TIOGA - Riding what supporters called "the peak of his popularity," a former Pennsylvania senator with larger aspirations visited the heart of oil country Wednesday morning and afternoon.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum visited the Tioga area to get a firsthand look at "the North Dakota miracle."
Santorum made stops at Target Logistics Tioga Lodge, one of two huge "man camps" about 4 miles west of Tioga, before taking a firsthand look at a pumping unit.
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, center, chuckles as he is given gifts to commemorate his visit to “oil country” Wednesday morning in Tioga. North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness and talk radio host Scott Hennen, right, look on with observers seated in the background.
Following that, Santorum attended a town hall meeting at Tioga High School where he rallied a crowd of several hundred by promising to right the wrongs committed thus far by the administration of President Barack Obama.
Radio host Scott Hennen, who spoke often at both meetings, told the assembly that Santorum's stop was the first-ever visit by a presidential candidate to Tioga.
"We're in real America, where folks get it done and contribute greatly to the energy security of our country," Santorum said.
Santorum said that he saw the Tioga community going through "growing pains" as the energy boom stretched its resources paper-thin.
"But it provides opportunity too," he said. "Opportunity to create wealth, to contribute to your country. What you're doing here is producing the resources that fuel the nation.
"And yet I understand the frustration that you have with a federal government that doesn't seem to be particularly tuned in to your concerns."
Santorum blasted Obama's resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline.
He said the Obama administration treats North Dakota like a "liability," and sees extracting carbons from the ground as "causing a problem."
"That is unfortunately how some people see what is going on here in the Bakken," Santorum said. "There isn't any other reason that I can fathom that the president of the United States wouldn't authorize a pipeline that takes this incredibly valuable sweet crude to the refineries that are in desperate need of it."
Santorum told the audience that on his first day in office, he would sign documents for the commencement of the pipeline, which was met with loud applause. He also pledged to repeal over-regulation of the energy industry.
He also said he would support a transportation bill that would create more highways that would benefit goods and commerce.
And he slammed regulations that some farmers believe hinder agriculture.
"I don't know of anybody who's a farmer or rancher - or a manufacturer - who doesn't care more about the quality of life in their community than a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.," Santorum said.
He told the audience that the support of our allies, such as Israel, is paramount to our national security. He warned that thinking that North Dakota is isolated from the dangers of terrorism caused by a nuclear-armed Iran is a falsehood.
"Folks, you've got energy here," Santorum said. "They're going to bother you."
Santorum thanked the audience for putting up with the growing pains and the hassle that comes along with the creation of wealth in the Bakken.
"What you're doing is providing a very, very key resource to our country that is needed, and will be needed even more," he said. "And I want to assure you that, as president of the United States, I'll have your back."
Also in attendance were Santorum's wife, Karen, and their eldest child, 20-year-old Elizabeth.
Prior to that, Santorum sat down at Tioga Lodge with local and industry leaders to discuss the potential future of North Dakota's booming energy resources, as well as its associated trials.
"I've heard a lot about what you guys are doing here, and what we can do not to screw it up," Santorum said to laughter and applause.
Santorum was presented with gifts symbolizing the Bakken oilfield play "to be placed in the White House when you get there."
Several participants in what was called an "energy roundtable" expressed concern that federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing could harm the state.
Santorum blamed the situation in his home state of Pennsylvania for exciting the East Coast population centers where the "radical environmentalists" are.
"With the decline of the fury about man-made global warming, the environmental groups have to find another whipping boy," he said. "That's all this is. If the global warming scare had kept on, they'd have forgotten about you folks."
Triumph amid tragedy
TIOGA - The exuberance of meeting presidential candidate Rick Santorum was tempered by news that one Tioga High School sophomore was killed Tuesday, and two other students injured, in a motor vehicle crash.
Tarin Lee Westby, 15, was killed when police say the Dodge pickup he was driving failed to yield to another pickup and struck the vehicle in the passenger side. The crash occurred at the intersection of 60th Street Northwest and 104th Avenue Northwest, about 7 miles south of Tioga.
The driver of the Ford pickup, Brandon Lee Wilkens, 24, of Parshall, and his passenger, 19-year-old Evan Lyle Holland of Stanley, were also injured.
Westby's passengers, Drew Patrick Martinson, 15, and Sergio Antonio, 17, were also injured.
The crash occurred around 4:55 p.m.
Before the Santorum rally, a moment of silence was observed in honor of the three juveniles.
- Dave Caldwell