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drone photo coal mine

A technical crew at North American's Falkirk Mining Co. uses a fast-flying drone to conduct three-dimensional surveys to help plan for coal mining and reclamation. It's the first surface mine in the country to take advantage of the relatively new technology. The average wage in McLean County was $53,242 in 2016.

Last year marked the second year of wage declines in the state.

Total wages were down another 8 percent in 2016 after a 2 percent decline in 2015, the first time since, at least, 1990. Average annual wage was also down again, by 3.6 percent, statewide, to $48,891.

Williams County managed to maintain the highest average wage in the state in 2015, but, in 2016, the oil field was edged out by coal country.

Despite a drop in average wages, Oliver County had the highest of any county in the state, according to statistics from North Dakota Job Service. Average wages in Oliver County were $71,719, ahead of second place McKenzie County with $70,061. The county, which had the fifth highest average wages in 2014, jumped to second place in 2015 with average wages of $76,712.

“While the oil industry’s impact on wages has decreased in the last couple of years, the number of employees in the lignite industry has remained steady and these jobs at the mines and plants reflect some of the highest wages in the state," Steve Van Dyke, vice president of communications for the Lignite Energy Council, said in a statement.

From 1993 until 2010, Oliver County consistently had the highest average wages in the state — thanks primarily to the jobs at BNI Coal’s Center Mine and the coal-fired Milton R. Young Station, the Lignite Energy Council said in a statement.

In 2016, Williams County fell to third, with an average wage of $69,997, a drop of about 10 percent compared to 2015’s average wage of $77,663 in the county. Average wages in the county in 2014 were $82,813 in 2014.

Oil and gas extraction wages in the state slipped 2.7 percent to an average of $120,405. Pipeline transportation average wages were down 1.1 percent to $122,049. Truck transport average wages were down 10.5 percent to $60,950. Petroleum and coal products manufacturing average wages were down 5 percent to $130,516. Despite these drops, North Dakota's energy industry accounts for the highest average wages in the state.

Meanwhile, average mining wages were up statewide to $88,834, helped along by a 7.7 percent increase in Mercer County, home to three coal mines and four power plants and Dakota Gasification Co.’s lignite gasification plant, where average mining wages were $110,293.

Mercer County also had the fourth highest average wages in the state at $68,981, followed by Dunn at $65,006, Mountrail at $62,999, Stark at $56,015, Slope at $54,460, McLean at $53,242 and Burke at $53,242. In total, 10 counties had average wages above the state average in 2016.

Average wages in Burleigh County were down .8 percent to $48,775, while Morton County average wages were up .9 percent to $44,965.

The industry to see the largest drop in average wages in Burleigh County was real estate and leasing, down nearly 25 percent to $39,085, followed by the utilities industry, with a 11.1 percent decrease to $93,325. The largest average wage increase was in the agriculture, foresting, fishing and hunting industries, which was up 8 percent to $30,391.

In Morton County, average wage in the educational services industry was down 54.2 percent to $18,056. Health care and social services annual wages were up 12 percent to $36,776. Real estate and leasing were up 6.3 percent to $36,027.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or


Business Reporter