Industry leader: Oil counties need $5 billion ‘to do it right’

WILLISTON, N.D. – The state should invest up to $5 billion in northwest North Dakota communities with the most oil activity, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council said Wednesday.

Ron Ness, while testifying to a group of legislators meeting in Williston, said communities need significant resources to do long-range planning, but the state’s grant program for those areas is only helping them react.

Ness called for a five-year plan with $800 million to $1 billion per year invested in schools, roads and infrastructure for communities in the core areas of the Bakken.

“The magnitude of infrastructure required is going to require a lot of money,” Ness said. “We have the opportunity to do it right.”

Members of the Energy Development and Transmission Committee are meeting jointly with the Education Funding and Taxation Committee in Williston through today.

Ness told legislators that as industry shifts from an exploration phase to a development phase, the state is at a critical time to invest in infrastructure.

The industry paid $1.3 billion in oil and gas production tax last year, and will pay even more this year, Ness said. Those dollars should be targeted at the counties with the greatest oil activity, he said.

A grant program could help surrounding communities that are experiencing oil impacts to a lesser degree, Ness said.

One program that needs support is the TrainND workforce training program based at Williston State College, Ness said.

“They need to go to the next level,” he said.

The program serves about 13,000 people per year through safety courses and other workforce training, primarily for the oil and gas industry, said Deanette Piesek, CEO of TrainND for northwest North Dakota.

The college has two facilities totaling about 17,500 square feet to serve those students, but the program is at capacity, Piesek said.

In order to meet growing industry demands, Piesek said she needs a $6 million building that would provide an additional 36,000 square feet of training space.

If Williston State College can’t expand its program, colleges and programs from other states will begin offering training in North Dakota, Piesek said. She said she knows of a Wyoming college that is planning to offer some training in Minot.

Legislators asked Piesek to provide them more information about the TrainND program and its needs.

“I think North Dakota has a huge opportunity in training for industry that’s coming here,” said Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks.

Legislators also heard about challenges with planning and zoning and enforcing existing ordinances.

The agendas for Williams County Planning and Zoning meetings already are full through September.

“We need a timeout because we are so overrun that we cannot plan, all we can do is react,” said Williams County Commissioner Dan Kalil.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, said perhaps the state could send some planners to some of the counties to help with the backlog.

On Wednesday, legislators also toured Williston, Watford City and Tioga, N.D.

Sen. Rich Wardner, chairman of the Energy Development and Transmission Committee, said he had heard about many of the issues facing oil country, but he gained a better appreciation for it by driving the roads and seeing the activity firsthand.

Speaker of the House David Drovdahl, R-Arnegard, said many of the committee members had not visited northwest North Dakota for a long time.

“It was an eye-opener for a number of them,” Drovdahl said.

Faces of the Boom: ‘Cheesy’ YouTube videos become an ‘awesome responsibility’

Gregg Thompson began making YouTube videos so his friends and family could follow his Williston, N.D., adventures, and now he's attracted national media attention. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – Washington artist Gregg Thompson uses YouTube to document his adventures in his new home of Williston.

The raw video clips peppered with Thompson’s humor and occasionally salty language are attracting attention from national television producers and people curious about life in the Oil Patch.

“I thought they were kind of cheesy, but they seem to love them,” said Thompson, who goes by Gregg Zart as an artist and on YouTube.

Thompson, 44, moved from Olympia, Wash., to Williston three months ago after getting laid off as a graphic designer for Sign-A-Rama.

He came by train to Williston in January on a three-day scouting trip to see if the potential for jobs lived up to what he’d heard in the media.

Thompson came with plenty of cash in his pocket, but he didn’t count on every hotel room being booked.

Thompson’s most popular video shows him spending a night in a Dumpster by Budget Mattress. He calls it an oil boom urban treehouse, minus the tree. The video shows him in the Dumpster with mattresses, a recliner, a toilet he calls his “overnight stand” and bubble wrap for insulation.

“That was pure desperation,” Thompson recalled last week. “These are the lengths that I went to in order to come out here, and I’m glad I did.”

Within 72 hours of being in Williston, Thompson received a job offer from Walmart to manage the housewares department. He said it’s the best-paying job he’s ever had because of the overtime.

