Faces of the Boom: Dynamic growth lures planner back to N.D.

Donald Kress, principal planner for Williston, N.D., explains an annexation proposal that would add 7.6 square miles to the city. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – While working as a city planner in Los Angeles, Donald Kress kept fielding questions about his booming home state.

So when he saw an advertisement for a city planner in Williston, Kress decided to go where the action is.

“This is a very dynamic place if you’re a planner,” said Kress, a 49-year-old Fargo native. “Planning climates like this don’t come up that often.”

Kress worked as a technical director for community and educational theater in Fargo before deciding at age 41 to go to graduate school in California for city planning.

He then worked for six years planning subdivisions for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, a department of 180 people.

Kress had a stable job there, but development had slowed. He interviewed for the job of principal planner for Williston, a newly created position, and began working May 29.

“It’s a great opportunity personally to participate in the development of North Dakota,” Kress said.

As principal planner, Kress works with developers, evaluates projects and coordinates proposals as they work through the hearing process. Kress works with developers from all over the United States who have come to Williston because growth slowed in their home areas.

“Sometimes they’re a little surprised to see someone from L.A. County here,” Kress said.

Some have the perception that development in Williston is chaotic, but city leaders put an emphasis on planning, Kress said.

“Our intent is to preserve the community,” Kress said. “We’re not just nailing on subdivisions to a small town, we want to grow a community.”

Kress reports to Kent Jarcik, the director of planning and zoning, who focuses on
comprehensive planning and long-range projects. The department now has four people and continues to expand.

Occasionally Williston’s planning department will attract developers who don’t have much experience or resources but “they think it’s a get-rich-quick place,” Kress said.

Those developers quickly learn that land prices in Williston are high and the cost of construction is expensive, he said.

Kress is project manager for a proposal to annex 7.6 square miles to Williston, which is about 60 percent of the city’s current size. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for January.

Development moves a lot faster in Williston than other areas because bureaucracy is smaller and because decisions need to be made quickly, Kress said.

One of the major challenges to planning in Williston is getting accurate information, such as population estimates and projections and understanding employment demands of the oil industry, Kress said.

“Planning is such an important element to what’s happening in Williston,” Kress said.

Faces of the Boom: UPS driver keeps his cool during holiday rush in booming city

Zack Reyes works as a UPS delivery driver in Williston, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – For UPS driver Zack Reyes, every second counts.

Delivering packages to a booming city with new addresses added daily is challenging any time of the year.

During the holiday season, the Williston UPS sees so much volume it has to rent U-Haul and Budget moving trucks to handle the extra packages.

“We almost can’t grow fast enough,” Reyes said.

Reyes, a 30-year-old Tennessee native, has lived in Williston for about six months.

He didn’t move to North Dakota for the oil boom. He moved for the weather. For real.

Reyes, who served in the U.S. Air Force Special Operations, suffered heat stroke in Iraq in 2006 and could no longer handle hot Southern weather.

“I just had to get up north,” Reyes said.

Reyes worked for a UPS hub in Tennessee for three years, unloading and sorting packages to be sent to distribution centers.

Now as a delivery driver, everything from the brisk pace of his walk to how he holds his keys and closes the truck door is perfected to be efficient.

“We try to be as expeditious as possible,” Reyes said.

One challenge UPS faces in Williston is keeping up with new addresses, especially new road names that aren’t numbered, said Dan Brazil, who began managing UPS in Williston about two years ago.

“Google Maps can’t keep up with the boom, either,” said Brazil, a North Dakota State University graduate who worked for UPS in Fargo.

UPS delivered 81,000 packages in Williston in December 2011 and is on track to deliver 100,000 to 105,000 packages this December, Brazil said.

Last Thursday was expected to be the busiest day for delivery drivers, with 7,000 packages instead of a typical day of 5,500 packages, he said.

Williston UPS has doubled the size of its staff since a year ago, now offering $250 weekly bonuses to compete with oilfield wages, Brazil said. The facility expanded three months ago and is already planning to expand again.

During the holidays, Reyes and other drivers have seasonal workers who help for a few hours a day to increase efficiency. Reyes drives and the helper brings packages to the door.

“It’s silent and it’s very, very fast,” Reyes said.

Reyes said it’s surprising how much personal interaction he can have in the 10 seconds it takes to deliver a package.

“I really do love my job,” he said.

