Faces of the Boom: Teacher and fishing guide gives newcomers lessons on Lake Sakakawea

Matt Liebel, owner of Liebel’s Guide Service, poses onboard his Lund 2010 Predator on Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota on Wednesday, July 10, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Matt Liebel may be a fish whisperer.

The Watford City native started fishing before age 5, and like any savvy fish whisperer-in-training, his mantra proved prescient.

“Let’s go fishing, let’s go fishing” — words his dad, an avid fisherman, remembers Liebel saying often.

As an eighth-grade earth science teacher at Williston Middle School, he finds opportunities to weave his passion for the sport into his teaching and in building relationships with his students.

Two years ago he achieved a longtime dream: Liebel’s Guide Service.

“I probably wanted to guide before I wanted to teach. Part of guiding is being able to teach people to fish. I thought it would be cool to take people fishing,” said Liebel, 28.

Under Wednesday’s hazy skies, he, along with friend and fellow teacher Jeff Winslow, backed Liebel’s Lund 2010 Predator down the boat ramp at Van Hook Recreation Area into the silvery waters of Lake Sakakawea.

Megan and John Mack of Everett, Wash., friends of Winslow and used to “fishing trout and salmon,” were excited about catching walleye.

“We wanted to see what North Dakota has to offer, and part of that’s fishing. My buddy Jeff said this is the guy to go — he’s a Governor’s Cup winner,” John said.

Liebel and teammate Tory Hill, a friend since kindergarten, snagged first place ($10,000) in the North Dakota Governor’s Walleye Cup in 2011 with 10 fish for a total of 31.95 pounds. Other wins have included the Catch for a Cure Ice Fishing Tournament in 2010 and 2012 and the 4 Bears Casino Walleye Cup in 2009.

“It’s kind of a Ricky Bobbie (from the movie “Talladega Nights”): If you’re not first, you’re last,” Liebel said. “You get the taste, you can’t get rid of it. It sounds cliche — you want to win them all.”

Getting away from the traffic that has come with western North Dakota’s oil boom is just one of the appeals of fishing.

“Some will argue (oil) hasn’t impacted wildlife, but it has. I understand energy development is necessary, but I wish it was a little bit more controlled,” Liebel said.

But the boom has been a boon to his guide service.

Liebel estimates that only 10 percent of his clients are locals, 10 percent are on vacation or traveling through the area and 80 percent are people who have come to North Dakota to work in the oilfields.

And men between the ages of 20 and 45 account for 90 percent of his business. Only about 50 percent have fished walleye, he added.

Clients come to Liebel with a wide range of experience, and some, like Megan and her husband, are veterans. But fishing walleye for the first time can excite even the most seasoned angler.

“She was just screaming, excited. She had the biggest one (at 26¾ inches, just over 6 pounds). That made my day, biggest walleye we’ve caught in the boat this year,” Liebel said.

Winslow, who also teaches at Williston Middle School, caught a 12-pound walleye during his first time walleye fishing with Liebel in 2010. He credits Liebel’s expertise and skills with his ability to reel in both fish and customers.

“He’s taught me everything I know about walleye fishing. Aside from all his knowledge, he’s a schoolteacher, so his patience for people is better than most,” he said.

Bakken drug trade highlighted in federal report

WILLISTON, N.D. – Drug trafficking in the Bakken is highlighted in the National Drug Control Strategy released Wednesday by the White House drug czar.

The 102-page document includes several mentions of North Dakota and Montana, including about a page dedicated to the need for agencies to collaborate in response to a “burgeoning threat” in the Bakken.

“This influx of highly paid oil field workers into an area with limited opportunities for spending their income has created a market for drugs and contributed to an overall increase in crime,” the report says.

Michael Botticelli, acting director of National Drug Control Policy, was unveiling the drug control strategy Wednesday in Roanoke, Va. The previous drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske, visited North Dakota’s Oil Patch about a year ago.

U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said a mention of a North Dakota-specific crime issue in such a plan is unusual, and he’s not sure it has ever happened before.

