Watford City bypass project named a finalist in national contest

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — The Watford City Southeast and Southwest bypass project has been named one of the top 10 projects for America’s Transportation Awards competition.

The project is in the running for the grand prize, which is selected by a panel of experts, and the people’s choice award, which will be decided by online votes.

The public can vote for their favorite project through Sept. 11 at http://nominate.americastransportationawards.org/Voting.aspx. Individuals can vote up to 10 times per day.

Each award includes a $10,000 prize that will be donated to a charity or scholarship fund. The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials created the awards program to recognize projects that deliver value to communities.

“The impact of these bypasses in our community is enormous,” said Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. “The completion of these projects has significantly raised the quality of life in our community, as residents are no longer consumed by the daily frustration brought on by traffic congestion.”

The North Dakota Department of Transportation worked with the community and local officials, engineering firm KLJ, and contractors Knife River and Phillips & Jordan to take truck traffic around the city rather than through town.

The Watford City Southwest Bypass is a 7.5-mile long, four-lane roadway that cost about $80 million. The Watford City Southeast Bypass is a 5.7-mile long, four-lane roadway that cost about $50 million.

“We appreciate the fact that a panel of national transportation peers recognized the excellent work of the NDDOT team and other transportation professionals,” said Grant Levi, NDDOT director. “The department is committed to working with communities to ensure that the roadways are safe and the community’s transportation system allows them to prosper.”

The project also received the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials America’s Transportation award earlier this year in the quality of life/community development category.


Proposed Berthold oil refinery ‘a little more involved’

BERTHOLD, N.D. – A proposed refinery in northwest North Dakota would process up to 45,000 barrels of Bakken crude each day to produce gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and other products, according to a permit application.

Quantum Energy and Native Son Refining have applied to the North Dakota Department of Health for an air quality permit to construct a refinery northwest of Berthold, or about 25 miles northwest of Minot.

The application states the proposed refinery would produce gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, ultra-low sulfur fuel oil and other products.

Several refineries have been proposed for North Dakota, but this is the only permit application under review by the Department of Health, said Craig Thorstenson, with the Division of Air Quality.

Most other projects discussed have been similar to the Prairie Dakota Refinery that recently began operating west of Dickinson, which processes 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day and produces diesel.

The proposed Berthold refinery would process twice as much oil and produce more refined products.

“It’s a little more involved,” Thorstenson said.

The health department has issued air quality permits for refineries and other projects that didn’t get built, Thorstenson said. The department issued two permits for Dakota Oil Processing to construct a refinery in northwest North Dakota, but those have now expired, he said.

“It’s hard to say in any particular case if they’re going to go forward or not,” Thorstenson said.

A map submitted to the health department shows the refinery located across U.S. Highway 2 from Enbridge’s Berthold Station, which includes storage tanks connected to Enbridge pipelines and a rail-loading terminal.

The health department will ask for a more detailed layout of the facility, and may request additional information, Thorstenson said. An air quality permit review typically takes about six months, he said.

The project is proposed by a joint venture between Quantum Energy of Arizona and Native Son Refining, a subsidiary of Native Son Holdings of Texas.

On the company’s website, Quantum Energy describes itself as a “development stage publicly traded diversified holding company with an emphasis in oil field development.” Calls to Quantum Energy seeking comment were not returned Friday.

According to a news release from July, Quantum has signed two-year option agreements with landowners in Baker, Mont., Fairview, Mont., Stanley and Berthold for refinery sites. The company says it’s “making progress in firming up relationships with other strategic alliance partners, refinery design teams, engineering firms, major diesel off-take sources and potential funding sources as well as crude supply candidates.”

The Prairie Dakota Refinery, operated by MDU Resources and Calumet Specialty Products Partners, was the first refinery built in the U.S. in decades. That project, which took more than two years of construction and testing, cost about $425 million.

The Tesoro refinery in Mandan processes 68,000 barrels of oil per day.

The proposed Berthold refinery would primarily be fueled by purchased natural gas, as well as refinery fuel gas produced by the refinery, the permit application states.

In addition to processing Bakken crude, the refinery may process an additional 10,000 barrels per day of naphtha to make retail gasoline, the document says.