Successful test well increases the potential for the Bakken

WILLISTON, N.D. – An oil well in McKenzie County is being called a “game-changer” for the Bakken.

Continental Resources announced this month the first well to successfully produce oil deeper into the Three Forks zone of the Bakken oil system, a milestone that could mean there is more recoverable oil in North Dakota than originally estimated.

John Harju, associate director for research with the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, said Continental’s test deeper into the Three Forks is significant for the state.

“This is really exciting news and dramatically heightens the even bigger potential of the Bakken system than previously estimated,” Harju said.

The development this month is a successful test with an oil well called the Charlotte 3-22H in McKenzie County.

“We’re very excited about what we’ve seen here,” said Jack Stark, Continental Resources senior vice president for exploration. “This brings us one step closer to proving there are more recoverable reserves from the Three Forks than we originally thought, but we’ve got to do a lot more testing.”

Continental Resources has pioneered exploration in the Three Forks formation, which lies below the Bakken formation. Oil in the Three Forks is the same light, sweet crude that is being produced from the middle layer of Bakken shale, Stark said.

Historically, drilling in the Bakken oil system targeted the middle Bakken shale and the upper Three Forks, Stark said.

In 2011, Continental Resources, the largest lease-holder in the Bakken took deep core samples that extended through all layers of the Three Forks.

Those core samples, which were taken from wells in a large area, showed that instead of just two oil-producing layers, there are potentially five: the middle Bakken plus four layers, known as benches in the oil industry, of the Three Forks, Stark said.

At that time, Continental changed its estimates of the total amount of oil in place in the Bakken system from 577 billion barrels of oil to 903 billion barrels of oil, a 57 percent increase.

The amount of oil that can be recovered, however, is a very small percentage.

In 2010, Continental estimated that the Bakken field would eventually yield 24 billion barrels of oil equivalent based on technology available at the time.

New developments with the Three Forks may increase that number, but more testing needs to be done, Stark said.

About a year ago, Continental announced the first successful test of the second bench of the Three Forks.

The latest successful test well was in the third bench.

In a news release, Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm said “this could be a real game-changer.”

The company has a 14-well drilling program in 2013 to further test the deeper layers of the Three Forks.

Continental expects to have a test well in the fourth bench of the Three Forks as early as mid-2013, Stark said.

Geologist Kathy Neset said she expects other companies will begin drilling deeper into the Three Forks.

The U.S. Geological Survey said in 2008 that there is an estimated 4 billion barrels of oil that is technically recoverable from the Bakken, but those estimates did not include the Three Forks. The USGS is updating its estimates to include the Three Forks, and Continental is providing information from its tests, Stark said.

Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the Department of Mineral Resources, said the department can’t comment on the specifics of the Continental Resources test well because it’s on confidential status until mid-March.

But from what Continental has announced publicly, it is big news for the state, Ritter said.

“When you look back at the history of the Bakken, there have been milestone wells along the way,” Ritter said. “This one definitely has the potential to be a well like that.”

Loader used to ‘dismantle the house,’ end New Town standoff without injuries

NEW TOWN, N.D. — Law enforcement used a front-end loader to break into New Town home and end a standoff with an armed man this morning.

New Town Police Chief Art Walgren said used the piece of heavy equipment shorlty before 10 a.m. to  “dismantle the house” to the end the standoff that lasted more than 24 hours.

“The house is only about half of what it was,” Walgren said.

No shots were fired while taking the suspect into custody.

FBI spokesman Kyle Loven identified the man taken into custody as Michael Jason Smith, 32.

Smith faces narcotics charges in Colorado and will likely face additional charges in North Dakota, Loven said.

“Through the use of nonlethal tactics, we were able to effect the surrender of Mr. Smith,” Loven said.

Walgren said Smith was being transported to the Mountrail County jail.

Walgren said law enforcement was still processing the house at 402 9th St. N. in

New Town and streets around the crime scene would likely remain closed until late this afternoon.

Ten to 15 houses were evacuated in the neighborhood after the man barricaded himself inside.

Nearby New Town schools also went into lockdown because of the standoff.

“He refused to give up after numerous attempts to use tear gas,” Walgren said.

Even after the front-end loader was deployed, tear gas was needed to apprehend the suspect.

SWAT teams from Minot and Bismarck worked together to end the standoff.

