UPDATED: Man crushed while unloading trusses at Williston construction site identified

WILLISTON, N.D. – A construction worker who died here Tuesday was crushed by roof trusses that let loose as workers unloaded them from a trailer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Friday.

The worker, identified by OSHA as 23-year-old Brandon Woodard of Abbeville, Miss., cut a metal band holding the trusses together before they collapsed on top of him, said Eric Brooks, assistant director for the Bismarck Area OSHA Office.

The man worked for R&J Building Contractors of Branson, Mo., Brooks said.

The incident happened shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday at the construction site of Weatherford Lodge on 133rd Drive Northwest, an area that was recently annexed into Williston, said Williston Police Detective Cory Collings.

The death was reported to OSHA Wednesday morning, Brooks said. The investigation is ongoing.

Displaced residents of New Town trailer court moving into new development

Christine Danks, a former resident of the Prairie Winds Trailer Court in New Town, N.D., said she’s excited about the new accommodations the Three Affiliated Tribes provided for the residents after they were evicted by an oil company. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

NEW TOWN, N.D. – Getting evicted may have a happy ending for residents of a 45-unit mobile home park on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Residents of the Prairie Winds Trailer Court have until the end of today to move out after the property was purchased to be used for employee housing for United Prairie Cooperative, formerly Cenex of New Town.

Christine Danks, who lived in the park for about a year, said residents feared they’d be homeless because of the area’s housing shortage that’s been exacerbated by oil development.

“Our whole little community was in a panic,” said Danks, who has up to five extended family members that live with her. “We felt like the forgotten citizens.”

But the tribal government of the Three Affiliated Tribes stepped in and developed a new mobile home park for the residents just outside of New Town.

Dennis Fox, CEO of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said the tribe invested more than $2 million to develop the area, move trailers that were able to be moved and provide mortgages to residents who needed to buy new trailers.

The tribe also bought seven FEMA trailers to be used as transitional housing, Fox said.
Danks said her new home with a view of Lake Sakakawea is a huge improvement over the former park, which was squeezed between railroad tracks and a grain elevator.

“You honest to God felt like you were living in the ghetto,” Danks said. “It was atrocious.”

Now residents will have enough space to have yards and plant trees and shrubs. They’re committed to taking care of their new home, Danks said.

“We fought really hard to get this,” she said.

Residents were aware that the previous owner of the park was trying to sell the property, Danks said. The owner initially offered it to the tribe before selling it to Future Housing LLC, an organization associated with United Prairie Cooperative.

Residents learned in December that they’d be evicted and the area would be used to house employees of United Prairie. The initial deadline was May 1, but tribal leaders worked with Future Housing LLC to extend it to today. Many residents and their supporters organized a public protest of the evictions last April.

John Reese, CEO and general manager of United Prairie Cooperative and the agent for Future Housing, did not return a message left at his office.

Fox said although the eviction notices were tragic, the outcome will be beneficial to the residents. Some residents lived in trailers that were in poor condition and they are purchasing new trailers with a new mortgage program the tribe established.

“The new area is much better. Hopefully they’ll be happy there,” Fox said.

Water and sewer are still being hooked up in the new housing development and should be completed in about 10 days, said Toni Starr, a project manager with the Three Affiliated Tribes who coordinated the move. Most residents are staying with friends or family in the meantime, Starr said.

Resident Verdell Smith said the situation has been very stressful for them, but the end result proves what people can accomplish when they unite.

“If we come together, we can make things happen,” Smith said.

Lawmakers hear industry leaders tout more efficient oil tech

South Dakota legislators Betty Olson, left, and Larry Rhoden participate in a tour of a drilling location Wednesday near Ray, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

TIOGA, N.D. – Drilling rigs that can walk and hydraulic fracturing techniques that recycle water were highlighted Wednesday during a legislative tour of the Oil Patch.

As North Dakota’s oil production matures, companies are becoming more efficient and using technologies that reduce the environmental footprint, industry leaders said during a tour organized by the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Companies are replacing older drilling rigs with hydraulic “walking rigs” that can efficiently drill multiple wells on the same location, said Kathy Neset, of Neset Consulting Service in Tioga.