10,000 Bakken wells drilled, 50,000 to go, Helms says

An oil well pump in a sunflower field on July 26, 2015, west of Dickinson just off Interstate 94 as a storm brews off to the east.  (Dustin Monke / Forum News Service)

An oil well pump in a sunflower field on July 26, 2015, west of Dickinson just off Interstate 94 as a storm brews off to the east. (Dustin Monke / Forum News Service)

BISMARCK – Oil companies have drilled one-sixth of the potential Bakken and Three Forks wells in North Dakota, exceeding 10,000 wells in the shale formations for the first time in June.

The state’s oil production rose slightly in June to more than 1.2 million barrels per day, the second-highest production month behind only last December, the Department of Mineral Resources said Friday.

The nearly 1 percent increase in oil production was driven by companies that were aggressive in fracking and completing oil wells in June, Director Lynn Helms said.

Crews completed 149 wells in June, up from 116 in May, according to preliminary figures. An estimated 848 wells were drilled but waiting on fracking crews at the end of June.

North Dakota had 12,864 producing oil wells at the end of June, with 10,113 of those wells in the Bakken and Three Forks formations, preliminary figures show.

That amounts to about one-sixth of the drilling potential in the Bakken based on what we know today, Helms said.

Since drilling activity began to drop in December due to lower oil prices, North Dakota has maintained oil production, in part because operators have found ways to cut costs.

Helms said the current number of active drilling rigs – 74 on Friday – and the inventory of wells that needs to be completed is sufficient to maintain production of 1.2 million barrels per day for 24 months.

“We think that we’re in a period of sustained low prices. It could last two years,” Helms said. “The capacity is there to maintain North Dakota production for a full two years even at these sustained low prices. It’s going to be a long, difficult period.”

In June and July, the department saw a surge in drilling permit applications with operators optimistic about oil prices, Helms said.

But that optimism has faded so far this month, and the price for North Dakota sweet crude, which Helms quoted at $28.50 on Friday, is “real cause for concern,” he said.

If prices stay this low, Helms said he anticipates activity to slow even more.

“Those kinds of numbers can’t last,” he said.

North Dakota’s oil revenue exceeded the budget forecast for June and likely will for July, Helms said. But the state’s oil revenue will likely fall below what was forecasted for August, with prices for Bakken crude about 12 percent below what the state projected in its budget, he said.

“We’re going to end the biennium on a real positive, but that’s fading,” Helms said.

Natural gas production increased 1.2 percent to 1.65 billion cubic feet per day, a new all-time high, preliminary figures show. The percentage of gas flared decreased from 18 percent to 17 percent.

The state saw a shift in the percentage of crude oil hauled by rail in June, falling from 52 percent in May to 47 percent in June, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Between 600,000 and 630,000 barrels per day were transported by rail in May and June, the lowest since mid-2013, according to Kringstad’s figures. The state saw a peak in crude-by-rail volumes last December, with an estimated 817,000 to 847,000 that traveled by rail that month.

Kringstad attributes the drop in rail transportation to a shift in market prices plus the addition of the Double H Pipeline and the Dakota Prairie Refinery that together take up about 100,000 barrels per day.

Most oil trains that left North Dakota in May went to either the East Coast, which received about 59 percent of the oil shipments, or the West Coast, which received 21 percent, Kringstad said, using information from the Energy Information Administration.


North Dakota oil production

1st barrel of oil produced in April 1951

1 billionth barrel of oil produced in October 1989

2 billionth barrel of oil produced in November 2011

3 billionth barrel of oil produced in January 2015

4 billionth barrel of oil projected in 2018

Source: Department of Mineral Resources

Ethane pipeline project would feed Canadian demand

WILLISTON, N.D. – A proposed pipeline would send more ethane from the Bakken to Alberta’s petrochemical industry, adding value to North Dakota natural gas as the state works to reduce flaring.

Vantage Pipeline laid out its plans Thursday to the North Dakota Public Service Commission for a 47-mile pipeline that would transport liquid ethane in Williams and Divide counties.

The pipeline would start at Oneok Partners’ Stateline II gas processing plant near Williston and connect to the existing Vantage ethane pipeline system near the Canadian border, transporting 26,000 barrels per day.

Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann said he thinks the proposal is an exciting project because adding more value to natural gas could add more incentive to producers to capture gas that is currently being flared.

North Dakota produced more than 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas in May. Producers flared 18 percent of the gas that month.

