North Dakota, Alaska locked in rivalry for oil, population

  • By JAMES MacPHERSON
  • Saturday, January 3, 2015 9:05pm
  • News

BISMARCK, N.D. — Forget South Dakota. North Dakota’s most similar sister state these days is some 2,000 miles away.

Alaska and North Dakota — which once had little more in common than wintry weather and elbow room — have for the past several years been locked in a state sibling rivalry over population numbers and crude oil output.

“It shocks me how much we have in common with Alaska, and it’s not just the cold,” said Kevin Iverson, manager of the census office at the North Dakota Commerce Department in Bismarck.

North Dakota is bettering Alaska on crude production and the number of residents now, thanks to the Lower 48 state’s economic miracle led by its oil bonanza. The United States’ unlikely economic darling that is North Dakota comes in contrast to slipping crude production on The Last Frontier.

Recent U.S. Census Bureau data show North Dakota recaptured the 47th most populous state from Alaska, which had held the ranking for the past decade. North Dakota had an estimated 739,482 residents in 2014, up more 15,600 residents from the prior count and a record level. The 2.2 percent increase was the biggest in the nation.

Alaska lost more than 500 residents between 2013 and 2014, ending the year with a population pegged at about 736,700. It was among only six states to lose population, data show.

North Dakota’s fortunes have swung radically in recent years with advanced drilling technology in the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations that have thrust the state to the nation’s No. 2 oil producer behind Texas. North Dakota, which was barely a top-10 oil producer a decade ago, passed Alaska in 2012 to become the second-leading oil-producing state in the U.S.

Oil output in North Dakota is pegged at more than 1.1 million barrels daily, or more than double Alaska’s oil production, which peaked in 1988 at 2 million barrels daily but has dropped to less than one-fourth of that at present.

Two of North Dakota’s 17 oil-producing counties in the western part of the state — McKenzie and Mountrail — are now producing more than all of Alaska.

North Dakota’s present day position seemed inconceivable in 2003 when it was the only state to lose population and Alaska vaulted past. Only Vermont and Wyoming had fewer residents than North Dakota then, and both of those states had population increases, the Census Bureau said.

Demographers projected at that time that Vermont and Wyoming would leapfrog over North Dakota by decade’s end, leaving North Dakota with the dubious distinction of being the least-populated state in the nation.

The Census Bureau later estimated that about 21,000 North Dakotans left between 2000 and 2007, the year the state’s oil boom began in earnest. North Dakota has since added nearly 84,000 residents and has about 25,000 more jobs than takers, giving it the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, less than 3 percent.

Iverson, North Dakota’s demographer, said the explosion of oil development has made population estimates difficult, if not impossible.

“There is a real danger of doing population projections based on oil,” he said. “The problem for small rural states like North Dakota and Alaska is that population is driven by migration change and that change is driven by economics.”

Alaska demographer David Howell, based in Juneau, said most residents there are aware of North Dakota’s newfound oil wealth.

“We know what’s going on with oil in North Dakota and it’s something people here are always keeping track of,” he said. “People are talking about the boom down there.”

The recent population estimates, however, do not paint a gloom-and-doom picture for Alaska, Howell said. The state’s overall economy remains strong, he said.

“Certainly the statewide (population) estimates show a slight decrease, but it is not a huge drop by any means,” Howell said.

Bismarck statehouse correspondent James MacPherson is a former longtime Alaska resident.

More in News

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

Most Read