September Legislative Report, 2015, Senator Murphy
Constituents, thank you for caring enough about your state to read this. The goal today is to tell you what I have been up to as your state senator these past few weeks. For one, I was given a shovel along with the Governor and Lt. Governor to break ground on Grand Sky – the development of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) on the west side (our Legislative District 20)of the Grand Forks AFB. I was able to spend some time speaking with people from around the country who have committed to or are in the process of committing to large investments in drones. The future of air military support is in UAS. As a former pilot who served in Iraq was telling me last night on the way back from a conference in Quebec, people will probably soon say to combat pilots “What do you mean you were in a plane/helicopter providing cover for our ground troops? That is all done by remote control!” You already have probably heard of applications for agriculture and delivery services, with the future quite bright for this industry in ND. Not all roses to be sure with the privacy and weaponized drone issues, but it always takes time for legislation to catch up to new technology . ND law already has some provisions for privacy and the weapons allowed, such as tasers, are not considered lethal in the usual sense.
It was my duty to again visit our oil patch, specifically Williams county and Williston on Wednesday and McKenzie county and Watford City on Thursday the first week of this month. Our committee not only toured each city and drove through the counties, but spent about seven hours each day listening to the respective city and county officials as they brought us up to date on how they are utilizing the money we sent them from the state. Of course, besides truly remarkable progress, they are still suffering in areas that will take years to catch up on. Most notably, they are building huge, and I mean you gotta see it to believe it huge, tracts of housing. Mostly in the form of fairly attractive apartment complexes. All this amounts to large debts incurred to install the needed water, sewer, gutter, streets, parks, schools, etc. types of infrastructure. (They are using a lot of roundabouts, get used to it, USA!) So you are probably wondering about the slowdown occurring because of the oil price slump. I went out there thinking that some downturn in activity would probably benefit our oil impacted communities and that does seem to be what almost every agency or department believes, especially if it only lasts another year or two. Construction costs are dipping and North Dakota citizens are the last people any oil related entity wants to let go (our climate still makes a lot of people just want to leave, but ND folks are going to stay, so they are reliable to a greater degree). Law enforcement, both police and sheriff’s departments are not seeing a slacking of their calls. In fact, the opposite is occurring, especially in drug-related offenses. The question looming in front of all is “Have you over built?” So far, no one is much worried about it. Remember, this is oil and gas mining, not the old style wildcatting, and our efficiencies (and therefore the break-even price) are getting better all the time. We started out in 2011 with needing $60 to $70 per barrel and now some of the sweet spots are reporting that they can make money in the high $20 range, although most say around $40-$50. With the ups and downs of commodity prices well understood here in the Red River Valley, we can relate to volatility risks in the oil patch.
I just returned at midnight on Sunday from Quebec City, where the National Council of State Legislators had a symposium for legislative leaders (I am a caucus chairman). NCSL paid for most of my flight, meals and the hotel and despite spending Thursday night curled up in O’Hare International in the fetal position because of bad weather delaying me for eighteen hours, it was worth it. We got world class perspective on energy issues, brain development (related to leadership and education for us policy makers) as well as demographics of the USA. Did you know that only one in five households in our country is made up of a married couple with children? That is not the way I usually think of our country and is therefore useful. I am way over my space limitation in this newspaper willing to educate its readers, gotta go.