Study projects electrical demand to more than triple in Williston Basin

8-1Small-town living has changed significantly for residents in western North Dakota. An area once with little traffic, and homes for sale for months at a time, is now experiencing traffic compared to many of the nation’s largest cities and homes are selling before they even reach the market. It is no secret the dramatic migration is a direct result of development in the oil and gas industry, which has provided communities in western North Dakota, specifically in the Williston Basin, both benefits and hardships.

The increased activity has generated numerous opportunities and a thriving economy. “With the area’s population nearly tripling in the last decade, precise planning is essential,” says Mike Wamboldt, KLJ’s director of power. Williston Basin production is expected to remain active for at least the next 20 years and development is projected to continue at a fast pace. “The region will not only need to find solutions for the congested roadways and lack of housing but also the electrical need to accommodate residents, as well as run new and current well pumps, pipelines, processing facilities, oil booster pumps, compressor stations, heaters and transfer pumps, all of which is needed to fuel the Williston Basin’s robust economy,” Wamboldt states.

Electrical utilities are in the process of developing plans to address increased demands. In 2012, the North Dakota Transmission Authority requested KLJ, a multidisciplinary engineering and planning firm, to facilitate the Williston Basin Oil and Gas Related Electrical Load Growth Forecast (PF 12). PF 12 is a 20-year power forecast study encompassing 43 counties in three states: North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The study projects electrical demand to more than triple current demand in the region.


The study indicates that, by the end of the study period, 2032: there will be a 208-percent increase in electrical demand associated with the development in the Williston Basin. “The 43 counties associated with the study will require an additional 2,515 megawatts of electrical demand, which is directly related to the oil and gas development. Understanding the electrical demand increase is essential for the future and will facilitate community planning and development to a greater extent,” says Wamboldt.

KLJ began the study through a combination of industry stakeholder interviews, industry validation of basic assumptions and intense population and oil reservoir forecasting. To display electrical load growth geographically, KLJ utilized GIS-based spatial load growth forecasting, which combines power system data with regulatory, population, land use and development data. The study’s model process utilized GIS software to spatially distribute the location of electric loads across the study region. The model combines present demand, electrical loads associated with population growth, loads associated with wells and the associated oil and gas infrastructure, and basic assumptions validated by industry to create a spatial forecasting model to facilitate forecast results.

“The process ensured accurate results indicative of what the industry was experiencing in the field, in addition to confirming prior forecasted results,” says Wamboldt.

The 20-year oilfield development projections provided in the study were used to develop future employment, population growth and housing demand year-by-year. “PF 12 results have the potential to help each of the three states support and approve significant investments in electrical generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure. Specifically, the study shows where power will be needed, and when, allowing communities to sustain future development,” Wamboldt explains.

The relative electrical load forecast for 2032.
The relative electrical load forecast for 2032.

“Information obtained in PF 12 is crucial to plan for electrical utilities future development,” he says. The study validates and supports growth opportunities and significant investment needed by the states, as well as public and private electric companies that often must substantiate investments to lenders. PF 12 is now used as a 20-year planning tool utilized by cities, towns, legislators and industry to plan for current and future power requirements as well as development within the Williston Basin.

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