“This underscores the urgency of the need for additional law enforcement resources to respond to the growing organized crime problem we are facing in the Bakken,” Purdon said.

The document cites statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report that shows that crimes in the Williston Basin increased 32 percent from 2005 through 2011, and violent crimes including murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape and robbery increased 121 percent.

“These dramatic increases have overwhelmed state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies working with limited resources,” the report says.

The drug control strategy says that federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies should work together with prevention and treatment specialists “to provide a balanced, holistic approach to reducing drug use and its consequences.”

The report also mentions that the Bakken has experienced a large influx of outlaw motorcycle gangs attempting to establish “ownership” of the territory, facilitating the illegal drug trade and prostitution.

Purdon said the federal law enforcement response to the challenges has included additional agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies.

“The fact is our home towns in the Bakken are developing big city crime problems and we need more resources from every level of government — federal, state, tribal and local — to continue this fight,” Purdon said.

During a recent discussion in Minot hosted by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., law enforcement officials called for more federal and state resources to fight crime.

Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski said the Drug Enforcement Agency is “invisible” in western North Dakota. Other agencies, including the U.S. Border Patrol, said they struggle to recruit and retain law enforcement officers, particularly in western North Dakota.

Heitkamp and Montana Sen. Jon Tester organized Kerlikowske’s visit to the Bakken last year. In a statement Wednesday, Heitkamp said the administration took an important step by identifying the Bakken as part of its national drug control strategy.

“I will continue to work closely with the administration, local law enforcement, and other officials to address this problem and get support to those who need it,” Heitkamp said.

The full report is available here

Faces of the Boom: Smoke shop angles for return customers

Tobacco Depot owner Phil Hamda helps a customer on Thursday, July 3, 2014, at his shop in Alexander, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

ALEXANDER, N.D. – New Yorker Phil Hamda came to North Dakota to scout for real estate opportunities, but his plans changed after paying nearly $8 for a pack of cigarettes in Williston.

Hamda, whose father owned tobacco shops in New York City, noticed that tobacco prices in the Bakken varied widely.

“In New York, if you don’t like the prices, there’s a store right next door,” Hamda said.

Instead of trying to develop housing, Hamda took lessons he learned from his father and opened the Tobacco Depot in Alexander in February. He says his niche is fair, consistent prices that earn him repeat customers.

“Everybody’s nuts about our prices,” Hamda said. “We’re not extortionists.”

He initially struggled to find retail space and planned to operate from a trailer in Watford City. But when that location didn’t work out, he discovered a space for rent along the heavily traveled U.S. Highway 85 in Alexander, between Williston and Watford City.

“You couldn’t ask for better visibility than this,” Hamda said as a steady stream of oilfield traffic goes by his shop.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation is constructing a bypass that will take Highway 85 traffic around Alexander. Hamda said he expects the bypass will actually help his business because the traffic is often so heavy that customers can’t get into his parking lot.

“A lot of guys say they’ve been trying to get in here for a week,” Hamda said.

Hamda said he wasn’t prepared for the demand for electronic cigarettes and personal vaporizers. They account for about half of his business, primarily because smoking isn’t allowed on many oilfield locations and housing camps where workers live, Hamda said. He also sells a lot of chewing tobacco and cigarettes by the carton.

Hamda, who spent 20 years self-employed as a contractor, was in the middle of developing two six-unit condominium buildings in Jersey City, N.J., when the recession hit. He still wants to finish the buildings, and his success in North Dakota will help him do that.

He plans to sell the buildings once they’re complete and make North Dakota his home.

“After I’m done with them, I’m bringing that money here,” said Hamda, who has plans to expand his tobacco business. “There’s plenty of opportunity out here and I think it’s safe to invest.”

Faces of the Boom: Tattoo artist roving the N.D. oilfields

Dan Golebiewski works on a tattoo Thursday, June 26, 2014, from his mobile tattoo shop near Williston, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Tattoo artist Dan Golebiewski is drilling ink in the Bakken to pay the mortgage back home.

