.

When a business or industry is seeking to locate in one of our rural communities one of the questions asked is, “Do you have a supply of natural gas?” If the answer is “no,” the inquiring business will move on to another location.

Several weeks ago a group of interested stakeholders, which included legislators, representatives from natural gas suppliers, state agency heads and community leaders, met to air out the subject of what can be done to move forward the process of connecting new communities to natural gas lines. As a participant in this meeting, I learned of the growing interest, some of the barriers to moving forward, some of the solutions that might exist and several new activities that are underway that might overcome some of the barriers.

I came away from the session with an optimism that over time there will be an expansion of natural gas distribution to North Dakota’s rural communities.

The largest hurdle to providing service is often the cost of expansion. However, there are also other concerns that have to be overcome including regulatory, easement access, existing infrastructure limitations and lack of information in communities regarding how to pursue the process of connecting.

At the meeting, discussions centered on current and new activities that are underway to overcome some of the barriers. The North Dakota Empower Commission is currently looking into this topic, and I am hopeful that they will be bringing forth their recommendations in advance of the next legislative session. Several of the suppliers of natural gas also indicated that studies are underway to further expand the network of distribution in the state, both in the short term and long term. We also heard from Julie Fedorchak, public service commissioner, that the PSC is looking into some of the regulatory barriers. Justin Kringstad, who heads up the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, is also focusing on this opportunity.

Last week Gov. Dalrymple announced that he is hosting the second Governor’s Pipeline Summit to be held in Bismarck on June 24. This summit will bring together pipeline and energy industry leaders and government officials to provide an update on North Dakota’s current oil and gas pipeline landscape and to promote greater development of the state’s energy pipeline system.

It is another indicator of the growing interest by all stakeholders of the significance of natural gas that is produced in our state.

I am hopeful, with the growing community interest, committed stakeholders and increasing production, that more of North Dakota’s cities and towns might be able to consider the option of natural gas. In putting together a tool chest of solutions to the barriers for communities within our state, along with a strong local buy-in and commitment, I expect additional North Dakota communities will be able to take advantage of our state’s natural gas boom.