SD lawmakers weigh pros, cons of oil development

BUFFALO, S.D. (AP) - Oil development in northwestern South Dakota has prompted lawmakers from North Dakota to issue a warning: Brace yourselves.

"If it happens down here, you're going to have to educate everyone about its impact," Republican North Dakota state Sen. Bill Bowman told lawmakers gathered in Buffalo on Monday for an Oil and Gas Study Committee meeting.

Lawmakers from both states weighed concerns surrounding oil development in Harding County, the biggest-producing county in South Dakota's humble oil patch. About 50 residents - many of them ranchers - attended the meeting, which included tours of drilling and depredation sites.

Though South Dakota has had oil drilling for more than 50 years, its production has been a fraction of North Dakota's, producing about 1.6 million barrels of oil a year for the past several years. North Dakota, the country's second-leading oil producer, exceeds that production in less than three days.

"The positive side for our state is that we've generated an awful lot of wealth," Bowman said.

But it's also brought plenty of problems, he said. The oil boom has created traffic, housing and infrastructure headaches. Bowman said the production overall has been a burden on the state.

As advanced drilling techniques learned in the Bakken Formation travel south, lawmakers say production in South Dakota could expand. The potential is still unclear, but South Dakota state Rep. Roger Solum said state officials want to be prepared.

"We're looking at the potential for problems," he said. "We want to address those before this starts."

Rancher Ray Gilbert, who lives south of Buffalo, has 21 natural gas wells on his land. He's worried the drilling industry isn't stable and contends bond amounts for all drillers should be higher.

Buffalo, a town of fewer than 400 residents, is at the heart of the production. Committee members were expected to visit Bison, an even smaller town nearer the North Dakota border, on Tuesday.

Gary Gilbert, a fellow rancher and Ray Gilbert's cousin, said if an oil boom like the one in North Dakota hits South Dakota, lawmakers will have to step in to help.