Innovative solution to sewage problem allows cities to grow

Tioga Mayor Nathan Germundson says the city’s population growth was taxing the lagoon system. Tioga is partnering with a private company to construct a new wastewater treatment plant. Amy Dalrymple / Forum Communications

RAY, N.D. – Developer Tom Serie could fill two 12-plex apartment buildings here tomorrow.

But a major hurdle is keeping Serie from putting a shovel in the ground: The city doesn’t have enough sewer capacity.

“I’ve got subcontractors ready to go to work,” said Serie, developer with Guardian Inn Inc. from Luverne, Minn. “We’re anxious to start.”

Ray, which has grown from 592 residents in the  2010 Census count to about 1,000,  has maxed out the capacity of its wastewater pond, said city engineer Lonni Fleck.

City leaders in Tioga, about 15 miles west of Ray, were faced with a similar dilemma. That’s when a  developer proposed a privately funded wastewater treatment plant that would reuse Tioga’s water and sell it to the oil industry for hydraulic fracturing.

Jared Wright, a Bozeman, Mont., man who has been working in the Bakken for about three years, had proposed some workforce housing units for Tioga, but was told to limit the number of units because of the lack of wastewater infrastructure.

Wright started working on a possible solution.

“If I’ve got this problem, everybody probably has the same problem,” he said.

Jared Wright

Wright formed a company called Aquasource and worked with St. Paul engineering firm CDM Smith on a plan to build the private treatment plant.

Tioga worked out an agreement with Aquasource to construct the $30 million plant at no cost to the city and the company will turn the plant over to the city in 25 years.

“We were a little gun-shy to take it on,” Tioga Mayor Nathan Germundson said. “It’s almost too good to be true.”

But the city’s only other choice was to expand its lagoon system, which not only would require a significant investment, it also would need approval from the Federal Aviation Administration because the site is adjacent to Tioga’s airport.

“This was our best option,” Germundson said of Aquasource.

The new plant will initially treat 1 million gallons per day and expand to 3 million gallons per day.

“That’s way more than we could ever think of using in a day,” said Germundson, who has seen Tioga’s population boom since the 2010 Census pegged it at 1,230.

Germundson estimates that after some new apartment buildings are occupied, the city will have about 3,600 people. Leaders are planning for a population of about 5,000 people, with a possibility of up to 7,500, he said.

“This system will allow Tioga to grow for the next 50 years,” Wright said.

Aquasource’s strategy is to profit from its investment through the sales of treated waste water back to the oil industry, which is thirsty for water to use in fracking.

Aquasource also is talking with other developers and crew camps in the area that could pay to use the new system.

The North Dakota Department of Health has approved the Tioga project, said Wayne Kern, the department’s director of municipal facilities.

“From our experience and from our knowledge of the project, it’s been properly planned and properly thought out,” he said.

Kern said this public-private partnership could be a model for other communities to follow.

“It does point out that it is possible for industry and communities to work together not only to meet the needs of industry but to meet the present and future needs of the city,” Kern said. “We’re excited that such a project has materialized.”

Ray might be one of those communities that is able to take advantage of the Aquasource model.

Ray projects it will have 1,750 residents in five years and 3,500 residents in 20 years, Fleck said.

To accommodate some of that growth, Serie proposes building two apartment buildings, a 66-unit hotel and a restaurant on the west side of town near the Cenex station.

But Serie and other developers who come before Ray city leaders are told that for now, the city’s sewer capacity is none.

“It is slowing up the development,” Fleck said.

City officials in Ray are discussing either upgrading the city’s system or working out an agreement with Aquasource.

Adding two additional ponds to Ray’s one-ponds lagoon system would cost about $3.1 million. The city received some assistance for wastewater treatment from a state oil impact grant, but it was $1.88 million, Fleck said.

“The high capital costs to do construction in this area is extremely difficult for a community the size of Ray,” Fleck said.

Aquasource is proposing to construct a pipeline to transport the city’s waste to the Tioga plant at no cost to the city of Ray.

City leaders are waiting for attorneys to draft proposed contracts.

“Sewer is the big issue out here for developers,” Wright said. “This will help the towns grow and then you can actually use the water.”

Crew camp goes mobile for powerline

McHENRY, N.D. – In the middle of a hay field, 30 men are sleeping on pillow top mattresses, watching satellite TV and eating steaks grilled to order.

The journeymen linemen who are working near McHenry on a major transmission line project are living in a mobile crew camp that will follow them as their work moves.

