Oil and Politics in North Dakota

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Virginia Tech


In the past decade, North Dakota has experienced a substantial shift in economic and political activity due to oil. In addition to jobs and revenue, corporate interests have surged into the state with a dominating force. As players in a highly valued industry, oil companies have worked hard to protect and uphold viable markets in the state. These interests are observed in relationships with key politicians, especially among those regulating the oil industry as members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC). Critics label this development as misguided, as an example of big business manipulating government. This thesis, on the other hand, contends that such arguments are predicated on prevailing, yet unhelpful standards, and offers an understanding of how ND's government operates in the real world through the use of qualitative and quantitative methods. By testing the relationship between political contributions and oil spills in North Dakota and interpreting the results using three political theories—tliberalism, realism, and elite theory—tthe case study shows the allegations against key politicians and the oil industry are not substantiated. Instead of a case of political corruption, the thesis shows that the case of the NDIC is in fact a paradigmatic example of how liberal-democracy really works.



Oil, North Dakota, Realism, Liberalism, Elite Theory