BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The FBI is considering stationing permanent agents in the Bakken oil patch of Montana and North Dakota as the drilling boom drives crime rates higher, sparking a dispute between the states' U.S. senators over where the agents should be located.
Crime on both sides of the states' border has spiked as the arrival of thousands of new workers has brought drug traffickers in their wake.
Since July, two FBI agents and an agency intelligence specialist have been stationed in Sidney, Mont., according to authorities. But those postings have been temporary, and a request is pending to make them permanent, FBI spokesman Kyle Loven in Minneapolis said Friday.
North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven want the agents moved about 45 miles northwest to Williston, N.D., considered the heart of the oil patch. Montana Sen. Jon Tester wants the agents to remain in Sidney.
Loven said a final decision will be up to FBI headquarters. He could not offer a timetable.
"The FBI understands that the Bakken area is changing and changing rapidly and we have a responsibility there as far as federal crimes and to assist state and local partners," Loven said. "Wherever that permanent presence ends up, the hope is the FBI is able to permanently maintain a cadre of agents in the area."
Although the FBI's numbers in the Bakken are small, local law enforcement authorities describe the agency's help as crucial given the more sophisticated nature of crime rings seeking their own piece of the region's oil riches.
In October, state, local and federal agents announced the arrests of four people in North Dakota and a dozen in Montana as part of two separate drug investigations. And in July, 22 people in North Dakota were arrested and charged with conspiracy to sell heroin and other drugs on an Indian reservation that's been caught up in the Bakken boom.