Faces Of The Boom: Intern Looking For Ways To Help Area Where He Grew Up

Maxwell Johnson, pictured Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Tioga, N.D., works as an intern for Hess Corp. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

TIOGA, N.D. – As an intern, Maxwell Johnson is already working to make the oil boom a little easier on North Dakota residents.

The University of North Dakota student is interning for Hess Corp. in Tioga this summer, working on a special project that would reduce truck traffic that hauls water to producing oil wells.

Johnson said the strategy he’s developing should significantly cut the company’s cost of hauling production maintenance water, in addition to reducing the wear and tear on roads and cutting down on traffic.

“Not all of the savings are in economics,” said the Watford City native.

Johnson, who will graduate next May with a petroleum engineering degree, said he wants to return to his home area and become a community leader.

“My goal has been to get my degree and come back to my community or one of these communities and help build it back to what we thought was a beautiful place,” Johnson said. “It still is beautiful, but there are just some hardships for everyone. I just want to help my community in any way that I can.”

When Johnson, 22, graduated from high school in 2009, the Bakken boom had begun, but it was still relatively quiet in Watford City. Johnson knew he wanted to become an engineer and get into the oil industry, but at the time he didn’t know how available job opportunities would be.

“I went to school and a couple years later it was just off the charts,” Johnson said.

Now Johnson is working at his third summer internship in the Bakken. He previously worked for oilfield service and transportation business Power Fuels and spent a summer as a mudlogger with a geologist for Neset Consulting Service.

Now with Hess, Johnson said he continues to get hands-on experience. He’ll go to Houston in August to present his project to managers.

“It’s just a great opportunity,” Johnson said. “I can’t imagine going out of state to do something like this.”

While Johnson has been away at UND, the increase in oil activity has changed his home dramatically. Last year, he started fall semester and came home for pheasant hunting in mid-October to find six new houses built in his neighborhood.

After Johnson graduates, he’d like to help the rapidly growing cities by getting involved with city council or helping a local fire department or ambulance service. He said he hopes other young people will also become active leaders.

“A lot of these rural communities need so much planning to help their communities grow and adjust,” Johnson said.

With oil wells being drilled in North Dakota expected to produce for 30 to 40 years, there are a lot of opportunities in the state for petroleum engineers, Johnson said.

“Right now, there’s about 40 years of work here for someone like myself,” Johnson said. “That’s pretty cool to be able to see that.”