He returned to North Dakota in his Aerostar van, which he lived in for three weeks before finding a camper and a spot in a Williston RV park.

Thompson has a 10-part series showing his journey from Washington to North Dakota. He also has videos portraying weather “so cold it hurts,” busy truck traffic, litter that accumulated this winter, the housing shortage and RVs getting kicked out of the Walmart parking lot.

National Geographic Television contacted Thompson after seeing his videos, and is now including him in a documentary being developed about Williston, Thompson said.

CBS Evening News will be in Williston in June and part of the story will feature Thompson, he said. He also was recently interviewed by Popular Mechanics magazine.

“It’s really crazy,” Thompson said. “I seem to be the local color for the random guy who moved to Williston.”

His videos have received comments such as, “Inspires me to pack up and make the move myself.”

Thompson said because his videos are influencing people who may move to North Dakota, he’s taking that seriously.

“I didn’t expect it and now it’s becoming an awesome responsibility,” Thompson said. “I’m really thinking through what I say and what I put out there.”

Check out some of his YouTube videos (note – contain some profanity):

Oil boom urban treehouse 

Newly arrived

It’s cold

Gregg Thompson is working on painting a self-portrait that depicts his move to Williston, N.D.

For personal safety, your mind is what matters

WILLISTON, N.D. – When friends and acquaintances heard I was moving from Fargo to Williston, many suggested I get a gun.

Others said I shouldn’t leave the house without pepper spray and a Taser.

One friend bluntly told me “Don’t get raped.”

While I appreciate the concern so many showed me, this is the advice I probably needed to hear:

“Amy, don’t get hit by a truck while you’re taking a photo along the side of a highway.”

Or “Amy, coveralls don’t come in ladies’ petite, so be careful not to trip on your pant leg while climbing the stairs to the floor of a rig.”

Those two scenarios are the riskiest situations I’ve been in during my first three months here in the Oil Patch.

I don’t feel any less safe in Williston than I did in Fargo. I think people’s perception of the crime in western North Dakota is worse than it really is. Yes, there have been some dramatic increases in crime statistics, but the increases in population have also been dramatic.

During the recent Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem gave a preview of his annual crime statistics report that will be out soon. He said it will show that crime in the Oil Patch is both up and down.

For example, Stenehjem said aggravated assaults in the oil-producing counties have doubled over the past four years, but such assaults have been going up across the state for the past decade. Stenehjem said the number of forcible rapes in the Oil Patch is actually down.

The challenge for law enforcement in determining the crime rate is the population is difficult to determine, he said.

Regardless of statistics, the May 10 shooting in Williston is a reminder that the former small town is starting to see some big city problems.

With that in mind, I do take the kinds of precautions I would in a big city.

I walk to my car with keys in hand and lock my car door as soon as I get inside, practices I was used to doing in Fargo.

I am extra cautious about walking to my car alone at night, and I don’t hesitate to ask someone to walk with me if I feel uncomfortable.

I have always been accustomed to locking my apartment door as soon as I get home, and I’ve even more vigilant about that now.

I am aware of two cases of people who were in my building who didn’t belong, including one case that really alarmed me.

One night, some men apparently knocked on the door of a woman and said they were maintenance and needed to look at her windows. She was smart enough not to let them in and sent them down to the building manager.

In another incident, a person described to me as someone who was on meth was wandering in the hallways.

In both cases, I heard about the incidents immediately from a neighbor. And the next time maintenance workers needed to enter our apartments, the building manager made an extra effort to let us know ahead of time and accompanied the workers so we knew they were legit.

Even though the building has security doors, I’m not letting my guard down. I appreciate that Williston seems to have a culture of people watching out for one another and alerting neighbors to potential threats.

During one of my first weeks here, I talked to Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching about the increase in people carrying concealed weapons and pepper spray.

He told me to get pepper spray if I want to, but that my best weapon is my mind.

That comment really stuck with me. As long as I remain aware of my surroundings and use common sense, life in Williston won’t be any less safe than anywhere else.

Oil Patch life makes you appreciate simple conveniences

Living in Williston, N.D., is great for news reporting, but there are some conveniences I miss.