The mobile camp is a first for Target Logistics, the Boston-based company that has large crew camps in northwest North Dakota housing oil workers.

The camp that opened in August just outside of McHenry consists of 24 53-foot trailers that can be easily moved and set up at a new location.

Jim Myers, chef and manager for the Target Logistics mobile crew camp, walks up to the entrance of one of the sleeping rooms. Each trailer has four to six rooms. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

Jim Myers, the chef and manager for the camp, said they can serve breakfast in the morning, move the camp to a new location and be ready to serve dinner that same night.

“It’s amazing,” said Myers, of Louisville, Ky.

The residents are employees of Michels Corp. working on the Minnkota Power 345-kilovolt transmission line project that will run 250 miles from Center to Grand Forks. As the $312 million project progresses, the camp will accommodate up to 80 workers.

The mobile camp is expected to house the workers through 2013, also setting up in Sharon, Fessenden and Mercer, according to Target Logistics.

Each residential trailer has four to six rooms with stairs leading up to each entrance. Workers have slightly smaller rooms and share a bathroom with one other person. Managers get more space and their own bathroom.

The trailers are fully equipped with utilities and are ready for all seasons, including North Dakota winters, Myers said.

Two trailers make up the kitchen and food storage areas and two trailers are used as dining areas, all connected by walkways.

“Target gave us a kitchen that some of the hotels in North Dakota would be proud to have,” Myers said.

Michels Corp. workers eat in the dining room of the Target Logistics mobile crew camp near McHenry, N.D. The dining area is open 24 hours a day and serves three hot meals daily.

The camp also has a recreation trailer with pool tables, foosball table and darts, a laundry area, computer center, wireless Internet and cell phone boosters.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere and we’re living pretty good,” Myers said.

Randy Bassette, project manager for Michels Corp. who also lives at the camp, said the mobile concept eliminates the need for workers to find lodging in the rural area or drive one to two hours to a work site.

Keeping workers comfortable and well rested improves safety and work productivity, Bassette said.

Target Logistics also expects to mobilize the mobile camps for pipeline, mining and construction jobs, disaster relief and other operations that require housing and relocate frequently.

The workers, from all over the country, work six days a week and stay and eat at the camp at no cost to them. The camp has a list of rules, such as no alcohol, no visitors and no excessive noise.

Fred Gray of Oregon, a foreman and quality control supervisor for Michels Corp., is one of the workers living in a Target Logistics mobile crew camp near McHenry, N.D.

Fred Gray of Oregon, the project foreman and quality control inspector, said he likes the mobile concept and the company has been receptive to their suggestions.

“It beats the heck out of tents or stacked bunk beds,” Gray said.

Because it’s a smaller camp, Target Logistics is able to accommodate special requests, such as Bounce brand dryer sheets and Irish cream coffee flavoring, Myers said.

“The more you get, the more you want,” Gray said.

Chef Susan Stoddard of Carrington is the only woman and the only local resident at the camp. She works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and also stays at the camp part time.

“The guys have been so nice, so polite,” Stoddard said.

David Briss rents about three acres that used to be a hay field to Target Logistics for the camp. He said the camp has been well received by the community.

“Right away there was some skepticism, I think. I told everybody they’re just here to make a living, too,” Briss said. “Now it’s been good. I don’t hear any complaints.”

Faces of the Boom: Public defender feels stretched thin while helping with Oil Patch caseload

Bob Martin, supervising attorney for the Minot public defender’s office, has been temporarily filling in on Oil Patch cases, sometimes traveling as many as 500 miles a week. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – Bob Martin borrows a quote from author J.R.R. Tolkien to describe his job as a public defender covering cases in the Oil Patch:

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Martin, supervising attorney for the Minot public defender’s office, has been driving to Williston at least two days a week since last spring to temporarily help with the caseload while the Williston office was going through some transitions.

Martin also handled cases in Watford City and Crosby, some weeks driving as many as 500 miles and putting in 12 or more hours a day.

The oil boom is putting a strain on the North Dakota Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents, said executive director Robin Huseby.

“We’re primarily facing a shortage of attorneys who are willing or able to take cases out in the west, coupled with rapidly rising caseloads,” Huseby said.

One reason Martin has been filling in is because the previous supervising attorney for the Williston public defender’s office had to quit because she had a baby and couldn’t find child care for her infant.

“I just decided to leave,” said Katie Barber, who lives in Watford City. “I had no option.”

