By Ernest Scheyder
WILLISTON N.D. (Reuters) - North Dakota, the second-largest U.S. oil producer, re-elected Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring on Tuesday, as voters opted to retain the status quo for a position that helps regulate the state's burgeoning energy industry.
The state sits atop the prolific Bakken shale formation and produces more than 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, helping the United States reduce foreign imports of crude and sharply boosting North Dakota's prominence on the international stage.
Goehring, first appointed to the position in 2009 and elected in his own right in 2010, beat Ryan Taylor, the Democrat-NPL party's candidate, by a surprisingly large margin for a race political scientists had considered too close to call. With roughly 90 percent of precincts reporting, Goehring received 57 percent of the vote to Taylor's 43 percent.
With a legislature that meets only every two years, North Dakota gives an unusual amount of power to the agriculture commissioner and two other members of the state's Industrial Commission, charging the triumvirate with oversight of permitting and other issues.
Given that import, the race between Goehring and Taylor had centered around the state's oil boom, with Taylor charging that Goehring cared too much for oil companies at the expense of wheat, soy and corn farmers, as well as ranchers.
The race received outsized attention from Continental Resources Inc, Hess Corp, Whiting Petroleum Corp and other large oil producers concerned that a Taylor victory could affect oil development in the state.
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the lone Democrat elected to statewide office, supported Taylor.
Taylor called Goehring to concede the race just before 11 p.m. local time. Goehring could not immediately be reached for comment.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, residents of North Dakota's Fort Berthold Indian Reservation elected Mark Fox as their next chairman. The reservation, home to Three Affiliated Tribes of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation, produces nearly a third of the state's oil.
Fox, 51, has promised to tighten environmental regulation of oil drilling on the reservation and return more oil tax revenue to the tribe's 12,000 residents.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)