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Oil can, and does, bring problems to N.D.

by Mike McFeely

So, would this qualify as a "rich man problem?" Is this "a blessing?"

Is that how North Dakota Lieutenant Gov. Drew Wrigley and other oil-boom sycophants would refer to an ever-growing number of drug arrests in the Patch? Would those be good ways to describe an influx of hard-core drugs and increasingly hardened criminals into areas that not so long ago were like Mayberry?

A sneak-peek report by North Dakota attorney general Wayne Stenehjem last week revealed some alarming statistics involving drugs and drug dealers in the Oil Patch.

The full report was released this week.

In 2013, drug arrests statewide were up 20 percent over 2012. And that figure is small compared to pre-Oil Boom numbers. Drug arrests are up more than 40 percent since 2009 and about 300 percent since 1990.

This isn't kids' stuff. It's methamphetmine, heroin, cocaine, illegal prescription drugs and high-grade marijuana. The drugs are following the money into western North Dakota.

The bad guys are following the money, too. Stenehjem said the drugs are often bypassing the usual distribution chain and coming straight to North Dakota from Mexican cartels.

"They're coming in enormous quantities, and they are coming in with people who bring them right in from the cartels, and increasingly they are armed and exceedingly dangerous individuals," Stenejhem said, according to The Forum.

It gives a whole new meaning to the industry phrase "Oil can, and does, for North Dakota."

Kind of makes you wonder how the state's government, which embarassingly has acted solely to mollycoddle the oil industry for the past decade, will react.

Actually, no, it doesn't make you wonder. Because Gov. Jack Dalrymple and his lieutenants won't react to the report at all. They'll continue to pat themselves on the back and smugly act as if the Republican Party of North Dakota is responsible for the oil under Williams, McKenzie and Mountrail counties.

For Dalrymple and Co. to acknowledge a growing drug problem would force them to acknowledge there are negative effects to the oil boom. The boom is a miracle, jobs and a billion-dollar surplus. It is not meth, heroin and cartels.

The bad stuff just isn't part of the narrative.

It's almost as if state leaders are afraid the oil barons will pick up their derricks and go back to Oklahoma and Texas if we talk openly and honestly about the problems inherent to the boom. Which is folly, of course. The oil companies aren't going anywhere. The oil is under North Dakota. They want the oil because that's how they make obscene profits. It's business. It isn't all that difficult to understand.

Yet there's a belief among some, like Dalrymple's right-hand man Wrigley, that if you point out facts about oil that might be construed as negative or critical, then you are "anti-oil" or "anti-development." It's become a black and white, you're either with us or against us discussion. Unless you speak glowingly of oil all the time, then you are against oil. It's silly.

But that's what led Wrigley to mock and ridicule a private citizen in a speech in western North Dakota recently. Wrigley singled out scholar and columnist Clay Jenkinson (who happens to be the lieutenant governor's neighbor) for occasionally speaking out about the helter-skelter rate of oil development. Jenkinson simply would like to see a handful of special places protected from direct oil drilling.

This spurred Wrigley to say, "... you don't have a God-given right to never see a well head going up and down."

Instead, Wrigley dismissed the issues spawned by the boom (lack of housing, expensive housing, shortage of school space) as "rich man problems." In other words, good problems to have. No big deal. Nothing to see here.

He also referred to North Dakota's problems as "a blessing."

Is meth no big deal? Are Mexican drug cartels coming to your state a blessing? Is a 300 percent increase in drug arrests a good problem to have?

Maybe in Wrigley's world. But those living in western North Dakota might have a different opinion.

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on 790 KFGO-AM. His program can be heard 2-5 p.m. weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)