“The technology is absolutely fantastic,” said Neset, a geologist who’s been working in North Dakota since 1979.

Nearly 50 people participated in the tour organized by the North Dakota Petroleum Council, including legislators from North Dakota and South Dakota.

Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said the state’s goal is to place well sites four miles apart and leave four miles of undisturbed landscape in between, Helms said.

Tour participants saw a hydraulic fracturing job near Williston that was reusing water from previous fracturing.

Brent Eslinger, who leads Halliburton’s Williston operations, said the company is experimenting with recycling water to cut down on the amount of freshwater required. A typical well requires about 1 million to 1.5 million galls of water for hydraulic fracturing, Eslinger said.

“So far we’ve had some pretty good results,” Eslinger said. “It could be kind of a game-changer.”

Tour participants also toured a gas plant and a rail facility and heard from industry leaders about the need for housing, law enforcement and other infrastructure.

“It is extremely important that all of you see what’s actually going on,” said Mark Johnsrud, president of Power Fuels in Watford City.

Rep. Ron Guggisberg, D-Fargo, said his constituents often ask him about the oil activity, so he wanted to attend the tour to see it firsthand.

Rep. Curtis Kreunn, R-Grand Forks, said was glad to see the progress that’s been made on the Western Area Water Supply Project, which will bring water to northwest North Dakota communities that previously had inadequate water.

Several South Dakota leaders who attended the tour said they want to learn from North Dakota and be proactive in their communities.

“We’d like to get ahead of it to see what legislatively we can do,” said Rep. Spencer Hawley, D-Brookings.

Attitude key to working in oilfield

Driller Robert Berryman, 43, of Tullos, La., who has worked in the oil industry for 23 years, says a good attitude is key to working in the oilfield. Carrie Snyder/The Forum

WILLISTON, N.D. – The days are long and the work can be physically draining. But going to work in the oilfields with the right attitude is just as important, because as one newcomer puts it “you will be humbled.”

“I went in with the mentality that I want to work hard and learn everything about the job,” said Justin Day, 20, of Oregon, who works on a workover rig, or service rig, near Dickinson.

Day worked as a phlebotomist and had no previous oilfield experience before moving to North Dakota. He depends on the other members of his crew to give him hands-on training, so Day aims to show excitement about learning and asks lots of questions.

Having a humble attitude also is key, Day said.

“Because you will be humbled,” he said. “There’s always something to learn in the oilfield and you never learn it all.”

For Day, getting to know the other members of his crew has been a priority.

“You have to trust the guy who’s working right beside you,” Day said. “If you can’t, you could get hurt pretty seriously.”

Having a positive attitude also has helped Jack Raczka of New Jersey, as well as an ability to get along with other people.

But so has being in good shape, said Raczka, 58, who came to Williston last October to enter the oil industry for the first time.

“A lot of it is a young man’s game,” Raczka said. “But I try to keep myself in decent shape and that’s helped me an awful lot.”

Raczka worked for an Atlantic City casino as an operating engineer, where he did light maintenance, plumbing, electrical work and operated some equipment.

He discovered after coming to North Dakota that his former job allowed him to get soft. Now he works for a tank battery crew, where he works as many as 15 hours a day, five or six days a week, and is required to carry heavy pipe.

“You have to have stamina out here to work all these hours,” Raczka said. “It’s very, very important to have that stamina and have decent lungs.”

While good lungs and a strong back help, so does the right mentality.

Robert Berryman of Louisiana, a driller who has been working in the oil industry for 23 years, said some new crew members learn faster than others.

A positive attitude is what sets the good crew members apart, said Berryman, 43.

It’s also important to get along with other crew members, who often live in close quarters after working together all day. Berryman’s advice: “Go to bed early. I’m the first one in bed, the first one up.”

Faces of the Boom: ‘Old-school roughneck’ leaving hometown of Ray, N.D., to find quiet in Minnesota

Terry Tinnes of Ray, N.D., first worked in North Dakota oilfields in 1979. “I’m what they call an old school roughneck,” says Tinnes, 51. Carrie Snyder/The Forum

WILLISTON, N.D. – North Dakota’s oil boom has Terry Tinnes torn.