Most ethane produced in North Dakota is blended with methane and consumed by homes and businesses, or it’s blended with other natural gas liquids and shipped out of state for further processing, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Separating the ethane from other natural gas liquids attracts a premium price for producers,  said Jason Wiun, vice president for conventional pipelines for Pembina, a Canadian company that acquired Vantage.

Oneok is spending an estimated $60 million to $80 million to construct de-ethanization towers at the Stateline facility to separate ethane on site, said spokeswoman Stephanie Higgins. The construction is expected to be complete in the second quarter of next year.

Higgins said the project is not expected to have a direct effect on flaring because it won’t enable the company to capture more natural gas produced at the wellhead.

Vantage has a long-term agreement to sell the ethane to Nova Chemicals in Alberta, where it’s used to produce plastics, rubber, detergents and other consumer products. Gas drilling has declined in Alberta, and the regional ethane supply is projected to fall short of the petrochemical industry’s demand, Wiun said.

“Imports from the Bakken formation and other shale plays are expected to supply the deficit over the next 20 years,” Wiun said.

Vantage currently transports 20,000 to 25,000 barrels per day of liquid ethane from the Hess gas processing plant in Tioga to Alberta. The proposed pipeline, which would connect with the existing Vantage line near Stady in Divide County, would be the only additional pipeline to transport pure ethane in North Dakota.

Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said she’d like to see North Dakota develop its own petrochemical industry.

Badlands NGL’s LLC and two partners announced plans last October for a $4 billion plant in North Dakota that would convert ethane gas into polyethylene for use in plastic products. In June, the company said it had yet to secure an ethane supply for the project.

“I’m hopeful long-term that there’s more ethane that stays in North Dakota, but I also understand there’s plenty of ethane, so there should be enough to go around,” Fedorchak said.

If the Public Service Commission approves the pipeline, construction could start as early as September. The company aims to put the pipeline into service in early 2016.

Commissioners said it was encouraging to see that Vantage has secured easements with 100 percent of landowners.

“Apparently they’re working pretty well with landowners,” Christmann said.

Commissioners pressed Vantage officials for details about reclamation and the company’s contingency plans if they are still doing construction during winter weather.

“With the magnitude of pipeline construction occurring in North Dakota, we have to do the reclamation right,” Fedorchak said.

Source of pipeline leak not detected for days

Cleanup is ongoing northwest of Crosby, N.D., on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, following a pipeline leak. Photo courtesy of Divide County Emergency Services

Cleanup is ongoing northwest of Crosby, N.D., on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, following a pipeline leak. Photo courtesy of Divide County Emergency Services

CROSBY, N.D. – The company that owns a saltwater pipeline that leaked last week in Divide County shut down its system after detecting a problem, but it took a few days before workers found the source of the leak.

Samson Resources discovered on Aug. 3 that the volume of produced water coming into its facility was lower than it should have been, prompting officials to shut down the system and begin looking for a leak.

Workers began walking along more than 20 miles of pipeline on Monday night, but it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon before they discovered the leak, according to Samson Resources.

The pipeline leak released 4,260 barrels, or 178,920 gallons, of produced water in a field about seven miles northwest of Crosby, killing soybeans and other vegetation.

The brine spill is the largest Divide County has had during the Bakken oil development, said Jody Gunlock, emergency services coordinator for the county. Gunlock said it was clear from the brown grass and other dead vegetation in the area that the pipeline had been leaking for days before it was discovered.

“This vegetation just didn’t die overnight. This was an ongoing leak that wasn’t getting detected,” Gunlock said.

Based on pump data, Samson Resources believes the leak began the morning of Aug. 2, according to a company representative.

“We have notified the appropriate regulatory authorities and landowners and are taking all appropriate action to address this situation,” Samson Resources said in a statement.

The company estimates the spill affected an area of 800 feet by 800 feet, according to a spill report filed with the North Dakota Department of Health, but work is ongoing to define how far the contamination spread.

There have been no impacts to surface water or groundwater, said Bill Suess of the health department’s Environmental Health Section.

Cleanup crews continue removing brine and contaminated soil from the area. They had removed about 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of brine by Monday and were removing about one foot of soil for disposal in a landfill, the health department said.

The extent of the cleanup required will depend on how deep the contamination spread, Suess said.