This week while driving through Minot, N.D., and spending three nights in Bismarck for the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, I was reminded of some of the “luxuries” you can’t find in Williston.

Here’s what I did:

– Ran an errand at Best Buy

– Went to a coffee shop that stays open past 6 p.m.

– Shopped at Target (woo hoo!) and found everything I was looking for (and more)

– Paid $3.69 a gallon for gas (10 cents cheaper than Williston)

– And most exciting of all … I got an oil change with no appointment and no wait. And it was at 7 p.m. I’m pretty sure this is impossible in Williston. I also had them replace a brake light, which before moving to Williston my husband would have preferred to do himself. But last time we needed a light for my car he had to go to three stores in Williston before he found it.

My wish list for my time in Bismarck included eating at a sit-down restaurant other than Applebees, going to the mall and maybe getting a haircut that didn’t require at least an appointment at least a week in advance. But the conference didn’t leave me any time.

I’m going to Fargo in June for a concert and I’m already making my to-do list.

RV ban moves forward in Williston

WILLISTON, N.D. – City commissioners here took another step this week toward making it illegal for people to live in recreational vehicles outside of a designated RV park, but the ordinance is still being revised.

The Williston City Commission unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance Thursday night that would make a violation subject to a $500 per day fine.

Commissioners will continue discussing the ordinance and bring it back for a final vote on June 26.

Commissioners are weighing whether to allow RVs in commercial zoning districts or other areas, possibly using a special permitting process and requiring fees. The ordinance also provides some allowances for construction sites to have a limited number of RVs through a permitting process.

The effective date will either be Aug. 1 or Sept. 1 to allow RV parks that are under construction time to be completed.

City officials say the RVs scattered throughout Williston pose health and safety risks and the ordinance attempts to take control over the situation. Opponents say the ordinance will leave many people with no place to go and drive away necessary employees. Rent for many of the RV parks ranges from $600 to $1,000 or more per month.

Baseball legend La Russa attends petroleum conference

Tony La Russa, right, attends the CEO panel of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.

BISMARCK – The Williston Basin Petroleum Conference had a surprise guest Thursday who wasn’t on the lineup card.

Tony La Russa, a three-time World Series championship manager, attended the CEO panel to hear his friend and Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm speak.

La Russa said he was talking to Hamm a few weeks ago about North Dakota oil development and he wanted to learn more.

The timing of the conference worked out well with La Russa’s plans to attend a Minnesota Twins game, he said.

After Hamm’s speech, La Russa planned to accompany other Continental Resources executives to tour a producing well and a drilling location north of Belfield, N.D.

“I can’t wait,” La Russa said. “I’m just fascinated by it.”

La Russa, who ranks third on baseball’s all-time wins list for managers, retired from the St. Louis Cardinals after their World Series win in 2011.

Hamm: ‘Beat Barack Obama’

Harold Hamm speaks Thursday during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.

BISMARCK – Harold Hamm cut down his speech to three words: “Beat Barack Obama.”

The Continental Resources CEO who led a panel discussion Thursday during the final day of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference said energy will play a huge role in upcoming elections.

Hamm, whose company led the way in using horizontal drilling to tap North Dakota’s oil producing potential, is Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney’s energy committee chairman.  He said he was happy to accept the role but said it was unusual for someone associated with government to want to work with someone knowledgeable about energy.

“That’s not what happened in the past,” Hamm said. “If you knew something about it, they left you on the sideline.”

Hamm called Obama’s energy policy a failure.

“Romney has a policy of abundance,” Hamm said. “The other one is one of scarcity.”

Hamm also called for the development of major pipelines in North Dakota to reduce the price discount that Bakken crude receives in comparison to Texas oil. Hamm blames a shipping bottleneck for the discount and called for multiple new pipelines.

“We need all we can get here. We need to get rid of this differential and we’ve got to do it now,” Hamm said. “We’re way behind time on it.”

The members of the CEO panel also addressed being good stewards of the state that has become No. 2 in the nation in oil production, and dealing with problems such as truck traffic and rapid growth.

Jim Volker, CEO of Whiting Petroleum, said the future of the Bakken “just gets better.”

