Faces of the Boom: Watford City couple passes along ‘gift’ of oil

Sharon and Konnie Norstog hope to minimize the impacts of oil development to their ranch near Watford City, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Konnie and Sharon Norstog don’t think they deserve the new income from the minerals they own, so they’re giving much of it away.

The retired Watford City ranchers say the best part about the oil boom is they can give more to their favorite charities.

“This is a gift. We did absolutely nothing to earn it. We don’t deserve it, particularly,” said Sharon, also a retired minister. “Now it’s our job to do something kind with it or at least do the right thing.”

The royalties the couple receives from oil companies that are drilling under their land have allowed them to take two Alaska cruises and do a few things they otherwise may not have done, Sharon said.

But they haven’t changed their lifestyle significantly. Konnie drives a Dodge Grand Caravan with 270,000 miles and the couple has no plans to buy a new vehicle anytime soon.

“We don’t need one,” Sharon said. “We’ll wait.”

The Norstogs feel fortunate that the impact of oil development on their nearly 2,000 acres has been minimal. It takes longer to turn onto U.S. Highway 85 than it used to, and they occasionally have trucks that insist on driving through their private property, even though it’s well marked as a dead end.

But they don’t have any oil wells on their ranch, just beneath it. Konnie, who has lived there his whole life, said he got good advice from a lawyer to negotiate that oil development be restricted to a greater distance from his home than what most people are able to negotiate.

Although there are oil wells adjacent to their land, the log home Konnie built in 1980 is nestled in the trees and hidden from the development going on all around them.

“Hopefully we can keep it out of sight of the place,” Konnie said.

Fourteen oil wells are planned on some pasture and cropland the couple owns in McKenzie County. In that case, the couple does not own the minerals below, but the company worked with them to place a road so it would have less impact for them and their neighbors.

Sharon even got to name the wells. She chose Heidi Ho, after her border terrier.

Sharon said she is sympathetic to landowners who don’t own the minerals.

“I really feel for those that don’t get much at all out of it and have to put up with the smell and the dirt and the noise and the traffic,” Sharon said.

The most significant impact of the oil boom for the couple is not one you’d expect.

In the summer, they have more than 300 head of sheep on their pasture land, which is now adjacent to a crew camp along Highway 85 that houses workers.

Last summer, the couple had some issues with residents of the crew camp feeding their livestock guard dogs and distracting the dogs from the herd.

“I’m sure there was no malice intended, but the repercussions can be really bad,” Sharon said.

The couple recognizes that the impacts of oil may get more intense as the development continues. One worry they have is how the placement of a truck bypass route around Watford City could affect their ranch.

But nevertheless, they keep an optimistic outlook about oil development.

“You might as well be positive because it’s going to happen,” Konnie said. “So try to minimize the impact and work with it that way.”

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