Oil trouble in North Dakota

Major oil discoveries in North Dakota are creating problems in the sparsely populated American state. Now a UiB project formulates solutions to the problems.

Illustration photo / illustrasjonsfoto
Illustration photo / illustrasjonsfoto

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Master and PhD students from the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Bergen (UiB) are getting involved in how the oil discoveries will become a bonus, and not a problem, for the American state. An exchange agreement between UiB and the University of North Dakota (UND) now has opened for students from Bergen visiting North Dakota.

– One of our tasks will be to uncover the challenges presented as a result of the vast oil discoveries. Our contribution is to shape a public policy aimed at creating a more sustainable development, says Professor Pål Davidsen from UiB’s Department of Geography, where he heads the System Dynamics research group.

Davidsen recently visited North Dakota to sign the exchange deal between UiB and UND.

Ahead of the problems

The oil boom that North Dakota currently experiences typically leads to an inflow of many temporary guest workers with special skills. This type of one-way inflow of oil workers can unbalance social relations in a sparsely populated area, such as the western part of North Dakota. This creates social challenges for the state, and this is what the UiB students will be focusing on.

– Our job will be to develop tools for coherent planning in the shape of a system-dynamic model that reflects the state of North Dakota. A model such as this needs to reflect the socio-economic, ecological, and environmental development in the area. This way we can study social trends that can shape public policy, says Davidsen.

System dynamics is a method for analysing change over a period of time and to predict potential problems in order to formulate strategies or policies that prevent future problems.

A win-win situation

By putting good strategies and policies in place, North Dakota can establish balanced communities where families will want to settle down. This includes proper health care and good schools as well as a working transport system and trade and entertainment facilities.

– With this in place, North Dakota may experience a constant inflow of expertise that creates the basis for the creation of technology companies connected to oil and other industrial sectors. This way the state can ensure that more of the oil revenues benefit the local population, Davidsen argues.

He believes that collaboration between UiB and UND is a win-win situation for both parties, and points out that UiB’s System Dynamics group annually recruits as many as 40 master students. The project in North Dakota is ideal for students on this level. Also, UND has expressed that they want to build their expertise in this research area.

– A research collaboration between UiB and UND will also lead to an exchange of PhD students and academic staff, Davidsen believes. – Because of the nature of this project, it would be natural for a student to remain in the host country for one or two semesters.


(Translation: Sverre Ole Drønen.)