Martin primarily spends Mondays and Tuesday handling cases in the northwest and the remainder of the week based in Minot.

While the driving does wear on him, he uses it to think about his cases and what argument he’ll present.

“I’ll mull a lot of stuff over, still paying very close attention to the road of course,” Martin said. “That’s a matter of survival.”

The one downside to the traveling is that Martin aims to meet with clients in custody within the first 24 hours, and some days that’s not possible.

“There’s been an unavoidable drag in initial client contact,” Martin said.

Clients have been understanding, Martin said, as have the court staff in arranging hearings to fit his schedule.

Martin stopped taking new Oil Patch cases as of Aug. 15 and closed out his Watford City cases this month. He’ll follow through with his remaining Williston and Crosby cases and expects to primarily be based in Minot again after Nov. 30.

“Things have stabilized,” Martin said. “But we could definitely use more warm bodies out here.”

Huseby is seeking an additional $1.5 million from the Legislature next session to add one full-time attorney and four staff positions.

“We need to get ahead of this so we aren’t always playing catch up,” Huseby said.

The State Bar Association of North Dakota, which this month released a study on the energy impact on the justice system, is supporting the office’s request.

The Bar Association’s study also says a minimum of two judges are “desperately needed” in the Northwest Judicial District. It recommends adding four clerks in Williams County and additional clerks in Stark, Ward, Morton and Burleigh counties.

Martin said if he could have his wish list, he’d add a public defender to the Williston and Minot offices, additional clerks and three new judges for the northwest.

“We are meeting the burden. It is a burden, but we’re meeting it,” Martin said. “But we do need more resources.”

Helms: Bureaucracy hurts effort for energy independence

MEDORA, N.D. – North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator took aim at federal agencies Thursday for unnecessarily interfering with the state’s energy development.

Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said North Dakota’s approach is to let the market work and intervene when it doesn’t. In Washington, D.C., he said the approach is to write one-size-fits-all rules to cover everything that could possibly happen.

If the nation adopted North Dakota’s approach, the country could become energy independent, Helms said during the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting.

But while political leaders are subject to elections, “that opportunity doesn’t really seem to hold for federal bureaucracies,” Helms said.

Jim Martin, regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said during the event’s regulatory panel that he’s he’s been meeting with

North Dakota officials about the challenges in the Bakken and how they can work together.

“The bottom line is we want to work with you in identifying these issues and partnering to solve them,” Martin said.

EPA representatives have made visits to North Dakota this year to gain a better understanding of the Bakken, Martin said.

“The rapidity of development is stunning,” Martin said.

Jamie Connell, state director for the Bureau of Land Management for the Dakotas and Montana, said the agency is taking several steps to improve the timeliness of approving drilling permits on federal lands.

Helms told industry representatives he’s proud of how they are following the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s new set of rules that took effect April 1. Companies began voluntarily implementing most of the practices 10 months earlier, Helms said.

However, compliance with the requirement of publicly disclosing the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing needs to improve, Helms said.

During April and May, 77 percent of companies disclosed chemicals to the website FracFocus. Eight companies will receive letters that they are in violation of the new rule.

Helms also said that policy-makers need to keep in mind that the Bakken is not immune from competition. North America has 45 shale basins, excluding Alaska, Helms said.

While the Bakken is still the hottest oil play, the Eagle Ford formation in Texas has “come on like a freight train,” Helms said.

Companies that are big players in the Bakken – EOG Resources, Conoco Phillips, Marathon and Statoil – also operate in the Eagle Ford, which has cost advantages over the Bakken, Helms said.

A Bakken well costs $9 million to $11 million to complete today, while a well in the Eagle Ford costs companies $6 million to $8 million, Helms said.

“We are competing for capital with the Eagle Ford,” Helms said. “It is a big player.”

In Helms’ monthly report on the state’s oil production numbers, he noted that rapidly escalating costs consumed companies’ budgets faster than many anticipated. He attributes the increased costs to labor shortages in the Bakken and the increase globally in the price of India’s guar beans, a key ingredient for fracking.

“They’re needing to slow things down and stretch that out so their budget can extend through the fiscal year,” Helms said.

The rig count was down to 187 Thursday, the same level it was in July 2011.

Helms said officials predicted the rig count to begin leveling off as companies secure their leases and switch to higher efficiency rigs.

One-third of the drilling applications he approves are now for multi-well pads, compared with 12 percent at the start of the year, he said.

