North Dakota has long had a collective mentality of hunkering down. Its residents, hammered by decades of droughts and other natural disasters, have developed a defensive mindset.
Our natural tendency is to gird for the next disaster, instead of taking bold steps for the future. This risk-averse culture, which we’ve imposed on ourselves, has been one of North Dakota’s greatest limitations.
But not anymore. The sun is shining brightly in North Dakota. Major commercial announcements are being made regularly. North Dakota’s commerce commissioner recently revealed that the state is working with businesses on projects exceeding $25 billion.
A dazzling array of major projects are on the horizon, many involving agriculture and energy, which increasingly are joining together in innovative ways that are friendly to the environment.
North Dakota is now a major soybean growing state and two soybean crushing plants are planned, a $350 million Archer Daniels Midland plant at the Spiritwood Energy Complex and a $400 million plant near Casselton.
The ADM plant will exclusively provide feedstock for the Marathon Petroleum Corp. refinery near Dickinson to produce renewable “green” diesel. Both plants will benefit growers by providing new markets close to home.
Some of the most exciting projects in the pipeline will exploit North Dakota’s geology, which can safely store carbon dioxide produced from fossil fuels deep underground. Projects include the proposed conversion of Coal Creek Station to allow it to capture carbon dioxide and Project Tundra, which would convert Milton Young Station.
Companies from all over are drawn to North Dakota because of its carbon storage potential.
Summit Carbon Solutions is a partnership involving 20 ethanol plants — with another 20 possible in the future — that will build a $2 billion pipeline network to carry liquefied carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in at least four states for disposal in North Dakota.
Besides its favorable geology, companies can work with North Dakota regulators to bypass cumbersome federal regulations for storing carbon, giving the state a distinctive advantage.
North Dakota also is poised to be an important hub in the emerging “blue hydrogen” industry. Mitsubishi Power Americas and Bakken Energy recently announced plans to buy the troubled Great Plains Synfuels Plant, which converts coal into natural gas and fertilizer, and convert it to produce hydrogen. Backers say it will become the largest producer in North America of clean hydrogen.
Massive greenhouses planned for the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and Spiritwood Energy Complex represent another example of the merging of North Dakota’s agriculture and energy sectors. The greenhouses will use natural gas, in the case of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation’s $26 million Native Green Grow project, will use natural gas now being flared for heat. Similarly, the greenhouse planned for Spiritwood would use waste heat from a nearby ethanol plant.
In order to realize our full potential, North Dakota needs an investment strategy. The state has a rare opportunity to use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Almost $700 million remains, and Gov. Doug Burgum has outlined a plan for investing that money, in combination with state funds, for workforce and economic development as well as infrastructure and capital improvements.
His proposal includes incentives to attract workforce — crucial to fill the state’s 30,000 job vacancies — a child care benefit, tuition support and career academies.
Inevitably, the North Dakota Legislature will put its own stamp on any strategic investment plan. But they should seize this opportunity for bold action. They should formulate a plan that is similar to the governor’s — and they should stop talking and take action soon. It’s critical that we invest wisely so those $25 billion in potential projects are realized and with them, jobs and opportunities for North Dakotans.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.