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Census: North Dakota’s oil counties, cities see big growth

August 12, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s McKenzie County was the fastest-growing county in the nation as the oil industry fueled a population that more than doubled over the last decade, according to detailed population data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data showed that most of North Dakota’s growth, which was the fourth-highest in the nation, occurred in the western part of the state and in the cities. State lawmakers will meet later this month to analyze the data to draw boundaries of new legislative districts. Population is power in the Legislature because each legislative district must represent roughly the same number of people.

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McKenzie County went from 6,360 residents to 14,704 over the last decade — growth that Marc Perry, a Census Bureau demographer, called “whopping” at a news conference. Williams County to the north saw its population grow to 40,950, an 83% jump from 2010.

“Growth is always good,” said Howdy Lawlar, the Chair of the McKenzie County Board of Commissioners.

He added there have been some growing pains as the county had to expand its housing options and infrastructure with the population growth, but hoped the bigger population would result in greater representation in the Legislature.

Census Bureau officials noted that North Dakota’s overall population growth of 15.8% made it an outlier among states in the Midwest, which overall saw slower growth than the South and West. Most of the state’s growth came around cities, with Cass, Burleigh, Stark and Morton counties all growing by over 20% and adding a combined 66,500 people.

The trends mean that legislative power will likely shift towards cities as a Republican-led committee shapes legislative districts this year. An Aug. 26 meeting will be followed by at least six others statewide to gather input on a new legislative map that will influence the political balance of power for the next decade.

Legislative redistricting happens every 10 years after a federal census. It aims to ensure each lawmaker represents about the same number of people. When the Legislature completed its last redistricting plan a decade ago, district populations averaged about 14,500 people. The new plan will likely add about 2,000 people to that.

The redistricting committee, picked earlier this month by legislative leaders, consists of 14 Republicans and only two Democrats. Democrats hold about 14% of legislative seats, so proportionately, the redistricting committee is in line with the Legislature’s makeup.

In the early 2000s, North Dakota was one of only a few states with a declining population. The state began to reverse that trend in 2004 because of increased oil activity, and the population has grown every year since. North Dakota became the nation’s second-biggest oil producer early in the Bakken oil boom as horizontal drilling and fracking technology sent the state’s oil production skyrocketing.