“I think there’s going to be some major excavation,” Gunlock said.

The cause of the leak remains under investigation. In addition to health officials, the Department of Mineral Resources has had inspectors at the site.

Half-built Bakken housing becomes an eyesore

The partially constructed Great American Lodge in Culbertson, Mont., pictured Friday, July 17, 2015, has been vacant since the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against developer North Dakota Developments in May. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

The partially constructed Great American Lodge in Culbertson, Mont., pictured Friday, July 17, 2015, has been vacant since the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against developer North Dakota Developments in May. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

CULBERTSON, Mont. – Weeds are growing around a partially constructed Bakken housing camp that is connected to an alleged Ponzi scheme, and officials in this northeastern Montana town would like it cleaned up.

Work on the Great American Lodge in Culbertson stopped in May after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against developer North Dakota Developments and its owners, alleging they defrauded investors for Bakken housing projects that were not finished.

Culbertson Mayor Gordon Oelkers said construction was about 80 percent complete on 130 units of the Great American Lodge, which was planned to be a 300-unit extended stay hotel geared for oilfield workers.

Crews were delivering mattresses and air conditioners to some of the units on the day the news broke that the lodge was connected to a $62 million Ponzi scheme, Oelkers said. The assets of the developers were frozen, work on the facility came to a halt and the site has become an eyesore.

“We have a half-done facility that can’t be occupied,” Oelkers said. “The weeds are growing and it’s looking real tough and it’s going to deteriorate real fast.”

City officials are talking to a receiver who’s been appointed to protect assets involved with the case about cleaning up the property.

Oelkers said he anticipates the units will eventually be sold “for pennies on the dollar” either to someone who wants to open it up or move the units elsewhere. But officials want to prevent the facility from deteriorating before it can be sold.

Gary Hansen, the appointed receiver, wrote in a status report filed in U.S. District Court that an independent appraisal is necessary before the facility can be sold. Hansen wrote that he’s contacted an appraiser familiar with crew camps in the Bakken to appraise the Culbertson lodge, as well as another Great American Lodge in northwest North Dakota between Watford City and Alexander.

Hansen also wrote that he’s arranged for people familiar with both properties to patrol the sites daily.

Some work on the North Dakota lodge was ongoing, but it was the only North Dakota Developments project to be partially operational, housing 160 people when it abruptly closed.

North Dakota Developments had committed to pay the city of Culbertson $100,000 for five years in an impact fee to offset the cost of the city’s sewer expansion project, but had not made any payments, Oelkers said. The city has submitted a claim for the money it was promised, but officials don’t expect to collect, Oelkers said.

Hansen wrote in his update that he’s identified liquid assets of $175,000.

Red flags started occurring with the development about a year ago, Oelkers said. Investors from Canada started calling the city to inquire about the status of construction and the developers brought in modular units that were poorer quality than they initially talked about, Oelkers said.

“About a year ago, things started to get questionable,” he said.

More victims of housing investment scam file suit against Bismarck firm

BISMARCK – A second class-action lawsuit alleges that a Bismarck law firm shares liability for a Bakken housing Ponzi scheme that cost investors $62 million.

The latest complaint against Pearce & Durick filed in U.S. District Court names about 10 plaintiffs from various countries and alleges that the firm actively assisted North Dakota Developments in offering unregistered securities to the public.

In May, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against North Dakota Developments and its owners, Robert L. Gavin and Daniel J. Hogan, alleging they had defrauded investors since 2012 for North Dakota oilfield housing projects that were never finished.

Pearce & Durick, the escrow agent for North Dakota Developments, distributed money from investors to developers according to stages outlined in an agreement.

The court complaint says the firm dispersed money early without verifying that the milestones, such as the manufacturing or installation of modular units, had been met.

“I think Pearce & Durick is fooling themselves if they think they have no liability,” said attorney Joshua Kons of Connecticut, one of the attorneys representing investors. “They were negligent, they breached their fiduciary duties and they definitely participated in these transactions.”

Richard Thomas, an Arden Hills, Minn., attorney representing the Bismarck firm, said the firm denies that it did anything improper.

“Pearce & Durick has been victimized by these same developers who were victimizing these investors,” Thomas said. “Everything that is alleged in the complaint results from the fact that developers were misleading us and misinforming us about the status of events, upon which we relied.”