As business at his tattoo shop in northern Idaho slowed down in recent years along with the economy, Golebiewski kept hearing about North Dakota from friends who moved there to work in the oilfield.

He took a trip to the Bakken in 2012 and saw the potential. The husband and father of two then spent his days off for the next two years turning a used RV into a professional mobile Dan’s Tattoo Shop.

“I pretty much exhausted my life back there financially,” said Golebiewski, who’s been working in North Dakota for about a month. “This is what I need to do to survive.”

Golebiewski’s plan is to travel where the oil workers are and cater to their busy work schedules.

“I could be busy all day, every day, and not even affect the shops in town. Age-wise, this is our target audience,” he said. “It’s a wide-open market.”

Developing a mobile tattoo shop for the Bakken required meeting guidelines of health departments in both North Dakota and Montana. The RV’s clean, white interior features a separate tattoo area, hand-washing station and customized lighting. Golebiewski uses disposable tattoo tubes to eliminate the need to have an autoclave to sterilize the equipment.

“We’re doing everything totally legal, above board,” he said.

Dan’s Tattoo Shop is approved by health departments in North Dakota and Montana. Owner Dan Golebiewski also drives the “Danbulance” to haul tools and equipment. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

After getting certified by health departments in both states, Golebiewski’s next challenge was finding places to operate. He hired an attorney two years ago to investigate Williston’s rules, but since then the city has implemented a moratorium on mobile businesses.

Golebiewski found a land owner outside Williston in Williams County who has a lot that is zoned commercial and has given him permission to operate there. He’s actively looking for other sites in the region where he can operate.

Occasionally, Golebiewski will run into someone who wants him to do a tattoo at a location where he doesn’t have permission.

“I would love to do the work, but I have to turn it down,” he said. “I put so much into this, so I don’t want to blow it at all.”

Business is so far slower than Golebiewski expected it to be, and he’s had several clients fail to show up for appointments after he spent time doing drawings. But many customers he has seen have become repeat customers.

“What I like out here is the guys do have a little bit more money than back home,” Golebiewski said. “They’re doing a little bit bigger designs, they’re giving me a little more freedom.”

Most of his clients are oilfield workers, but Golebiewski said he’s been surprised at the number of female customers. He also sees some familiar faces.

“Because there are so many Idaho people here, I get people coming up to me saying, ‘You tattooed my mom 10 years ago,’ ” he said.

Golebiewski said he is fascinated by the stories of his diverse clientele and hearing about the various oil industry jobs. He started a YouTube channel called Ink Drillers featuring interviews with customers about life in the oilfield “with a tattoo twist.”

“Everybody likes the tattoo guy,” Golebiewski said. “They open up and tell me stuff.”

He also posts photos and videos on Dan’s Tattoo Shop page on Facebook, and he can be reached at (208) 771-1717.

Golebiewski still owns his tattoo shop in Hayden, Idaho, that a manager is running for him. He plans to work in North Dakota during warm weather months and visit his family in Idaho when he can. He lives out of the cab of the RV, which is completely separate from the tattoo shop, sleeping on a fold-down bunk.

“I want to work like the oil rig guys, 10-12 hours a day,” he said. “I’m here to work and sleep, that’s it.”

Click here for a video tour of the mobile tattoo shop.

Wildlife crossing planned with Highway 85 expansion in Oil Patch

Kent Luttschwager, wildlife resource management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, stands Thursday, June 26, 2014, along U.S. Highway 85 south of Williston, N.D., where a wildlife crossing will be added as part of the highway expansion. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – A critter crossing large enough to accommodate moose will go under an expanded U.S. Highway 85 near Williston, helping wildlife travel through habitat that’s now divided by heavy oilfield traffic.

Future wildlife crossings, including overpasses for bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope, are being studied for other critical habitat areas in North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department relocated a herd of bighorn sheep last year by helicopter to reduce road-kill incidents along Highway 85. Recently, the department researched wildlife crossings in Montana and other states to find solutions as traffic counts in western North Dakota are projected to keep increasing.

