A History of North Dakota's Petroleum Industry, 1917-2017
Herz, Clarence Anthony
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North Dakota’s petroleum industry can be traced back to 1917, when Arthur Blum found a small amount of oil in a well drilled to water his cattle. The unsuccessful exploration for oil continued from 1917 until 1951, when on April 4, oil was produced, in commercial quantities, from the Clarence Iverson #1 well. The discovery well initiated the state’s first boom, and after several other wells began production, the state began construction of industry infrastructure. This discovery boom lasted until 1966, when a global oil glut reduced exploration and production slowed. In the 1970s, as a result of OPEC’s manipulation of petroleum markets, the state would again experience a boom in its petroleum industry. This boom was short-lived, however, and ended abruptly and painfully. Government deregulation of the industry, coupled with Middle East tensions easing, caused foreign petroleum to produce once again a global glut in oil which caused prices to fall dramatically. After nearly two decades of anemic production, innovations in technology led to a third and significantly larger, more dramatic boom that saw growth in every aspect of life in western North Dakota. This occurred while the state also enjoyed an increase in agricultural prices and robust crop production. This boom saw intermittent busts in 2008-09 and 2014-15. Predictably, prices fall when oil is oversupplied, and rise when demand increases. The men and women of North Dakota, through each of these periods, have learned some valuable lessons, but despite that, they often continued to make many of the same mistakes. Sometimes they have learned from these mistakes and acknowledged the potential to do better, and sometimes, as in the case of the state’s budget, continue to do things the exact same way, hoping for different results.