“It gets better for all of us,” Volker said. “It gets better for the people of the state, it gets better for state tax revenue and it gets better for all the people that we’re bringing in to enjoy the quality of life in North Dakota.”

Volker said his company is committed to being good stewards of natural resources. Whiting has a goal of zero emissions from its facilities and is working to expand natural gas pipelines to eliminate gas flaring, he said.

Hamm said Continental Resources will continue to develop drilling techniques that lower costs but also create more distance between oil wells.

“It doesn’t look like much drilling is going on but a whole lot is,” Hamm said.

Dave Roberts, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Marathon Oil, said oil companies are working to become more efficient and reduce the number of trucks on the road.

“We don’t like all these trucks on the road either, because that costs me money and we live in these communities,” Roberts said.

Oil companies want to support North Dakota communities by contributing money to community causes as well as becoming involved locally, Roberts said.

“The key thing is ask us,” he said. “Most of us are more than happy to continue to commit to the communities that are so supportive of us up here.”

Whiting has a policy of targeting new hires from northern tier states because they’re able to be closer to friends and family. That has resulted in a turnover rate of less than 5 percent, Volker said.

Roberts said he sees the oil and gas industry at a critical intersection, with how things work in North Dakota serving as a model for other states with potential oil and gas developments.

“Coming from one direction, we have this incredible gift, these revolutionary supply developments that are built on innovation and application of new technologies,” Roberts said. “From the other direction we have the significant social, environmental and geopolitical challenges that accompany this growth.

“The manner in which we respond to these two forces and navigate this intersection could ultimately lead to the success or failure of North Dakota’s oil and gas business and, indeed, the potential we see in other energy producing states,” Roberts said.

Watch video from the speech here:

Dave Roberts of Marathon Oil, left, and Jim Volker of Whiting address the media following the CEO panel during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.

State official says oil development will push jobs, population growth

North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness, center, addresses the media Wednesday during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. To his left is Lynn Helms, director of the state department of mineral resources.

BISMARCK – Oil development could push North Dakota’s population to 1 million people, the state’s director of mineral resources said Wednesday as one of his predictions for the state’s future.

Lynn Helms laid out three possible scenarios for North Dakota during the second of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.

If all the possible risk factors go wrong, North Dakota would max out at 650,000 barrels of crude oil production per day and hold at that rate for two to three years before declining. The state currently is producing about 575,000 barrels per day, recently passing Alaska in production and is now second only to Texas among crude oil producing states.

Under a middle-of-the-road scenario, Helms predicts North Dakota will hit 800,000 barrels of oil per day and hold for 10 to 12 years before declining.

And if all works in North Dakota’s favor, the state would hit 1 million barrels of oil per day, creating tens of thousands of new jobs.

“If everything works out, then we’re going to chase Texas,” Helms said.

North Dakota will continue to add more jobs to support the oil development. The boom already has created thousands of jobs, and Helms said the figure would likely peak at 65,000 new jobs by 2020. Using a multiplier for the number of additional jobs that will be required to support that population, Helms said he can envision North Dakota with 1 million people. The 2011 Census estimate put North Dakota’s population at 683,932.

Meanwhile, executives from oil exploration companies talked Wednesday about testing other geological formations and improving technology to recover more oil.

A Continental Resources executive said the company is testing lower benches of the Three Forks formation, which is below the Bakken shale where most of the North Dakota oil is coming from now. The results of those tests are remarkable, he said.

“The actual definition of the Bakken will be redefined,” said Jack Stark, senior vice president for exploration of Continental Resources, the company that led the development of horizontal drilling in the northwest North Dakota.

Jack Stark, senior vice president for exploration of Continental Resources, talks to an overflow crowd Wednesday about exploration in the Three Forks formation.

The incentive to improve recovery rates is huge. If producers can increase oil recovery by 1 percent, that could mean a total of 2 billion to 4 billion more barrels of oil from North Dakota, Helms said.

North Dakota hit a record 213 drilling rigs on Tuesday, Helms said. The state is expected to level off at 225 rigs by the end of the year, he said.

If that rig count stays steady, it would take 16 years to drill all the needed wells, Helms said.