“We’re really making the transition into phase two with this drilling process,” Helms said.

With a rig count of around 200, it will take about 18 years to complete the drilling, Helms said.

“We’re in this for the long haul, guys,” he said.

Exxon pays $1.6 billion for Bakken assets

By Jeff Beach and Amy Dalrymple
Forum Communications

Exxon Mobil is making a $1.6 billion investment in the Bakken oil fields.

The corporation is acquiring the rights for oil and gas development on 196,000 acres, almost all of it in North Dakota.

Exxon Mobil and its subsidiary, XTO Energy, is making the purchase from Denbury Onshore, LLC, a subsidiary of Denbury Resources Inc. The sale includes all of Denbury’s assets in the Bakken region.

The companies announced the deal Thursday. The agreement increases ExxonMobil’s holdings in the Bakken region by about 50 percent to nearly 600,000 acres.

Dennis Blank, publisher of the Oil Patch Hotline, said the sale is part of an ongoing trend. Because leases in the Bakken are already bought up, making a purchase is the only way to gain or increase a company’s position, Blank said.

“They have to buy into the Bakken to get into the Bakken,” said Blank, who published the Williston-based Oil Patch Hotline from 1979 to 1985 and again since 2006.

Ernesto Allegria, manager of investor relations for Denbury, said that company has been operating about 100 wells in the area, with another 300 wells operated by Denbury partners.

Allegria said the company estimates the property has the potential to produce about 300 million barrels of oil or equivalent hydrocarbons, of which 100 million barrels already have been pumped.

“The Bakken is still pretty early in development stages,” Allegria said. “There is upside potential.”

Only 12 of the 190,000 acres are in Montana, with the rest in North Dakota. Most of the acres are south and west of the Missouri River, with the biggest concentration in McKenzie County.

Denbury will receive $1.6 billion in cash and acquire ExxonMobil’s interests in two oil fields in Wyoming and Texas.

The deal takes Texas-based Denbury out of the Bakken. The company’s primary focus is on using carbon dioxide injection to extend the life of older oil wells.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company. Spokespersons for Exxon and XTO would not comment on plans for operations.

Oil, outdoors groups praise cooperation

MEDORA, N.D. – A wildlife conservationist and an oil company representative shared a stage here Wednesday during the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting.

At first glance the two may seem to be on opposite sides, but the oil industry and outdoor groups have a lot in common, said Dave Searle, manager of government affairs for Marathon Oil.

“In many cases the sporting groups are us,” Searle said after nearly everyone in the audience raised their hand to indicate they love hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

Terry Fleck, chairman of the North Dakota Energy Forum, helped bring oil companies together with sporting and conservation groups to form the Sporting and Oil Industry Forum. The groups have held three meetings this year with representation from about a dozen oil companies and several wildlife groups.

“I don’t know of any other state where the sporting groups have been willing to sit down and work with the industry,” Fleck said.

The group is collaborating with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and North Dakota Game and Fish to develop best management practices to guide oil and gas operators in protecting habitat. They’re also working on a GIS management tool that will allow operators to easily determine what habitat exists in a specific area and identify species of concern they should be aware of.

Rod Gilmore, regional director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said the oil industry has been receptive to working together and he hopes the partnership will help the group expand its presence in North Dakota.

“We believe in multiple use of lands,” Gilmore said. “You can still protect it and still be able to utilize it.”

Another six oil companies asked to participate after hearing the panel discussion, Fleck said.

More than 500 people are attending the council’s annual meeting in Medora, the organization’s largest meeting to date.

At the start of the meeting, the Petroleum Council announced a $50,000 donation to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation that will launch a $500,000 fundraising campaign for the foundation.

Randy Hatzenbuhler, president of the foundation, said there’s a misperception that oil and gas development and tourism at odds, but the industry has been a great partner.

“They’ve been our customers,” Hatzenbuhler said.

The donation will be used toward the Rough Riders Hotel, a historic inn built in 1884, to help pay off major renovations to the facility in 2008.

Hatzenbuhler said he’s heard new workers to the state excited about what Medora has to offer, including the Bully Pulpit Golf Course. That’s important for the oil industry as it recruits new workers and their families to move to North Dakota, Hatzenbuhler said.

“This is a great place, not just a great paycheck,” Hatzenbuhler said. “You need to have both.”

