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OBIT: Al Golden, player in N.D. oil, dies at 84

A key figure in the development of North Dakota's oil industry since the 1950s and a leader in its political organization died Thursday.

Al Golden was originally from Illinois but came to the state in 1953 at the start of its first oil boom. He started as a landman for Mobil Oil, researching land titles, and later established his own Golden Land and Oil. He lived in Bismarck, where he died at age 84.

"Al was the go-to guy on oil and gas issues for three decades in North Dakota," said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council in Bismarck.

John Morrison, a Bismarck attorney and fellow member of the Petroleum Council's Hall of Fame, said that Golden was a leader in the establishment of the council, the industry's lobbying organization in the state.

"As long as the Petroleum Council has been in existence, he's been there," Morrison said. "It needed somebody who saw the greater value in the whole rather than as separate pieces."

Belief in oil

Golden was well-known to North Dakota legislators and governors dating back to William Guy.

"He worked a lot on legislative matters, working on getting reasonable taxes," Morrison said. He also pushed for a tax incentive for wells using horizontal drilling, a practice that helped open up development in the Williston Basin.

Ness and Morrison said Golden stayed active during the state's oil busts, continuing to buy leases and expecting activity to pick up again.

"That's the vision of all of the great entrepreneurs, that the next big well is always around the corner," Ness said.

Golden was a gentleman, both men said, and was an influence throughout their careers working with the oil industry.

"Al's been a friend of mine for 30 years," Morrison said. "He was a mentor to me."

Golden had a connection with the Grand Forks area, too. His wife, Mary, is from the Gilby area and the couple often visited her family farm there, Morrison said.

Despite Golden's belief in the potential of North Dakota's oil resources, he did not foresee the extent it would grow to.

"He, too, was quite amazed by what transpired in North Dakota," Ness said.

Reach Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 117; or send e-mail to

Christopher Bjorke

Christopher Bjorke is the content editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He first worked for the Herald in 1997 and most recently since 2011. His jobs at the Herald have included covering local government, state politics, business and economics, and the health care industry. 

(701) 780-1117