On one hand, Tinnes makes more money than he knows what to do with while working as a “companyman,” a position that oversees a drilling rig.

But he also has seen so much growth in traffic, noise and crime in his once quiet hometown of Ray that he’s leaving the house he grew up in and moving to Minnesota.

“We just lost our peace and quiet here,” said Tinnes, 51. “If I could, I’d swoop up my entire family and take them away from here right now.”

Tinnes, a native of Williams County, began working in North Dakota oilfields in 1979 at age 18 after a family connection helped get him a job on a workover rig, or service rig. Tinnes had a “freak accident” in his first month when a piece of equipment hit him in the head and fractured his skull.

“I didn’t let it bother me. I didn’t quit because of it or give up because of it,” Tinnes said. “I just got up and got going again.”

After he recovered, Tinnes got a job on a drilling rig and began working his way up. In the 1980s, Tinnes said he could walk up to a rig and get hired.

“Most of us had our checks spent before we even got it. We were stupid. We were young,” Tinnes said. “And we partied hardy. We partied. Drugs, alcohol, it was all there. Everybody did, it was pretty crazy. Wild.”

Terry Tinnes, 51, supervises a drilling rig near Williston, N.D., as a drilling consultant, also known as a company man, for Zenergy. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Tinnes had another so-called “freak accident” when a chain broke and hit him in the face, knocking out his teeth. But again, he didn’t let it stop him.

“I loved physical work,” Tinnes said. “I didn’t care what it did to my body.”

After the oil activity stopped in the 1980s, Tinnes spent several years working as a farm laborer and doing other odd jobs before returning to the oilfields in 2006. At age 45, Tinnes was working as a driller with roughnecks who were between 19 and 25.

His age caught up with him, and Tinnes found out he had a shoulder condition that prevented him from drilling.

That’s when Tinnes got what he calls the “chance of a lifetime.”

Gary Bercier, president of Dakota Consulting, who was overseeing the drilling rig Tinnes was working for, offered to train Tinnes to become a companyman, also known as drilling consultant. Bercier said he was impressed with Tinnes’ dedication and saw potential in him.

“Most people aren’t built for this,” Bercier said of supervising drilling rigs. “Terry’s wired for it. There are very few people like him around.”

After training for two weeks, Tinnes began working as a companyman, which requires him to live at the drilling location and work 24 hours a day. He rotates two-week shifts with another companyman.

Although the job is not physical, Tinnes said “the stress level is phenomenal” to make sure everyone stays safe while also meeting performance expectations.

“My motto is safe and prudent,” Tinnes said. “You do it as fast as you can, but as safe as you can.”

Terry Tinnes works 24 hours a day as a company man overseeing a drilling rig near Williston, N.D. When he goes to sleep on location he brings with him radio communication, his work cell phone and the rig cell phone. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Once, Tinnes hung up on a company executive who was ordering him from Oklahoma to send trucks out in a blizzard.

“I just couldn’t listen to him,” Tinnes said. “I could not jeopardize everybody’s life to get them on the road.”

The incident caused him so much stress that Tinnes had a heart attack the next morning in his shack. Another crew member drove him to the emergency room and Tinnes returned to work two days later.

In addition to dedication, Bercier said one of Tinnes’ strengths is managing the 100 or more people who have a role at the drilling site.

Tinnes said he strives to keep morale up by complimenting a good job, giving out free hats or stickers and sharing his wife’s home cooking with the workers. He also posts photos of the roughnecks on Facebook so their family members can see that they’re safe.

“We have fun out here, but when it’s time to get serious, we’re serious,” Tinnes said.

Tinnes won’t share what his salary is, other than “quite a ways in the six figure digits.”

“I went from living paycheck to paycheck to I don’t know what to do with it all,” Tinnes said.

This time around, Tinnes is paying cash for everything so he doesn’t go into debt like he did in the 1980s. He’s also setting aside money for his two sons, his wife and granddaughter, as well as donating to charity.