“We’ve never really had the concentrated traffic like we’re seeing here, especially the large traffic and pretty much 24/7,” said Bruce Kreft, conservation biologist with the department.

The four-laning of Highway 85 between Williston and Watford City, which includes replacing the Lewis & Clark Bridge that crosses the Missouri River, provided an opportunity to incorporate a wildlife crossing, Kreft said.

The project will involve constructing a 40-foot-wide-by-15-foot-tall underpass to allow animals to safely cross about a quarter-mile south of the bridge, which is a natural wildlife travel corridor. It will also include fencing along the highway and “jumpouts,” or one-way exits to prevent animals getting stuck.

Courtesy of KLJ Engineering

The Game and Fish Department estimates that 100 moose are thriving along the Missouri River bottoms just south of Williston, along with white-tailed deer and other animals.

“There’s a lot of very unique species coming across this area,” Kreft said.

The daily traffic count on that bridge, which was 2,425 vehicles per day in 2006, had an estimated 13,245 vehicles per day in 2012, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation. The vehicle count, which includes a large percentage of heavy trucks, is projected to be 22,000 vehicles per day in the future.

Kent Luttschwager, wildlife resource management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, estimates that at least six moose have been killed in vehicle crashes in the last couple of years. Statistics from the Department of Transportation are incomplete, he said, because motorists are not required to report all wildlife-vehicle crashes.

Hitting a moose poses a greater risk to the motorist because the animal often comes through the windshield in a crash, Luttschwager said.

“It can be deadly to certainly the moose and also the motorist,” said Luttschwager, who counted a vehicle passing about every two seconds last week in the area where the crossing will be.

The state has had nine human fatalities resulting from wildlife-vehicle collisions since 2001, Kreft said.

The estimated cost of the wildlife crossing, along with other mitigation and conservation measures that are planned for the project, is about $2.6 million. The highway project is required to have some mitigation measures because it will affect a designated Wildlife Management Area, Luttschwager said.

The Game and Fish Department plans to monitor the crossing using remote cameras. Research from other states shows that animals need to learn to use the crossings, and it may take time before they are accustomed to using it, Kreft said.

The wildlife crossing will be the first of its kind for North Dakota, said Jamie Olson, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

The road portion of the four-lane Highway 85 project from Alexander to Williston will go out for bids in July and is tentatively expected to be complete by fall 2015, Olson said. The bridge portion of the project will take longer and is anticipated to be complete in 2016, she said.

The Game and Fish Department also has identified other areas for potential wildlife crossings on Highway 85, including crossings near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Grassy Butte for bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and mule deer, Kreft said.

Research shows that pronghorn antelope will not use an underpass or a tunnel, Kreft said. Another type of crossing that has been used in other areas is a fenced overpass that is seeded with grass, he said.

“We know we’re experiencing mortality,” Kreft said of the traffic impacts on wildlife. “There is something that can help. It’s not a solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Watford City leaders break ground on $59 million health care complex

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Leaders here broke ground Friday on a $59 million medical complex to support the needs of the rapidly growing community.

The new 120,000-square-foot McKenzie County Healthcare Systems facility will combine the hospital, clinic and long-term care facility into one central location.

CEO Dan Kelly said the current 1950s medical facility has been taxed with the city’s booming population. The new complex will include 10 emergency room bays, 18 primary care patient rooms and 12 specialty care rooms.

“This sets a course for the next half a century,” Kelly said.

Watford City leaders held the ceremonial groundbreaking in conjunction with the city’s centennial celebration.

Mayor Brent Sanford said local history books about the city’s founding in 1914 talk about the rush of building that occurred around the development of the railroad.

Today, the city in North Dakota’s busiest oil county will have a new high school and a new hospital under construction at the same time. Community leaders also are planning for a new events center.

“We’re really in about the same place again, 100 years later. It’s amazing,” Sanford said. “It will be a rebirth.”

