Delta Air Lines is taking the North Dakota oil boom seriously.
The Atlanta-based carrier announced Monday that it is adding twice-daily nonstop flights between the Twin Cities and Dickinson, N.D., a city of 18,000 on the edge of the state’s Bakken oil fields.
North Dakota emerged as the nation’s No. 2 oil producer last year behind only Texas, creating scores of new jobs that continue to attract workers from across the country. Many of the state’s newcomers were from Minnesota.
For Delta, the dominant carrier in the Twin Cities, North Dakota has become an attractive regional market. Last year, the airline added twice-daily nonstop service between Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Williston, N.D. The new flights to Dickinson will begin June 10.
“Because of the market and the opportunities, we believe that both Dickinson and Williston will be a success,” Delta spokesman Anthony Black said.
Delta’s new flights — along with United Airlines’ recent move to offer daily service between Dickinson and Denver — shows just how transportation starved the state has become. North Dakota’s commercial airports finished 2012 with more than 1 million boardings, a record high. Dickinson’s Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, in turn, had almost 24,000 boardings, an increase of almost 5,000 from 2011.
Dickinson sits along Interstate 94, halfway between Fargo and Billings, Mont. Delta’s new flights to the city were celebrated by the state’s top elected officials as a convenience for travelers and as another sign of economic growth.
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., noted that thousands of residents now have access to major airline hubs in the Twin Cities to the east and Denver to the west. In a statement, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said, “This expanded jet service will enhance the region’s access to the nation and world.”
Delta said it will use 50-seat CRJ-200 regional jets flown by Sky West Airlines, a Delta Connections partner, for its Dickinson service. It’s the same type of jet used on Delta’s Williston route.
Delta also plans to tap into North Dakota’s oil boom in a more direct way. Last week, the airline received its first shipment of North Dakota crude oil at its Pennsylvania refinery.
Delta hopes to save up to $300 million annually by producing its own fuel, using more domestic crude oil instead of foreign oil. The company purchased the ConocoPhillips refinery in Trainer, Pa., last year and plans to use it to produce more jet fuel.
The strategy includes buying crude oil drawn from the North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields at prices below what Delta currently pays in the world market, then shipping it by train.
Meanwhile, North Dakota has been increasing its oil output almost every month. In December, the state extracted a record 768,853 barrels per day.
The oil fields in the state’s western counties now employ more than 40,000 workers, and thousands of jobs in the state go unfilled. North Dakota’s population climbed 2.2 percent last year, reaching 699,628, according to the Census Bureau. That count doesn’t include at least 24,000 people who live in temporary camps set up mainly for migrant oil workers.
Staff writer David Shaffer contributed to this report.