Petroleum conference gets boost from Trump, smaller turnout reflects industry

BISMARCK - He may be the hottest ticket in town and the main attraction at next week's Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, but Donald Trump also will attempt to tighten his grip on the GOP nomination while he's in Bismarck.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald walks to the stage past an American flag at a fundraising event where he appeared with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, U.S., May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

BISMARCK – He may be the hottest ticket in town and the main attraction at next week’s Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, but Donald Trump also will attempt to tighten his grip on the GOP nomination while he’s in Bismarck.

North Dakota GOP Executive Director Roz Leighton said Trump plans to meet with most of the state’s 28 national convention delegates while he’s here, though details were still being finalized.

With Trump just 76 delegates short of the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination as of Friday, North Dakota’s 28 delegates could put the presumptive nominee over the top if he convinces enough of them to commit to him – though technically the delegates are unbound and could still vote however they choose at the July convention in Cleveland.

Leighton said 23 delegates had confirmed they plan to attend the meeting with Trump, while three indicated they won’t attend and two were maybes.

“Though Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee and many have disregarded North Dakota’s national delegates, Mr. Trump’s visit shows a clear determination to secure each and every delegate,” she said.


Trump press secretary Hope Hicks said Friday she had no details to release about the visit but an itinerary will be posted to the campaign’s website.


Oil downturn reflected

More than 3,800 people have bought $30 tickets to hear Trump close out the three-day oil conference at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Bismarck Event Center, according to the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Registrations spiked in the days after Trump’s visit was announced May 4, climbing from about 1,650 to roughly 2,300 on Friday, said Tessa Sandstrom, a spokeswoman for the oil industry group hosting the 24th annual conference.

“I think we’ve seen a pretty big uptick that can be attributed to his star power,” she said.

Sandstrom expects a total of about 2,700 registrants, which would be the lowest since 2010, when 2,789 registered. The event drew 4,252 registrants two years ago. Bismarck and Regina, Saskatchewan, take turns hosting the annual conference.

Still, the conference has a full slate nearly 70 presenters, including a speech Thursday by famed college football coach Lou Holtz.



Protests planned

Trump is no stranger to protesters, and at least two people have obtained permits to demonstrate outside the Event Center.

North Dakota State University student Austin Alexius Klein of Bismarck said he expects around 200 people to protest. On Friday morning, his Facebook page “Peaceful Donald Trump Protest in Bismarck” had 145 guests confirmed, with 287 interested and 793 invited.

Klein, a 19-year-old English education major, said the majority of the state’s residents “are infatuated almost and fiercely protective” of the oil industry but don’t grasp “how unsustainable and dangerous this situation has become and also how much we have already sacrificed to oil companies.”

“(Trump) doesn’t care about the people. He doesn’t care about the environment. I think personally that he’s only here to promote the status quo of government and businesses being held unaccountable for all the things going on with the oil boom,” he said.

Co-organizer Allison Renville, a 32-year-old political science major and tribal organizer, said American Indian Movement members from Minnesota and South Dakota and some environmental groups also plan to protest Trump’s visit.

“We’re all trying to support each other,” she said.


Renville, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation in northeastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota, said Native Americans already are dealing with a drug epidemic, sex trafficking and other trickle-down effects of the oil boom, and she fears a Trump presidency will lead to more environmental damage.

“I feel that he’s coming to North Dakota to pander. He’s coming in an attempt to solicit support from the Native Americans at this oil convention,” she said.

Klein said he’s not aware of any protesters buying tickets to protest Trump’s speech inside the arena, and he noted training will be provided to demonstrators beforehand on how to protest safely and lawfully outside.

“If anything does happen, I don’t think it will be instigated by us,” he said.

Bismarck city ordinance requires protesters to obtain a free permit, but if they don’t, “there’s really nothing that we can do about it,” Deputy Chief Dave Draovitch said.

“It’s a constitutionally protected right for people to protest. But we will meet with any protesters that may be around and lay out the ground rules for them,” he said.


Security tight


The Bismarck Police Department is working with the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota Highway Patrol and others to coordinate security and traffic, while the U.S. Secret Service will handle security checkpoints at entrances into the Event Center, Draovitch said.

Spectators will have to pass through magnetometers similar to that at an airport, and no weapons of any kind are allowed. Police say to limit personal items and not bring big bags. Small bags such as purses will be subject to search, and cameras are allowed.

Draovitch said they plan to barricade the streets on the north, south and west sides of the Event Center and the two west lanes of the busy Seventh Street one-way on the east side. Police also encourage carpooling because of limited parking.

Local authorities got a taste of providing security for a presidential candidate when Democrat Bernie Sanders delivered an outdoor speech May 13 to more than 500 people at the Bismarck Depot.

But Draovitch said Trump’s visit isn’t the same, being held in conjunction with another event in an indoor venue set up for about 7,400 people.

“It’s a whole different ballgame,” he said.


Nothing better to do


Not everyone buying Trump tickets last week was an avid supporter or opponent.

Richard Benz of Dickinson bought his ticket at the Event Center box office Thursday while waiting for his wife to wrap up a doctor’s appointment. He’ll be in town with his daughter again next week.

“And I’m not going to have anything to do, so I figured I’d stop over and listen to him,” he said.

The 68-year-old civil engineer said he’s still undecided about the presidential race and is waiting to see whether Trump will indeed emerge from the convention as the official nominee.

“It looks like it, but you never know,” he said.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at .

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