The hospital project is financed with a variety of sources, including a $39.2 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency, a $12.5 million loan from the Bank of North Dakota, community sales tax dollars and private fundraising.

The hospital project would not have been possible if community members hadn’t supported an increase in sales tax that will provide $700,000 a year toward debt payments, Kelly said.

McKenzie County Commission Chairman Ron Anderson said community members should be proud of their support for the sales tax, as well as their support for the bond issue for a new high school. But he wishes the hospital had more state support.

“Bismarck should be building that. We’re providing $2.1 billion a year to the state,” Anderson said, referring to oil tax revenue generated in the county.

The McKenzie County Commission has committed $1 million toward the project.

The low-interest loan from USDA Rural Development is the largest the agency has issued in North Dakota, said state director Jasper Schneider.

“This project is more than just a new building. It reflects a regional commitment to support families, workers, and makes it more viable for seniors to stay in the area,” Schneider said.

Several oil and gas companies have made commitments or expressed interest in contributing to the hospital project, said Myra Anderson, president of the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems Benefit Fund.

She announced a $1 million contribution from ONEOK, which operates natural gas processing and gathering facilities in the area.

“This is the transformational gift,” Anderson said. “This is the first one in a row of dominos.”

The group has raised $3.37 million toward a fundraising goal of $15.5 million, she said.

UPDATED: Energy Transfer proposes crude oil pipeline from ND to Illinois

WILLISTON, N.D. — Energy Transfer Partners announced this week it has commitments from shippers to move forward with an 1,100-mile crude oil pipeline from North Dakota to Patoka, Ill.

The Bakken Pipeline would transport 320,000 barrels of Bakken oil per day to Illinois, where shippers would be able to access markets in the Midwest or connect with markets on the East Coast or Gulf Coast.

The announcement comes on the heels of Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s Pipeline Summit, during which he said the state’s crude oil pipeline capacity is expected to hit 1.4 million barrels of crude per day by the end of 2016, more than double the current capacity.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of the state’s oil is transported by rail, a percentage that has been higher depending on market conditions.

“Although rail has played a very critical role in helping us to market our petroleum during this period of rapid growth, we know that over the long haul, we’re looking at the safest and most efficient ways of marketing oil and gas,” Dalrymple said during Tuesday’s Pipeline Summit.

North Dakota, which recently began producing 1 million barrels of oil per day, can transport 623,000 barrels per day by pipeline, including oil that’s transported to the Tesoro refinery in Mandan, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

By the end of this year, that pipeline capacity will increase to 783,000 barrels per day.

Despite the increase in the state’s oil production, companies including Koch Pipeline Co. and ONEOK Partners recently abandoned crude oil pipeline projects in North Dakota because they didn’t get sufficient commitments from shippers.

The latest announcement from Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is significant because the company said it does have those commitments. The company said in a news release that it has begun ordering steel and negotiating construction contracts.

Where in North Dakota the pipeline would originate was not mentioned in the announcement, and a media spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

The project would need regulatory approval from the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which had not yet received an application, Chairman Brian Kalk said.

If the project is approved, it would transport more than three times the amount of North Dakota crude oil that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would transport.

Energy Transfer said it plans to develop a rail terminal facility in Illinois to access East Coast refineries. The company also plans to convert an existing natural gas pipeline to transport crude oil from Illinois to the Gulf Coast. The company said it expects to have the pipeline in service by the end of 2016.

Also this week, the Public Service Commission approved Enbridge’s Sandpiper pipeline, a 616-mile project proposed from Tioga to Clearbrook, Minn., and Superior, Wis.

The pipeline, which would transport 225,000 barrels per day, has commitments from shippers, but still needs regulatory approval from Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as federal approval.

Another Texas-based company, Enterprise Products Partners, announced this week that it proposes to build a 1,200-mile crude oil pipeline from the Bakken to Cushing, Okla., with the capacity to transport 340,000 barrels per day.

That project, however, is in an earlier stage than the announcement from Energy Transfer Partners. Enterprise is still seeking commitments from shippers to construct the pipeline to Oklahoma. It’s also projected to be in service by the end of 2016.

