Mandaree students get hands-on lessons on oil

Frannina Lincoln, left, and Rozene Yellow Wolf, eighth-graders in Mandaree, N.D., touch the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing Thursday during a presentation about oil well completion. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

MANDAREE, N.D. – Eighth-graders got to dig their hands into the gel-like fluid used in the hydraulic fracturing process at oil wells all around this community .

The Mandaree Public School students got an up-close lesson Thursday on the ingredients used in fracking, including the water and chemical mixture that an industry representative compared to the consistency of “bull’s snot.”

“It’s really weird looking stuff,” said Ron Parham, well completions manager for Enerplus Resources USA.

Thursday’s lesson was part of a yearlong Adopt-A-Well program with Enerplus and the students, who are following the development of an oil well near Mandaree from start to finish.

Each month, representatives from Enerplus visit the class and educate students about a different aspect of oil development, which is booming on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Students wore gloves to take turns touching the frac fluid, which eighth-grader Charismha Tsosie said felt like a slimy toy. They also passed around jars of sand and ceramic proppant used in fracking, which keeps the fractures in layers of rock open so the oil can be extracted.

The class asked questions about the amount of water required and what happens to the fluid after the well is complete.

In January, the students visited “their” well – Arabian 32H – while a drilling rig was on location. Other lessons have included geology, mineral leases, safety and protecting cultural and natural resources.

Students from the Adopt-A-Well program at Mandaree (N.D.) Public School visited a drilling rig location in January near Mandaree. Photo courtesy of Enerplus Resources USA

Eighth-grader Frannina Lincoln, who lives near an oil well, said she had a lot of questions about oil development before the Adopt-A-Well program.

“I finally know what’s going on,” Lincoln said.

Arla Dockter, K-8 principal for Mandaree Public School, said one of the goals of the program is to expose students to possible careers in engineering or the oil industry and to get them thinking about college.

“They have so many opportunities available to them,” Dockter said.

Parham, a petroleum engineer, told students what classes they’d need to take to pursue engineering and named off all of the places his career has allowed him to travel.

“It looks fun to be an engineer,” Lincoln said.

Enerplus Resources USA, which has headquarters in Canada, has about 75 oil wells in North Dakota, all on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The company is active in the Mandaree community where its operations are based, including sponsoring the annual powwow, said Dan Larson, external affairs adviser for Enerplus.

Enerplus decided to launch the Adopt-A-Well program this year to get more involved in the schools and educate students about the oilfield activity they see every day, Larson said.

“Enerplus is going to be here awhile,” Larson said. “It’s important to show that commitment.”

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