Although Tinnes is benefiting from the oil boom, he doesn’t like the dangerous traffic or the loss of peace and quiet and sense of security.

Tinnes and his wife, Mary, are building a home near Sebeka, Minn., where they bought 147 acres of beautiful woods. They plan to move next spring and Tinnes will spend his two weeks off there and live on site in North Dakota his other two weeks.

“I can’t take seeing my Williams County, my world, just changing like this,” Tinnes said. “I can’t blame anybody for wanting to come here. This is where it is. But I don’t want to sit here and watch it anymore.”

Company man Terry Tinnes likes to keep morale up on the drilling rig he supervises near Williston, N.D. “We have fun out here, but when it’s time to get serious, we’re serious,” Tinnes says. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Cigarette lighter may have caused oil well fire that burned two men

ARNEGARD, N.D. – A cigarette lighter may have caused a fire at an oil well site Wednesday near here that seriously burned two men,  a spokesman for the company that owned the well said.

Two men were seriously burned in what the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office called an oil well explosion that was reported at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday.

Bruce Ford, 52, and Rod Law, 48, were working at the well owned by Statoil and were badly burned, the sheriff’s office said.

They were taken by ambulance to Mercy Medical Center in Williston and then flown to the burn center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Ford was in fair condition Thursday and Law was in critical condition, a hospital spokesman said.

The men worked for Mitchell’s Oil Field Service as subcontractors for Statoil, said Statoil spokesman Ola Aanestad.

A human resources representative with Mitchell’s Oil Field Service, based in Sidney, Mont., declined to comment.

Ford and Law were doing maintenance near an oil tank at the well site about 50 miles south of Williston, Aanestad said.

A preliminary investigation shows that a cigarette lighter was being used near the tank and it caused vapors or fumes to catch fire, Aanestad said.

However, company officials will continue to investigate what caused the flash fire, Aanestad said.

“That is what the preliminary investigation is suggesting,” Aanestad said. “We don’t want to jump to any conclusions when it comes to causes.”

Harold Larson, chief of the Arnegard Fire Department, said the fire was out when he arrived on scene and he didn’t have information about what caused it.

At least one other worker was on the location but was not near the fire and was not hurt, Aanestad said.

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources had a district supervisor on location Thursday investigating what led to the fire, said spokeswoman Alison Ritter.

Statoil representatives met with about 400 contractors Thursday to discuss the accident and reinforce safety protocols, Aanestad said.

“We take this seriously, and of course our main concern now is that we hope that these two individuals will recover and get back in good health,” Aanestad said.

Two men burned in oil well fire near Arnegard, N.D.

Two men were seriously burned in an oil well explosion Wednesday in McKenzie County.
According to a release from the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office, the explosion was reported at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday.  Bruce Ford, 52, and Rod Law, 48, were working at the well owned by Statoil. Both men were badly burned and were  transported by McKenzie County ambulance to Mercy Medical Center in Williston, then flown to Regions Medical Center in St. Paul. 
The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources was notified of a fire at a tank battery that is on site, said Alison Ritter, department spokeswoman. The district supervisor is on location today investigating what led to the fire.
The McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office also is investigating. 
Check back for more on this story.

Williston school enrollment not as high as projected

Williston, N.D., elementary students use a temporary walkway as they file out of McVay Elementary, a building the district reopened this year to accommodate the growing student population. Twenty-four modular classrooms were added to the building and are still under construction. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – Williston Public Schools began classes with an estimated 229 new students Wednesday, nowhere near the potential 1,200 new students Superintendent Viola LaFontaine projected.

But LaFontaine and other school administrators were relieved that her guess was wrong as they scrambled to reopen an elementary school that is still a construction zone.

“I’m gladly admitting I’m wrong because it’s better to be prepared than not to be,” LaFontaine said. “The fact that we did get ready means we’ll have growing room for the future.”

The total enrollment so far for the school district is 2,822, but officials will be checking with some families who registered but didn’t show up on Wednesday. The district also expects to gain more new students and lose some students throughout the year.