The Public Service Commission has not received an application from Enterprise, Kalk said.

Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, said it’s encouraging to see more investments in crude oil pipelines as the state’s oil production continues to rise.

“They’re going to be necessary as this play continues to mature,” Kringstad said.

The timelines and the volumes for the proposed projects will be determined by the amount of interest from shippers, Kringstad said.

“That’s where the industry will ultimately decide,” he said.

The Pipeline Authority says these crude oil pipeline projects are confirmed and moving forward:

– True Companies is developing the Butte Loop pipeline that will transport 110,000 barrels per day to Guernsey, Wyo. It’s expected to be in service the third quarter of this year.

– Hiland Partners is developing the Double H pipeline, expected to be in service the last quarter of this year. It will transport 50,000 barrels per day from North Dakota to Guernsey, Wyo., and is expandable up to 100,000 barrels per day.

Both of those pipelines will connect to the Tallgrass Pony Express Pipeline, which goes to Cushing.

– Plains All American began shipping oil in May on the new Bakken North Pipeline, Kringstad said. The pipeline goes north to Canada and then connects to an Enbridge pipeline that brings it back to Clearbrook. The pipeline has a capacity of 40,000 barrels per day and is expandable up to 70,000 barrels

The other major crude oil pipeline that remains a question mark for North Dakota is the Keystone XL, which would transport up to 100,000 barrels per day of North Dakota crude from an on-ramp in Baker, Mont., if it receives federal approval.

Oil industry says thanks to North Dakota, celebrates million-barrel milestone

More than 2,000 people gathered Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Tioga, N.D., for an air show and celebration to recognize North Dakota’s milestone of producing 1 million barrels of oil per day. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

TIOGA, N.D. – The oil industry said “thanks a million” Wednesday to North Dakota.

More than 2,000 people gathered in Tioga to celebrate the state’s recent oil milestone of hitting 1 million barrels a day, not far from where the state produced its first barrel.

The One Million Barrels – One Million Thanks celebration by the North Dakota Petroleum Council featured a free Southern barbecue, an air show by the Texas Flying Legends and historical oil exhibits.

Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said they wanted to hold the celebration where the state’s oil legacy began in 1951 with the first discovery well south of Tioga, the Clarence Iverson No. 1.

“There’s really no place other than Tioga,” Ness said. “This is where it all started.”

Oilfield geologist Kathy Neset, who hosted the party at Neset Consulting Service, highlighted a statement that was read in 1953 at the dedication for the Clarence Iverson well.

“The Williston Basin Discovery Clarence Iverson No. 1 opened a new era for North Dakota and reaffirmed the confidence of her people in the opportunities and future of this great state,” reads a historical marker near the site of the first well.

“Nothing could be more truer today than those words that were posted back in the 1950s,” Neset said. “We do have tremendous opportunities and we are affirming our faith in this state.”

Family members of Clarence Iverson attended the celebration, and some participated in a tour of the well site.

“It’s outstanding for the state,” Jim Iverson, the oldest son and one of five children, said of the million-barrel milestone.

Even though the Iverson family earned royalties from the oil development, they continued to work throughout their lives. Jim sold his business, the Super Valu in New Town, at age 81, and his brother Clifford, 82, of Tioga, continued farming until a few years ago.

“They didn’t depend on the oil. They all had their jobs and business interests,” said Deanie Iverson, Jim’s wife. “The oil was just a little bonus.”

Lorin Bakken of Tioga, the only known living descendent of the H.O. Bakken family, the well that gave the prolific Bakken formation its name, also was recognized at the celebration.

“It’s a great privilege for my family,” said Bakken, son of Henry O. Bakken and nephew of Harry O. Bakken.

By hosting the celebration, the industry wanted to thank the public for its patience and support, Neset said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple told attendees that state leaders recognize the oil-producing communities have needs for roads, day care, law enforcement and other infrastructure. He said he’s confident state legislators will continue addressing those challenges when they convene in January.