Walgren said it was unclear if Smith had any connection to the home before the standoff that started after 1 a.m.Wednesday.

Michael Jason Smith’s address is listed on North Dakota court records as Centennial, Colo. He was arrested June 28 in North Dakota in McKenzie County and charged in state district court there with being a felon illegally possessing a weapon, a Class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He also was charged with two misdemeanor drug possession charges. When he failed to appear for a court hearing, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest in October, according to state court records. McKenzie County borders Mountrail County in the Oil Patch of western North Dakota.

UPDATED: Nearby barricade situation prompts New Town schools into lockdown

NEW TOWN, N.D. – An armed man wanted on drugs charges has barricaded himself inside a New Town home, causing neighboring homes to be evacuated and heightened security at nearby schools.

FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said the FBI is working with state and local law enforcement to peacefully resolve the situation involving a man wanted by law enforcement in Colorado on narcotics charges, Loven said.

The situation is fluid, but Loven said he believes the man is alone in the residence.

New Town Police Chief Art Walgren said the man is heavily armed, believed to have at least one high-powered rifle.

Officers received a report early this morning after the man broke into a residence, Walgren said.

The Minot SWAT team is among the agencies responding. The limited conversation officers have had with the man have been confrontational, Walgren said. Attempts to get him to surrender, including three rounds of tear gas, have been unsuccessful, Walgren said.

The man has indicated that his brother died last recently in a police shoot-out in Colorado and he wants to go out the same way and take officers with him, Walgren said.

Homes in the area have been evacuated, Walgren said.

Loven declined to release the man’s name and said he had no information about a standoff in Colorado.

New Town Public Schools Superintendent Marc Bluestone said he heard from law enforcement shortly after 5 a.m. today that a community incident was in progress.

He decided to put the schools under lockdown and not run buses on Sixth through Ninth streets. Bluestone said that area of town is blocked off by law enforcement and he believes the incident is on Ninth Street, about three blocks north of the high school.

Students are allowed to pass between classes, but they’re only allowed to leave the building if a parent picks them up, Bluestone said. He will decide later this afternoon whether to call off after-school activities.

About 30 parents picked up their children out of concern for their safety, Bluestone said.

“Their level of awareness and concern is higher just because of what happened in Newtown, Conn.,” Bluestone said.

But school officials are keeping in contact with law enforcement and believe the threat level is low, Bluestone said.

“I believe my son is a lot safer here at school than he is at home,” Bluestone said.

New Town Public Schools called off classes Nov. 19 after three students and their grandmother died in a shooting at a New Town home. The suspected gunman in that shooting, Kalcie Eagle, later killed himself.

Loven said that investigation is ongoing and the FBI plans to release a synopsis of its investigation after it’s complete.

Project improves water, allows Oil Patch towns to grow

Crews work on installing pipeline for the Western Area Water Supply Project. Photo courtesy of AE2S.

WILLISTON, N.D. – Crosby Mayor Les Bakken sums up the appearance of his city’s water like this: “It looks like you need to flush the toilet all the time.”

The yellowish tint to the city’s water is something residents have been accustomed to, he said.

“It is perfectly safe to drink, but it makes lousy coffee,” Bakken said.

Residents are hopeful that will soon change as Crosby and eight other northwest North Dakota communities begin benefiting from the Western Area Water Supply Project.

The project will bring high-quality, treated drinking water from the Missouri River to residents of Burke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties, where water quality is poor and in short supply.

Crosby leaders will turn the valve on its new water supply on Thursday. Watford City celebrated a similar milestone last week.

Soon the communities of Wildrose, Ross, Columbus, Fortuna, Ray, Tioga and Stanley will begin receiving the high-quality water as well.

Many residents of those communities have experienced water restrictions due to rapid growth related to the oil boom, and the Western Area Water Supply Project aims to meet those demands, said Executive Director Jaret Wirtz.

A lack of water has been a huge factor to limiting cities’ ability to build housing and expand to keep up with growing populations, he said.

“This will really help those communities grow,” Wirtz said.

For Watford City, the project is a “godsend,” said Mayor Brent Sanford.

For the city to build its own water treatment plant, it would have been costly and difficult to manage for population growth and increased demand from the oil industry, Sanford said.

Watford City water is hard, high in phosphates and has more sodium than recommended levels, said Wirtz, who lives in Watford City.

“It’s going to be a really big change,” Wirtz said of the new water supply.

