BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — With population gains attributed to nearby oil and gas fields, Minot is on track to become North Dakota's fourth metropolitan area as defined by the federal government.
But the distinction, which requires the city to maintain at least 50,000 residents for two years, is not certain and could be short-lived if oil prices and drilling activity continue to slide in the state, a Census official says.
"Obviously, things have slowed in so there is always that chance," said Joe Cicha, a census specialist at the state Commerce Department in Bismarck. "We'll just have to see."
Minot Mayor Chuck Barney said the city already likely qualifies as metropolitan area based on its own population estimates based on water and sewer usage.
"It's certainly something we at the city have felt we were for some time now," the mayor said of being designated a metropolitan area, versus the so-called micropolitan distinction by the federal government. "I think we already are north of 50,000 people."
Barney said the metropolitan distinction, other than just bragging rights, may make the city eligible for additional funding for federal programs.
Federal census figures show Minot's 2014 population at almost 48,000 residents, up from 40,888 in 2010. Cicha said the 2015 count isn't due out until next spring.
Cicha said the city's population has increased an average of about 3.5 percent in recent years.
"At the rate they are growing, the 2015 estimate should put them over 50,000," Cicha said.
North Dakota has three federally defined metropolitan areas at present: Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks. The Bismarck metro area that includes Burleigh, Morton, Oliver and Sioux counties is the only one entirely in North Dakota.
Besides the three metropolitan areas in North Dakota, there are five micropolitans: Minot, Dickinson, Jamestown, Williston and Wahpeton, all of which have had population growth in recent years. North Dakota had an estimated 739,482 residents in 2014, up more 15,600 residents from the prior count and a record level. The 2.2 percent increase was the biggest in the nation.
The Minot micropolitan area includes the Ward, McHenry and Renville counties. The population for the area is pegged at 77,959, up from 69,540 in 2010.
North Dakota's fortunes have swung radically in recent years with advanced drilling technology in the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations that have thrust the state to the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas. A recent slowdown of oil drilling in the state due to depressed crude prices should not hurt Minot's population, the city's mayor said.
"I don't see that happening," Barney said. "I see us continuing to grow. Maybe it will be more measured and slower, but I still see growth in Minot."