“You have tremendous needs around here,” Dalrymple said. “Your state is responding to that.”

Ruth Hoover of Stanley, one of the people attending the celebration, said the oil activity has brought a lot of truck traffic where she lives, which is within a mile of six oil wells. But her community now has new businesses and the country is growing less dependent on foreign oil, Hoover said.

“As I see it, there’s more good than bad that’s come from it,” Hoover said.

Laura Rendahl traveled from her home south of Rugby to attend the celebration. She is a native of Watford City and grew up with the state’s first oil boom. Rendahl said it’s overwhelming to think about how big the oil industry has become with the recent 1 million-barrel-a-day milestone.

“I don’t think you can comprehend 1 million of anything,” Rendahl said.

Faces of the Boom: Worker on first N.D. well recalls novelty, danger of new industry

Raymond “Maggie” Magnuson, pictured Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Tioga, N.D., worked on North Dakota’s first producing oil well, the Clarence Iverson No. 1. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

TIOGA, N.D. – In 1950, northwest North Dakota farmer Raymond Magnuson decided to try working for an oil drilling crew to supplement his income.

“Rent was high-priced, $25 a month in Ray,” said 87-year-old Magnuson of Tioga, known to his friends and family as Maggie.

He began his oilfield career on the well that put North Dakota on the map as an oil-producing state: the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well, the state’s first successful oil well.

The brutal winter was too harsh for some out-of-state workers, he said. Magnuson, who started as a floorhand, remembers driving on a prairie trail to the well south of Tioga and getting stranded for two or three days without food during winter storms.

“Tough winter. Tough year. It ain’t like they got it nowadays at the rigs,” Magnuson said.

An April 4, 1951, test at the Clarence Iverson well marked the discovery of oil in North Dakota.

Spectators came from all around to check out the discovery well in Clarence Iverson’s wheat field. Some took samples of the oil in empty pop cans or bottles, he said.

“There were people around there all the time,” Magnuson said.

Magnuson said he was paid $1.41 an hour for working on the well. He worked eight-hour days, seven days a week, and continued farming near Ray.

His next job was another notable well in North Dakota – the H.O. Bakken well, the namesake for the Bakken formation. There, he earned 20 cents more an hour.

“That was a neat well, too,” Magnuson said.

After the wells were completed, it was customary for the mineral owners to take the crew out for dinner at the Missouri Club or another restaurant, he recalled.

Crew members who stayed from start to finish often received a $150 bonus, Magnuson said.

“It was a steady job. You had to keep your nose to the grindstone.”

Decades later, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unlocked the Bakken formation in North Dakota, pushing the state to the No. 2 oil-producing state in the country. Last week, the state Department of Mineral Resources announced North Dakota now produces 1 million barrels a day.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Magnuson said.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council is sponsoring a celebration on Wednesday of the million barrel milestone, including tours of the site of the Clarence Iverson well.

Magnuson spent 25 years working in the oil industry, either working for a drilling crew, driving truck or moving rigs. He had several back injuries during his career and saw a couple of guys get killed in drilling rig accidents.

“They didn’t have much safety rules in them days. You had to look out for yourself,” Magnuson said. “We were lucky there wasn’t more people killed.”

Magnuson, who has many family members who went on to work in North Dakota’s oil industry, has had people offer to take him to a current drilling rig site. But he hasn’t taken them up on their offers.

“I wouldn’t know what to do anymore,” Magnuson said. “Everything is run by a push button now.”

UPDATED: N.D. oil production hits 1 million barrels per day

WILLISTON, N.D. – North Dakota now produces 1 million barrels of oil per day, joining an elite club that includes Texas, Alberta and 19 countries.

The state saw a nearly 2.5 percent oil production increase in April, bringing North Dakota’s average daily production above the much-anticipated milestone to 1,001,149 barrels.

“We’re in the top 17 percent now, if you look at countries around the world, in terms of crude oil production,” Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms said.