The complaint names about 10 plaintiffs from countries including the United Kingdom and Australia, but Kons said the case could cover everyone who invested with North Dakota Developments.

Investigative records indicate 980 investors from 66 countries invested more than $62 million in North Dakota Developments, according to the North Dakota Securities Department.

“Many of these people were lured in through various online marketing websites and portals which touted the virtues of investing in these man camps and how they offered very high returns for low risk,” Kons said.

A separate class action complaint filed last month makes similar allegations but defines the plaintiffs as investors who paid legal fees to Pearce & Durick.

Thomas said it will be up to a judge to decide how to proceed with the two cases, but typically a judge would want the plaintiffs’ attorneys “to decide who’s going to sail the ship.”

“You can’t have two competing class actions at the same time. It doesn’t make any sense,” Thomas said.

Both cases are assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Erickson.

Keystone XL veto coming, sources tell N.D. senator

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Hoeven said Wednesday he’s been told by sources that President Barack Obama plans to veto the Keystone XL pipeline after Congress goes into recess in August.

Obama’s previous strategy had been to defeat the Keystone XL through endless delays, said Hoeven, R-N.D., but now a decision is anticipated before the end of his term.

“That changed here recently and the people we’ve been talking to indicate he’ll actually turn the project down in August after we go into recess,” Hoeven said in an interview with Forum News Service. “It’s an opportunity for him to do it more under the radar.”

Hoeven, who talked about the president’s anticipated veto on the Senate floor this week, said the issue has received a lot of reaction, particularly because the development comes at a time when Obama is proposing to lift sanctions on Iran.

“So in essence he’s making it easier for Iran to produce more oil and he’s making it harder for us to produce oil here in the United States and harder for our allies in Canada,” Hoeven said. “It’s raised a very valid, broader issue of not just energy security but how the administration treats our allies and how it treats our opponents.”

A decision on whether to approve TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL has been delayed for more than six years. The proposed pipeline would connect Canada’s oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, with an on-ramp in Baker, Mont., to also transport Bakken crude. The pipeline requires federal approval because it crosses an international border.

Hoeven said if Obama vetoes the pipeline, he’d work to attach the Keystone XL to other energy legislation this fall.

The White House on Wednesday declined to provide an update on the review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, saying the U.S. State Department was handling that process, Reuters reported.

Also Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Bloomberg Television he was not hopeful that Obama would approve the northern leg of Keystone XL pipeline.

“A positive decision has not been rendered for a very long time and that’s obviously not a hopeful sign,” Harper said, referring to what he called “the very peculiar politics of this particular administration.”

Harper also said if Obama does veto the project, he’s confident a future U.S. administration would grant approval.

Oil company gives $5 million for housing

Tim McIlwain, senior vice president of XTO Energy, announces a $5 million contribution to the Housing Incentive Fund on Monday, July 27, 2015, in Williston, N.D. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Jolene Kline, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, also participated in the event. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

Tim McIlwain, senior vice president of XTO Energy, announces a $5 million contribution to the Housing Incentive Fund on Monday, July 27, 2015, in Williston, N.D. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Jolene Kline, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, also participated in the event. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – XTO Energy announced Monday a $5 million donation that will help provide affordable housing for teachers, police and other essential personnel in three of the state’s busiest oil communities.

The oil company’s contribution to North Dakota’s Housing Incentive Fund will support four housing projects in Williston, Watford City and Killdeer. Half of the 287 multi-family units are targeted for low-income residents or employees of cities, counties, medical facilities, school districts or law enforcement.

XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil with more than 100 employees in North Dakota, selected which housing projects would receive the funds.

“This initiative will provide housing assistance where it’s needed most,” Tim McIlwain, senior vice president for XTO, said Monday during a check presentation in Williston.

XTO is now the largest contributor to the Housing Incentive Fund, a program created in the 2011 legislative session that provides low-cost financing to developers of affordable multi-family housing. Individuals and businesses who contribute to the fund receive a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who attended the event Monday, noted that the communities receiving the funds are some of the fastest growing in the nation.

“You can’t keep up with that pace of growth unless you make it possible for people to stay in their community, continue to live there, even if they’re not making a high salary thanks to our boom in oil and gas,” Dalrymple said.

In Watford City, there continues to be a shortage of affordable housing for teachers, said Katie Walters, property manager of the Wolf Run Village II project, one of the projects benefiting from the funds.