“They keep coming, so it’s so hard to say,” LaFontaine said of the enrollment.

The district hired 52 new teachers, some for new classrooms and others to fill existing vacancies or replace staff who retired. LaFontaine said the district had many highly qualified applicants as a result of attending a Minneapolis job fair and other recruiting efforts.

A major challenge was finding affordable housing for the teachers. The district filled the eight apartments it owns and relied on community members to open up basement apartments and other housing options for teachers.

Community members also helped get McVay Elementary ready for the first day of school. The district stopped using the building about a dozen years ago as a result of declining enrollment, but reopened it this fall to accommodate the growing student population.

McVay, which most recently housed the Head Start program, required asbestos abatement, new floors, new paint and other upgrades. The district also is adding 24 modular classrooms onto the building, and eight of those were ready for Wednesday.

McVay Elementary Principal Keith Leintz stands near the construction area of the “link” that connects the existing building to the new modular classrooms.

McVay Principal Keith Leintz said there was discussion about postponing the first day of school for that building due to construction delays, but that would have required students to make up those days on Saturdays.

Leintz, who begins his day at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 8:30 or later, said he and his staff worked long hours to get the building ready, and parents and community members stepped up.

“It took a lot of effort from everyone,” Leintz said. “It was just scrambling to get things cleaned up.”

Sidewalks to the new modular classrooms weren’t ready, so students walked on wooden temporary walkways that were lined with orange construction fence. The playground won’t be completed until the end of September, so students played in the staff parking lot with sidewalk chalk, hula hoops and other activities. The school also is waiting on computers and some furniture to be delivered.

“We’re making due,” said Leintz, who has been with the district for nine years.
Doria Brundage, who has two first-graders and one fifth-grader at McVay, said she was glad school started on time.

“It seems like it’s safe,” she said. “They’re making it safe.”

Students didn’t seem to be bothered by construction areas, Leintz said.

“The students’ biggest concern is when is the playground going to be done,” Leintz said.

McVay has more than 200 students, about the same number the district added this fall.

“I don’t know where we would have been able to put 1,200 kids,” Leintz said.

LaFontaine based her enrollment projection on the number of new housing units that Williston added.

“I don’t think the people that are coming here can afford the new homes,” LaFontaine said. “They’re just not bringing their families right now.”

First-graders Torey and Terri Brundage, right, wait for their fifth-grade sister with their mother, Doria, center. The students attend McVay Elementary in Williston, N.D., a building the district reopened this fall to accommodate the growing student population. Construction on modular classrooms that were added to the building will continue this fall.

The saga of having car trouble in the Oil Patch

That’s my Maxima getting towed this morning after it stalled in a construction zone in Williston. We jump-started it and moved it out of traffic.

WILLISTON, N.D. – The day I’d been dreading arrived this week: My car broke down in the Oil Patch.

Actually, it broke down twice. On Highway 2. The latter time in a construction zone. (If you live in Williston, you probably saw me getting a jumpstart by the Phil Jackson sign while you drove to work this morning.)

I’d been dreading this day because I’d heard the horror stories of people waiting weeks or longer in this boomtown to have their vehicles serviced. And since I drive a 1997 Nissan Maxima with more than 180,000 miles on it, I knew it would come sooner or later.

The dreaded day arrived Monday as I left the press conference for the new truck bypass and headed back into Williston on Highway 2. The radio died, my car started shaking and the battery warning light came on. Luckily, I was able to get it off the highway and steer it to a gas station that is attached to OK Tire.

I left it there for OK Tire to look at. (Their advertised labor rate is $85 an hour.) It took them two days before they were even able to look at it. This morning, I called and they said they believe it’s the alternator but they’re not able to help me. They charged the battery and recommended I take it to Ryan Motors. They were nice enough not to charge me anything.

We pulled into Ryan Motors today and found out the first available appointment was Aug. 31. The guy made it clear that they could look at it that day, not necessarily fix it that day. Their rate for diagnostic work is $109 an hour. I went ahead and made the appointment, rather than wait and get pushed into September. They asked that we drive the car back home because their lot is so full.

