Faces of the Boom: Hall of Famer has ridden N.D.’s oil roller coaster

Bob Mau, pictured Thursday, Sept. 18, 2013, in Grand Forks, N.D., was inducted into the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s Hall of Fame for nearly 40 years in the oil and gas industry. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Kenmare oil man Bob Mau has watched the price of oil hit as low as $4.83 a barrel and as high as $150 a barrel.

But the entrepreneur managed to weather the ups and downs, going from worrying about how to pay the electricity bill to taking on a new gold-mining adventure in Alaska.

Mau, with nearly 40 years in the oil and gas business, was inducted into the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s Hall of Fame last week at the annual meeting in Grand Forks.

Mau started working in the oilfield in 1975 as a way to subsidize his family farm southwest of Mohall. With a background in geology from Minot State University, Mau got more involved in the industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, doing well reclamation work.

In 1985, Mau bought his first drilling rigs from a St. Louis bank after another company went bankrupt. Even though North Dakota’s oil industry was experiencing a bust at that time, Mau anticipated it would be booming again.

“I don’t know if you call it foresight or just luck,” Mau said.

Mau built several businesses, including Eagle Operating, an oil and gas exploration company, and Wolverine Drilling Co., which drilled wells in North Dakota, Montana and Colorado.

In the fall of 1999, the price of crude hit $4.83 a barrel, Mau recalls.

“It was terrible,” Mau said. “You wondered how you were going to pay the electricity bills on the pumping units. It was down to that.”

In 2000, Mau’s company operated the only drilling rig that was operating in North Dakota. When they laid the derrick over, it was the first time since the 1950s that no rigs were operating in the state.

Mau relied more on farming during those slow years, but oil activity soon picked up again in North Dakota.

In the early 2000s, Mau started another company, Star Wells, a production service company. He also started MW Industries in Kenmare, which manufactures service rigs.

With the Bakken boom, Eagle Operating has participated as a non-operating interest in many wells, Mau said.

“It’s been fantastic for our business,” he said.

Mau, 59, continues to work in the industry, but sold some of his companies and contracts out more work.

“Everybody says I’m retired, but I don’t think I’m retired,” Mau said. “I’m still doing the same thing I’ve always done, just on a smaller scale.”

Mau is now pursuing something he always wanted to try: mining for gold.

When gold prices jumped, Mau and a business partner formed Buckeye Land and Minerals to mine for gold in Alaska. Mau travels to Alaska about once a month to get the new operation established.

“It’s been an interesting experience, a learning curve,” Mau said.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said during Mau’s induction ceremony last week that Mau uses his passion for the industry to contribute to many community and statewide organizations.

“He has been a part of North Dakota’s oil past as well as its future,” Ness said.

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