Participants also heard from city, school, hospital and law enforcement leaders about community challenges in the Bakken. State legislative leaders provided a legislative outlook for the next session related to oil development.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who received a standing ovation after speaking, said he has proposed $2.5 billion for special infrastructure needs. Dalrymple said the challenges will continue, but he’s starting to hear from local officials that they’re seeing some progress.

“We’re beginning to hear the first clues that we’re catching up with things,” Dalrymple said.

The Petroleum Council also announced that next year’s annual meeting will be at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

UPDATED: Hoeven announces new hydraulic fracturing legislation

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, tour a drilling rig Tuesday in Williston, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven announced Tuesday he will introduce this week new hydraulic fracturing legislation that would give states more power to regulate energy development.

Hoeven, who is hosting Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on a tour of the Bakken this week, says states, not the federal government, are best equipped to be the primary regulators of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

“Hydraulic fracturing, depending on where you do it, is very different,” Hoeven said. “Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach from the federal government doesn’t work.”

Murkowski, the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, will co-sponsor the proposal.

“It’s truly in their (states’) best interest to make sure that the processes are safe,” Murkowski said.

The Empower States Act would give states the first ability to respond to any violation because states have a stake in protecting their environment, Hoeven said. The legislation also would require a federal agency to consult with state, tribe and local state agencies before drafting new regulations relating to oil and gas development.

A federal agency drafting new regulations would have to develop what Hoeven called a “Statement of Energy and Economic Impact” that would identify adverse effects on energy supply, reliability, price and the potential for job and revenue losses. In addition, the agency would have to show that a state or tribe does not have an existing alternative and that the new regulation is needed to prevent immediate harm to health or the environment.

The bill would strengthen the appeals process of states and tribes by requiring federal courts to “thoroughly review the decision and not just rely on the EPA’s findings,” according to a  news release from Hoeven’s office.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, asks questions during a tour of a Statoil drilling rig Tuesday in Williston, N.D. Murkowski is the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

During her visit to Williston, Murkowski said federal regulatory practices are holding up North America’s energy independence. In Alaska, where more than 60 percent of land is federally controlled, permits can take years to be approved, Murkowski said.

“We have considerable resources but we have been denied access to that resource primarily through federal policies,” Murkowski said.

When North Dakota passed Alaska in March to be the second-largest producer of crude in the country, trailing only Texas, “it caused Alaskans to sit up and pay attention,” Murkowski said.

North Dakota produced 674,066 barrels of oil per day in July, according to preliminary figures from the Department of Mineral Resources. Alaska produced 415,255 barrels per day in July, according to figures from the Alaska Oil and Conservation Commission.

During a roundtable discussion with industry leaders Tuesday, the senators heard about delays in getting permits to drill on federal lands in North Dakota.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said the approval processes through the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs should be streamlined.

Hall said the tribe should be able to regulate hydraulic fracturing on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, not the Bureau of Land Management or another federal agency.

“We know what’s best, how to protect our environment,” Hall said.

In North Dakota, hydraulic fracturing, pumping a mixture of water, chemicals and sand or proppant into the ground to force oil out of a well,  occurs two miles underground, 8,000 feet below drinking water sources. The process is used in more shallow wells in some other parts of the country, such as natural gas wells in Pennsylvania, where there are concerns about  groundwater contamination.

Allowing states to regulate oil development is a theme that often comes up in discussion with North Dakota industry leaders.

“There’s nobody in this country who knows better than we do as North Dakotans how to keep our resources safe,” geologist Kathy Neset said during a recent presentation to state legislators.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and John Hoeven tour a drilling rig in Williston, N.D.

Photo blog: Scenes from the semi vs. school crash near Watford City

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Bystanders at the scene of Monday’s crash near Watford City that caused a semi to drive into the Johnson Corners Christian Academy captured some dramatic photos of the damage.

Torrie Adams, a 1998 graduate of the small private school who happened to be in the area around the time of the crash, shared these photos with me.

She took photos right after the accident happened, as well as later Monday when people began cleaning up the wreckage.