But risk factors threaten the North Dakota’s potential, Helms said. He listed four dangers:

  • Changes in the global economy that could drop oil prices
  • Proposed federal tax changes that would affect the oil industry
  • Federal permitting regulations that slow oil development
  • The federal Environmental Protection Agency overreaching on hydraulic fracturing regulations

Other speakers, including David Hobbs of IHS CERA, a company that specializes in supplying decision-making information on key issues including energy, cautioned about the risks presented by opponents of fracking and other critics of the oil and gas industry.

Hobbs recommends that industry officials take those opponents seriously and act responsibly because the world is watching North Dakota.

“The responsibility not just for North Dakota but for the world lies on your shoulders as you move forward in terms of the ways in which you operate, the ways in which you address your stakeholders and the ways ultimately in which you enable the economic growth that America will enjoy over the coming decades.” Hobbs said.

The conference, which was up to 4,025 people by Wednesday afternoon, concludes today.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the model developed in North Dakota should be used across the country.

“We can take control of our energy future right here in the United States,” Gerard said.

 See also Williston Basin Petroleum Conference draws global interest

Participants had to crowd to get into a popular engineering session featuring industry representatives talking about improving fracking techniques during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.

Hamm, La Russa appear at Kevin Cramer fundraiser

Harold Hamm, center, and Kevin Cramer, left, visit during a fundraiser for Cramer Wednesday in Bismarck. To their right is Tony La Russa, a friend of Hamm's and three-time World Series champion manager. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications Co.

BISMARCK – The 4,000 attendees of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference received a letter as they walked in Wednesday from Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources Inc., inviting them to a fundraiser for Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer, who is running for Congress as a Republican.

Hamm urged people to give $1,000 to the fundraising campaign and join him for a reception Wednesday evening at the Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck. A contribution form was on the opposite side of the letter.

“Kevin is a true conservative leader and will be a strong pro-energy voice in Congress,” Hamm wrote in the letter.

Tony La Russa, a friend of Hamm’s and a three-time World Series champion manager, also attended the fundraiser. La Russa, who ranks third on baseball’s all-time wins list for managers, retired from the Cardinals in 2011.

Thomas Nusz, president and CEO of Oasis Petroleum, and Brian Lash, CEO of Target Logistics, also attended the fundraiser.

Hamm is on the conference agenda Thursday as part of the “Taking the Responsible Leadership Role in the Bakken” panel.

Cramer faces GOP-endorsed candidate Brian Kalk, also a public service commissioner, in the June 12 primary for North Dakota’s U.S. House seat.

Cramer told attendees of the conference he would “stay out of their way” and work to reduce regulations that interfere with oil development.


Tony La Russa, center, a three-time World Series champion manager who retired after the 2011 season attends a political fundraiser Wednesday for Kevin Cramer in Bismarck. La Russa, who retired from the Cardinals in 2011, attended the fundraiser with Harold Hamm. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications Co.


Halliburton serves thousands with barbecue food truck

Brothers J.J. Miller, left, and Sam Miller, both of Denver, run the Halliburton barbecue truck.

BISMARCK – What’s more valuable to Halliburton: the company’s frack fluid recipe or its barbecue recipe?

I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you which one is tastier.

Halliburton sponsored an impressive barbecue for about 4,000 attendees of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference Tuesday.

Crews began cooking at midnight Tuesday to give the meat plenty of time to smoke for the evening event.

The feast required 1,200 pounds of meat, 60 gallons of beans and 200 pounds of bacon and sausage for the beans.

The man behind the barbecue recipe is 30-year-old Sam Miller of Denver who used to work with hydraulic fracturing for Halliburton before he found his calling as their cook.

Halliburton’s food truck – a self-contained cooking unit with barbecue pits – travels around the country eight months out of the year for corporate and charity events. The truck is 64 feet in length and weighs 63,000 pounds.

Sam has prepared food for even larger crowds than Tuesday’s event. He served food for victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Sam has been working with the truck for seven years and recently recruited his brother, J.J. Miller, 33, Denver, to help.

Running the barbecue truck is a lot harder than fracking, Sam said, but he enjoys it more.

“I like meeting all the different people,” Sam said.

See also Williston Basin Petroleum Conference draws global interest