Walters said monthly rent of $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment is the most affordable permanent housing she’s aware of in Watford City.

“Rent is starting to come down a little bit, but it’s still out of reach for essential workers,” Walters said.

Affordable housing continues to be key for recruiting firefighters and paramedics to Williston, said Williston Fire Chief Jason Catrambone. One of his employees recently moved into a housing unit supported by a previous Housing Incentive Fund grant, he said.

Legislators authorized $30 million in income tax credits for the fund for the 2015-17 biennium.

To date, $10.7 million has been raised, said Jolene Kline, executive director for the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, which administers the fund.

The funds from XTO will support four townhomes in Killdeer, all for city employees. The other projects selected are Wolf Run Village II, 20 units, Watford City Apartments, 77 units, and Williston Station Apartments, 186 units.

The proposed monthly rents for the projects range from $375 for low-income residents to between $900 and $1,575 for essential workers, Kline said. The projects have a 15-year rent restriction, so residents of the affordable units will have stable prices, she said. Other units in the building will be market rents.

Faces of the Boom: Social worker out to fill gaps in Oil Patch care

Skye Albert, pictured Friday, July 24, 2015, in Crosby, N.D., works as a social worker for Divide County. Albert is a recent University of North Dakota graduate who benefited from a grant program that aims to alleviate the need for child welfare workers in the Oil Patch. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

Skye Albert, pictured Friday, July 24, 2015, in Crosby, N.D., works as a social worker for Divide County. Albert is a recent University of North Dakota graduate who benefited from a grant program that aims to alleviate the need for child welfare workers in the Oil Patch. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

CROSBY, N.D. – A recent University of North Dakota graduate is helping fill a shortage of social workers in the Oil Patch, and now she hopes other students will join her.

Skye Albert, who works as a social worker in Divide County, is the first UND graduate to benefit from a grant program designed to fill a need for child welfare workers in oil-producing counties.

Albert, who has lived in Crosby for more than one year, enjoys the variety she gets working for a rural agency.

“It’s nice because going in I knew I was going to be able to do everything,” said Albert, 23, a native of Wyoming. “I’m going to walk away from this job with so much experience.”

Oil development has fueled rapid population growth in western North Dakota, but many communities have struggled to recruit and retain enough social workers to assist with the rising caseload.

Sam Pulvermacher, director of social services for Divide County, had been the sole social worker in the county for about a year when Albert was hired.

“That was chaotic,” Pulvermacher said.

Now the agency has more resources, including someone who took over Divide County’s child-protective services cases along with cases in two other neighboring counties.

But the region continues to have a shortage of social workers, which is what the grant program aims to alleviate, said Carenlee Barkdull, chairwoman of UND’s social work department.

“We’re hoping to help make a dent,” Barkdull said.

The $735,000 grant, awarded by the U.S. Children’s Bureau, helped Albert pay for her education and provided her a stipend during her internship with Divide County.

Students who are selected to be part of the program through a competitive process commit to work in oil-impacted or underserved counties for at least one year. The highest-priority communities are Divide, Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail, Stark, Ward and Williams counties, along with the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

In addition to Albert, there are 10 students in the program now, with a goal of placing 18 to 22 students in western North Dakota through the life of the five-year grant, Barkdull said.

“The response has been great,” Barkdull said. “The students have been stellar, highly qualified, highly committed.”

As the first graduate of the program, Albert is now being tapped to help develop a mentorship program to support other graduates.

One of the challenges Albert sees working in a rural area is a lack of services in the immediate area. For example, Crosby didn’t have therapy services when she first started her job, other than someone who drove from Williston once a week.

For people with addiction issues, they need to travel to Williston or Minot to get an evaluation, and it can sometimes take months to get through the wait list, Albert said.

“It seems like everything you’re asking families to travel for. The expense of that alone, it’s kind of unrealistic,” Albert said. “We have to think outside the box. What can we do instead of that?”

The students need to be prepared for the challenges they may face working in rural communities, Barkdull said.

For Albert, getting involved in the local community was key to adjusting to her new life in Crosby. She helped plan the county fair as a member of the fair board and joined the volunteer fire department.

“She really does exemplify the kind of spirit we want to see in our students, wanting to make a difference,” Barkdull said.