The Legislature created the Western Area Water Supply Authority, which is made up of several western North Dakota water districts. The project was funded with $110 million in loans which will be repaid through the sale of water to the oil industry.

Another $40 million in loans will be requested during the upcoming legislative session, which officials anticipated asking for, Wirtz said.

Due to additional demand for water, Wirtz will request another $80 million for the project in a combination of grants and loans.

“The reason we need more is the amount of growth that just keeps coming,” Wirtz said.

By 2025, the project is anticipated to serve more than 80,000 people in five counties.

Oil production growth slowed by costs but things look to change 2013

WILLISTON, N.D. – North Dakota oil production increased at a more moderate pace in October, according to numbers released Monday, but operators have ambitious plans for 2013.

Preliminary numbers show that North Dakota produced 747,239 barrels of oil per day in October, a 2.5 percent increase since September and another all-time high for the state, said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources.

Previous months saw production increases closer to 4 percent, Helms said.

Some of that slowdown is because the cost of drilling and completing a well rapidly escalated in 2012 and consumed budgets faster than many companies anticipated, he said.

But shortly after Jan. 1, Helms said he expects the rig count to begin climbing again from the current level of 182 and level off around 200.

A growing number of those drilling rigs will be higher efficiency rigs, which allow companies to drill more wells in less time. Currently, companies expect to drill 12 wells per year with one rig, but they’re striving to increase that to 14 by the end of next year, Helms said.

Companies anticipate that some of their increased costs will start coming down, he said.

“They’re expecting to be able to budget the same amount of money for 2013, but actually be able to drill and frack and get more wells on production,” Helms said.

Major oil producers have indicated they either plan to drill the same number of wells in 2013 or increase their activity, Helms said. Continental Resources, one of the leaders in North Dakota oil exploration, has indicated it plans to drill 310 to 320 wells in 2013, compared with approximately 275 wells completed in 2012, Helms said.

Helms said he doesn’t expect the rig count to exceed the record of 218 that was set May 29.

“That stressed our infrastructure probably beyond the maximum that it could handle,” Helms said.

Hydraulic fracturing crews are going to be busy with the amount of drilling activity in addition to catching up with a backlog.

The number of idle wells that is waiting for fracking crews grew from 300 to 340 in October, according to the Department of Mineral Resources.

Helms said he believes companies are using their budgets to drill and are postponing fracking because it’s costly. A Bakken well costs between $9 million and $11 million to complete, including about $5 million for fracking, Helms said.

He expects crews will be active after Jan. 1 to catch up with the backlog.

In addition to the greater efficiencies companies are using, the cost to complete a Bakken well is starting to come down, Helms said. Factors that are affecting the cost include better supplies of guar, a bean grown primarily in India that is a key ingredient in hydraulic fracturing, as well as a reduction in the cost for directional drilling services, Helms said.

By the middle of 2013, Helms said he expects North Dakota will produce about 830,000 barrels of oil per day. He anticipates production will hit 850,000 barrels per day in the second half of the year.

“We expect those barrels to keep marching right on up,” Helms said.

As production increases, adding pipeline capacity will continue to be crucial, said Justin Kringstad, director for the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Two pipeline projects, the Enbridge Bakken Expansion and the Plains Bakken North, are expected to be complete in 2013, Kringstad said.

Faces of the Boom: N.D. natives return to lead Williston Salvation Army

Williston Salvation Army Captains Rhegan and Joshua Stansbury pose in their Christmas toy shop. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – Salvation Army Captains Joshua and Rhegan Stansbury were vocal about their desire to someday return to their home state of North Dakota.

They got their wish with a transfer to Williston about a year-and-a-half ago, but the city in the heart of an oil boom is not quite the North Dakota they remembered.

“It’s not like any other Salvation Army appointment,” said Joshua, a Grand Forks native.

Although the Williston area has one of the highest per capita income levels in the country, the high cost of living means even people with good-paying jobs may struggle to make ends meet, Joshua said.

In addition, new people continue to arrive in Williston every day from around the country looking for work, often without a plan for housing or much cash in their pockets.

The Salvation Army, across the street from the bus stop and less than a block from the Amtrak station, is often one of the first stops for job-seekers. Many drop their bags down and ask for a room, but the Salvation Army is not equipped to be a homeless shelter and there is no shelter facility in Williston.