I was driving my husband’s car and he followed in my Maxima. I made the mistake of heading home through the construction on the highway. (In my defense, it’s pretty tough to find a route without construction in Williston right now.) As we’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic like you’d expect to see in Minneapolis, I realize this was not a good move.

Sure enough, I look in my rearview mirror and see that the car is stalling again. Once again, I was fortunate and we were able to pull out of traffic and park it by the construction barrier near the landmark Phil Jackson sign. We jumped my car while I was on the phone with AAA.

We were able to drive the Maxima to the next intersection and get it away from the head-to-head traffic. If a tow truck had to get into that construction zone, we would have caused a traffic jam all the way to Montana. I challenged the AAA representative to find me a service station that could look at my car sooner. She said she checked stations in a 50-mile radius and couldn’t find anything better than the Aug. 31 appointment.

Then the tow truck driver arrived and turned my day around. He made a call and found me an appointment in Wheelock, which is about 35 miles away. I talked directly to the shop owner who said he could look at my car today (today!) and maybe even fix it today. (Yes, today!) And he charges $65 an hour for labor. Since I have a AAA Plus membership, the tow is free within 100 miles.

So I canceled the dealership appointment and within only a couple of hours I heard back from the shop in Wheelock. I should be able to pick up my car tonight! I think I’ve just found my new mechanic. The next day of dreaded car trouble should be easier to handle.

Larry the Cable Guy gits ‘r done in Oil Patch

Larry the Cable Guy, wearing a pink hard hat with a Git-R-Done sticker, observes construction at the Capital Lodge crew camp near Tioga, N.D., while filming for his History Channel show “Only in America.” Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

TIOGA, N.D. — Larry the Cable Guy was among some of his biggest fans Tuesday when he stopped to film a show at an Oil Patch crew camp.

“Oh, my gosh. We’re from the South. This is like our hero,” said Angela Woodworth, one of the owners of Butler Mobile Home Services of Gainesville, Fla., that is working on the expansion of a man camp.

She said she and her crew were excited to host Larry.

The comedian spent Tuesday afternoon helping the construction workers at the Capital Lodge near Tioga while filming his History Channel show “Only in America,” which focuses on stories around the country that make America great.

Larry drove a bulldozer to move an 80-foot mobile home that’s part of the expansion for Capital Lodge, which will house 2,500 residents after it’s completed. He also did work underneath a mobile home and drove anchors into the ground to secure one of the trailers.

Patrick Logan of Florida, who works for the mobile home company, said the highlight for him was seeing Larry working under the mobile home.

“It was cool. I watch the show all the time,” Logan said.

While waiting for the film crew to set up, Larry cracked dirty jokes with some of the employees of Capital Lodge.

“That’s man-camp humor,” Larry said.

The comedian changed the opening scene at the camp to feature Kasha Mason, the camp’s public relations vice president, who was dressed in a long, flowing gown and looked like an unlikely person to be in a man camp.

“We’re going for laughs,” Larry said.

Larry the Cable Guy receives instructions while filming at the Capital Lodge crew camp near Tioga, N.D., for his History Channel show “Only in America.” Larry recruited Kasha Mason, vice president of public relations for the camp, to be in the opening shot at the man camp.

The comedian signed a hard hat and the backs of some of the construction workers’ T-shirts before surprising the residents of Capital Lodge in the cafeteria for dinner.

Larry said he can relate to many of the men working in North Dakota because, like them, he’s away from his family most of the year. He said he expects to be home 17 days between now and Christmas.

Denise Kanyer, who drives a shuttle for oilfield workers, waited for more than four hours at the Capital Lodge and got to meet Larry in the cafeteria.

“I’m a major fan,” said Kanyer, of Mississippi. “I was lost for words.”

Larry’s crew also is filming in the Williston area. Larry will have a public appearance at 3 p.m. today at MonDak Motorsports, 413 Second St. W., Williston.

The new season of the show is expected to begin airing in February.

Larry the Cable Guy talks with Bobby Phillips, a service mechanic from Mississippi, in the cafeteria of Capital Lodge crew camp near Tioga, N.D.