Delta announces nonstop jet service from Williston to Minneapolis

WILLISTON, N.D. – Delta Air Lines is adding jet service between Williston and Minneapolis-St. Paul, making it the second major airline to add service to the Oil Patch hub.
Delta’s twice-daily, nonstop jet service will begin Nov. 12, Sen. John Hoeven announced Monday at Williston’s Sloulin Field International Airport during a visit to the Bakken.
“Western North Dakota, certainly led by Williston and the whole region, is leading the way for energy development in this country,” Hoeven said. “But with that comes real impacts. So we have to really continue to make sure that we have infrastructure, air service, quality of life.”
United Airlines announced in July it will add jet service from Williston to Denver starting Nov. 4.
Before those jets can land, however, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to sign off on an environmental assessment, said airport manager Steven Kjergaard.
He anticipates the FAA will complete its review by the end of the month or in early October.
The airport also is adding a temporary trailer to triple the size of its secure area to accommodate the new passengers, Kjergaard. That work should be complete by the end of October, he said.
“It’s going to be a challenge in this current facility that we have,” Kjergaard said.
City officials are working with the Federal Aviation Administration on plans for a new airport or an expansion of the current airport. An environmental assessment on the possible sites is expected to be complete early next year, Kjergaard said.
Williston’s airport has seen a huge increase in traffic as a result of the oil boom.
In 2005, Williston’s airport averaged 500 to 600 boardings each month. Now a typical month has 2,700 to 3,000 boardings. Kjergaard has estimated that the numbers only capture about 25 percent of the Williston market, with many people driving to airports in Minot, Bismarck or elsewhere.
Delta Connection will partner with Skywest Airlines to offer the flights with 50-seat jet aircraft.
Delta has scheduled two outbound flights daily from Williston to Minneapolis-St. Paul, a morning flight departing at 7 a.m. arriving in Minneapolis at 8:25 a.m., and an afternoon flight departing at 2:45 p.m. and arriving in Minneapolis at 4:26 p.m. Inbound flights will depart from Minneapolis-St. Paul at 11:30 a.m. arriving in Williston at 1:28 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. arriving at 9:32 p.m.
Delta Air Lines also is exploring purchasing North Dakota crude oil to use at the company’s recently acquired Philadelphia-based refinery. The airline is the only major U.S. carrier that owns its own refinery to produce the jet fuel needed to operate its fleet.
Hoeven made the announcement during a press conference with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is touring the Bakken this week.

UPDATED: Crash kills 1, truck plows into school near Watford City

By Bryan Horwath and Amy Dalrymple

Forum Communications

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — One person is dead following a two-vehicle crash that sent a semi-truck barreling into a school Monday afternoon.

After colliding with a car at the intersection of highways 23 and 73 in McKenzie County, the truck slammed into an area of classrooms at Johnson Corners Christian Academy, sending students and teachers scurrying for safety.

“We had no idea what hit us,” said Janice Sanford, a teacher at the school. “We thought it was a bomb.”

At 12:25 p.m., a Pontiac sedan heading south on Highway 23 failed to yield to a semi traveling westbound on Highway 73. After colliding with the car, the semi went up an embankment, through a chain link fence, clipped a school bus and slammed 60 feet into the school, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Three children, a teacher and the driver of the PowerFuels semi were treated at McKenzie County Hospital and released. The female driver of the Pontiac was pronounced dead, according to the Highway Patrol. The identities of the two drivers involved in the crash were not available as of Monday night.

Sanford said there were 17 students and seven teachers in the school — which is connected with the Johnson Corners Wesleyan Church — at the time of the crash.

“This is a Christian school and I can’t help but think that God was looking out for us today,” Sanford said. “It just happened to be lunch time and everyone was in the commons area, otherwise this would have been much worse.”

The truck went directly through an area of empty classrooms and demolished the boys’ restroom, sending one boy who was in the bathroom running for his life, according to Sanford.

Johnson Corners teacher Rachel Burns, who lives on the property, remained at the scene for several hours after the crash, wearing a bandage on her right leg.

“I was standing in front of the office, eating a brownie, when the wall just scooped me up,” Burns said. “I bumped my knee and have some bruises, but nothing serious. It’s amazing more people weren’t injured. If class would have been in session, there would have been some deceased students.”

Torrie Adams, a graduate of the school who attends church at the complex was at the scene shortly after the crash happened and took photos.

“You kind of look at it and go wow,” Adams said. “How fast was it going to have ended up there?”

A number of bystanders noted that the truck went directly through the office of the school’s principal, who was out of town.

“If he’d have been in his office, he’d have been killed,” Adams said. “It’s a bad intersection and they drive too fast, all of them do. There’s a lot of careless driving around here.”

Because of confusion about what had happened, an initial call to emergency responders reported a bomb had gone off at the school. Located 16 miles east of Watford City, the school is a private, non-profit, parent cooperative, according to its website.

Officials from the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office and the Watford City Police Department assisted at the scene.