Power demand expected to triple in North Dakota’s oil fields

Electrical demand in western North Dakota is projected to triple over the next 20 years, according to a study by the North Dakota Transmission Authority.

The report, released Oct. 23, said electric demand in the Williston Basin area in the state is expected to grow from 971 MW to more than 3,000 MW due to growing oil and natural gas production in the area.

According to the report, the number of oil wells in North Dakota will increase from about 6,000 in 2011 to between 30,000 and 40,000 by 2032.

“Every one of those oil wells needs electricity to run the motors, to run the pumps,” a Basin Electric Cooperative spokesperson told TransmissionHub Oct. 25.

While each oil well draws power for its pumps and other operations, additional factors are also affecting projected load growth.

“It’s not just oil but because of oil, there’s the ancillary demand of new housing, new motels and other [additional demand],” the spokesperson said.

The additional demand will bring challenges to area utilities, but they are not insurmountable challenges. Basin Electric is already adding new generation to meet the area’s needs.

“We are already in the process of building two gas-fired peaking stations in the area,” the spokesperson said, noting that two 45-MW stations are under construction north of Williston and west of Watford City, SD.

In addition to more generation, new transmission will also be needed.

“Transmission within North Dakota will be needed to fuel an orderly development of our valuable natural resources and it requires significant planning,” Sandi Tabor, director of the North Dakota Transmission Authority, said in a statement.

“That’s the value of the study; it’s a comprehensive study that takes into account all aspects that have occurred and which are occurring as a result of the oil development in that part of the state,” the Basin Electric spokesperson said.

Basin Electric is also exploring other options to meet the increased demand.

“Not only are we building new generation, we’re looking at building a new transmission line to help bring power into the area, and [are considering] buying energy off the surplus market,” the spokesperson said.

Investor-owned utilities, including Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) will also be affected by the forecast load growth.

“There are challenges ahead for us, but there are all kinds of tools available to us to meet those challenges,” the Basin spokesperson said, adding, “It’s an ongoing effort. Everybody’s going to keep an eye on this and see what’s happening to make sure we have facilities on line and ready to go.”

MDU is a regulated utility of MDU Resources Group (NYSE:MDU).