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Oil Patch's electricity needs projected to triple


Transformer added
Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative added this $5.5 million transformer to a substation near Wheelock, N.D. The 100-megawatt transformer can power the equivalent of 10,000 farmsteads. Special to Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. - When the Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative turns on six new substations today, it is a sign of things to come as electrical demand is expected to triple in the Oil Patch.

A forecast released Tuesday says the 22 North Dakota counties in the Williston Basin will demand 3,030 megawatts of power annually by 2032, up from the current electric load of 971 megawatts.

The number of oil wells significantly fuels the demand for electricity, along with the related infrastructure needed for each well and the associated increases in population.

The study, which used data from many stakeholders, assumed that the state would have more than 40,000 wells in 2032 under a high scenario, and more than 30,000 wells under a low scenario. The state had 7,701 producing wells as of August.

"When you start looking at just the sheer number of wells, that's a huge component of the growth," said Mike Wamboldt, project manager for KLJ, the planning and engineering firm that developed the forecast.


The Watford City and Williston areas are expected to require the greatest electrical load. The forecast calls for a 339 percent increase in demand in McKenzie County and a 232 percent increase in demand for Williams County.

Stark County is expected to see a 176 percent increase in demand.

The forecast considered infrastructure, such as gas processing plants and compressor stations, that are planned for western and north-central North Dakota. It also considered housing projections and assumed a 52 percent population increase over 20 years.

Officials from Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., which supplies electricity to the urban areas, and Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which powers the rural areas, said the independent study validates their internal forecasts.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission received the report Tuesday.

Officials from Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative in Williston were invited to the Bismarck press conference about the study, but said they were too busy to attend.

The cooperative that serves rural areas in Mountrail and Williams counties, as well as the city of New Town, has seen its peak load grow from 30 megawatts five years ago to nearly 200 megawatts today, said Mark Holter, the cooperative's assistant manager. The demand is projected to be 800 to 900 megawatts by 2025, Holter said.

Most of the growth is attributed to industrial demand. Every oil well requires the same amount of electricity as three farmsteads, said Dale Haugen, the cooperative's general manager.


The cooperative has brought in as many as 300 workers to help build infrastructure. Fourteen new substations will be operational by Jan. 1, including six northwest of Williston that are being energized today, Holter said.

One substation recently added near Wheelock has a $5.5 million transformer that can provide power to the equivalent of 10,000 farmsteads, Haugen said.

Even with the additional workers, the cooperative is 445 well sites behind.

Wamboldt said the energy forecast will need to be updated every 12 to 18 months. New techniques to recover oil, additional gas processing facilities, oil transmission pipelines and other major infrastructure would significantly add to the power demand.

Basin Electric is building two power plants near Williston and Watford City and planning a 345-kilovolt transmission line to the Williston area.

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.

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