Rhegan, a Minot native, said one of the hardest aspects of their job is turning away people who are homeless.

“Not being able to have some place for those people is difficult,” Rhegan said. “We wish we could do more.”

The Williston Salvation Army doesn’t provide much rental assistance anymore because with a maximum allotment of $150, it wouldn’t make a dent toward typical rent prices of $1,000 and $2,000 a month, Joshua said.

One of the major services available is assistance paying for gas or propane for people who live in campers or their vehicles.

“We just want to keep them warm,” Joshua said.

Sometimes the best way the Salvation Army can help is to provide assistance toward a train ticket or bus ticket home.

“Some people get up here and they realize they can’t cut it,” Joshua said.

Demand for assistance has steadily increased, along with the community’s booming population.

The Williston Salvation Army spent just over $40,000 in fiscal year 2010 on social services, which pays for food baskets, gas, rental assistance, utilities, vouchers to shower at the community center and other types of assistance.

In 2011, that more than doubled to $90,000 for the fiscal year. For fiscal year 2012 that ended Sept. 30, the total spent more than doubled again to top $196,000.

This Christmas, the Williston Salvation Army has a fundraising goal of $250,000.

“That money goes out as quickly as it comes in,” Joshua said.

Support for a toy drive has been strong and will ensure than 250 area kids have gifts under the tree, Rhegan said.

“Maybe Dad has a good job, but the cost of living is so high they need extra help at Christmas,” Rhegan said.

Joshua, 29, and Rhegan, 30, are the youngest captains to lead the Williston Salvation Army, but both grew up with families active with the Salvation Army and have been volunteering since they were kids. They served for four years as captains in Beatrice, Neb., before being transferred to Williston.

The couple now deals with some challenges that may be typical for an inner city ministry, but new for small town North Dakota.

The facility is within two blocks of eight bars, including two strip clubs that are immediately adjacent and sometimes use the Salvation Army’s parking lot. Joshua said he’s had to pick up beer bottles and clean vomit off the building before Sunday morning worship. He’s also found blood stains and bullet casings outside.

The couple takes extra safety precautions when hosting youth programs and they count money from the red kettles at a different location.

Despite some of the challenges, the couple sees big opportunities for the Williston ministry, Joshua said.

One change the couple did implement was to turn a room in the facility into a computer center where people can work on resumes, research jobs, keep in touch with family or get out of the cold.

One of their dreams is to upgrade the facility – which would take an estimated $3.3 million just to bring it up to code – and turn the upstairs into a Christian night club or coffee house.

It would serve as an alternative to the eight bars and “be a light in this dark neighborhood,” Joshua said.

Another dream is to be able to establish a homeless shelter, but it would take a significant donation to make that possible, Joshua said.

In the meantime, the couple focuses on fulfilling the Salvation Army’s mission: Doing the most good.

“However, the need is so great here that we can’t meet everyone’s needs,” Joshua said.


For more information, visit http://salvationarmynorth.org/community/williston/




Land Board commits $2.5M in grants for Oil Patch township roads

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Land Board committed an additional $2.5 million in energy impact grants today to help townships in oil-impacted areas repair roads damaged by heavy truck traffic.

During the current biennium, the Land Board has awarded a total of $124 million in grants to help cities, townships and other political subdivisions in the Oil Patch address impacts created by rapid development.

For a complete list of projects approved for funding, go to www.nd.gov/energyimpact. The grants awarded today can be found here.

Oil well near Parshall is under control

PARSHALL, N.D. – Crews regained control of an oil well near Parshall about 5 a.m. today after the well stopped flowing, said the state Department of Mineral Resources.

The cleanup process is ongoing, said Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the department.

Officials with the Department of Mineral Resources will monitor the cleanup effort and require a follow-up spill report within 10 days after the cleanup is complete, Ritter said.

Initial cleanup efforts are focusing on the field north of the well, the area most heavily affected by mist of oil that sprayed from the well starting Wednesday evening, said Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the North Department of Health.

Crews also are removing oil from the well pad, Roberts said. The waste will be transported to a special oilfield waste landfill near Sawyer, Roberts said.

Lake Sakakwea, less than a mile south of the well, was not threatened, Roberts said.

A workover rig crew lost control of the well Wednesday evening after equipment malfunctioned, a spokesman for Slawson Exploration said. A specialized crew from Houston flew to North Dakota to regain control of the well.