Innovation has driven the increases in North Dakota’s oil production, said Sam Gorgen, an analyst with the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

While the state’s drilling rig count has stayed stable at around 190 rigs in recent months, operators have increased production by drilling multiple wells on one pad and other advancements, Gorgen said.

“It’s really been their success in improving efficiency and productivity rather than just raw increases in drilling activity which has helped make it happen,” Gorgen said.

Harold Hamm, CEO of Oklahoma-based Continental Resources, the leading operator in North Dakota, said Tuesday hitting 1 million barrels per day is another “huge milestone” for the Bakken.

“Initially, people didn’t understand the magnitude of what we were doing up there. Now, I think we’re beyond that,” Hamm said. “Most people do realize that it’s a very long lasting resource for America. It’s something that’s going to be with us a very long time, so they’re putting money into infrastructure.”

North Dakota, which produced its first barrel of oil in 1951, was producing about 100,000 barrels per day in 2006, when EOG Resources drilled what is known as the Parshall discovery well, considered by many to have unlocked the Bakken.

Today, with the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state and accounts for about 12 percent of total U.S. oil production, the EIA estimates.

Estimates from North Dakota State University researchers show that 1 million barrels of oil per day contributes $50 million each day to North Dakota’s economy, including more than $11 million in oil and gas production and extraction taxes.

“North Dakota’s oil and gas industry has been a boon to the state’s economy,” said North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness, adding that drilling is expected to last 14 to 17 more years or longer with technological advancements.

Other facts highlighted Tuesday by the Petroleum Council, an oil industry trade group, include:

– Alaska, California, Louisiana and Texas are the only states to have ever produced 1 million barrels per day. Today, Texas is the only other state producing more than 1 million barrels per day, other than North Dakota, and is approaching 3 million barrels per day.

– The Bakken is one of 10 basins ever to have surpassed 1 million barrels per day.

– One million barrels of oil could fuel 48,272 cars with gasoline.

Helms, who released the preliminary numbers Tuesday, said he anticipates North Dakota oil production will continue growing through the end of 2017, when it will plateau around 1.5 million barrels per day.

Hamm projects North Dakota will peak at 2 million barrels per day in 2020.

John Harju, associate director for research for the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, estimates that current technology is recovering between 4 percent and 6 percent of North Dakota’s oil.

Meanwhile, researchers are seeing encouraging results from testing high-density drilling projects, and also are optimistic about enhanced oil recovery opportunities, Harju said.

“Big fields get bigger. This is a really big field and we’re still growing,” Harju said. “We just keep getting better and better wells.

Theodora Bird Bear, chairwoman of the oil and gas task force for the Dakota Resource Council, a conservation group, said the state is not adequately addressing the impacts of increased oil development on the environment or rapidly growing communities. Law enforcement challenges, crowded schools and spills related to oil development are among the impacts that need more attention, she said.

“They’re not measuring the full scale of impacts that are happening in western North Dakota,” said Bird Bear, who lives in rural Mandaree.

Gas also sets record

North Dakota also produced an all-time high of 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas in April, also based on preliminary figures.

Natural gas flaring decreased from 33 percent to 30 percent in April. Helms said he expected the flaring percentage to be even lower with the Hess Corp. Tioga Gas Plant expansion coming online. He said the expansion was not operating at full capacity until the end of the month and he expects to see more improvements when May figures are released.

The total volume of natural gas flared was 10.3 billion cubic feet, the lowest volume since November 2013, Helms said. In March, the state flared a total volume of 11.4 billion cubic feet, Helms said.

In April, 63 percent of North Dakota’s crude oil was transported by rail, down from 66 percent the previous month, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

The total volume of crude oil transported by rail out of the Williston Basin remained about the same at 700,000 to 715,000 barrels per day, Kringstad said.


The North Dakota Petroleum Council is holding a free public event called “One Million Barrels – One Million Thanks” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 25 in Tioga. It includes a barbecue, aerial tours, of the area, an airshow by the Texas Flying Legends and tours of the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well. For more information about the event, visit www.ndoil.org/events.