Faces of the Boom: Owner of Fargo business sees Oil Patch expansion

FARGO — Carol Rogne’s business is based in Fargo, but its growing customer base is in North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

DFC Consultants, which Rogne founded in Dickinson 24 years ago, offers business software and other services.

Rogne, a Dickinson native, moved the main corporate office to Fargo, but in the past few years she’s watched more and more of her business shift to her home region.

New and expanding companies, particularly oilfield service companies, find that they need more sophisticated software to keep up with the accounting or to track service calls and materials, she said.

Companies also need to be able to compile that information quickly so they can provide an invoice to customers.

“Everything is just so quick-paced out there,” Rogne said.

DFC Consultants, a Microsoft partner, provides the software solutions, as well as installing it and training staff how to use it.

The company also does some accounting and payroll work, particularly for businesses that don’t have enough staff to keep up with it themselves.

“Most of them are expanding much faster than they anticipated,” Rogne said.

In some cases, DFC Consultants will provide cloud accounting so smaller oilfield offices don’t need a computer server.

Other customers are housing entities such as man camps and non-oil-related businesses that are growing as a result of the population influx.

DFC Consultants now has a salesperson dedicated to western North Dakota, and teams will often travel to the Oil Patch for programming or training.

The business has an office in Dickinson, but additional staff who have been added in recent years to keep up with the new customers have primarily been in Fargo, Rogne said.

“It’s difficult to hire people if they’re not already there (Dickinson) because of the high price of housing,” Rogne said.

Oil company fined $1.5 million for disposal violation

By TJ Jerke and Amy Dalrymple
Forum News Service

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Industrial Commission levied $1.5 million in fines against an oil and gas operator Tuesday for violations that put a county’s drinking water at risk, the largest civil penalty the commission has ever issued.

The company, Halek Operating ND LLC, was accused of injecting saltwater into a Stark County disposal well after being told to stop because the site was not up to state standards.

Although water sources have not been contaminated, the risk of contamination still exists, administrative law judge Allen Hoberg wrote in his recommendation that was approved by commission members.

The fine represents the maximum penalty the commission could have imposed. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who serves on the Industrial Commission with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, said the fine aims to send a message.

“It should never be cheaper to cut corners than it is to abide by the rules and this fine will assure that’s exactly what happens,” Stenehjem said.

Saltwater is a waste product from oil production. The state has regulations for how to dispose of it properly.

Halek admitted the allegations in court records, but said the company had transferred ownership and was not in control of the well at the time of the most egregious allegations.

The injections occurred between December 2011 through February 2012. Attorneys for Halek say in court briefs the company sold ownership of the well on Jan. 23, 2012, to a company called Executive Drilling.

Attorneys for Halek issued this statement Tuesday: “Halek Operating has not received the formal order from the Industrial Commission.  When it does, it will be able to consider its options.”

In his findings, Hoberg said Halek knew the transfer of ownership had not been approved and was the bonded operator of the well at the time and was responsible for the well until the transfer was approved.

Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, has called this most significant environmental case involving an oil and gas operator.

It also was the first time the commission pursued criminal charges against an operator.

Nathan Garber, president of Executive Drilling, who is accused of directing another company to modify the well site to mislead state inspectors, faces a criminal charge in Stark County. He is charged with violating rules and regulations of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, a Class C felony. His next court appearance is set for Aug. 13 and a jury trial is anticipated in early September.

This is the second penalty the Industrial Commission has issued for Halek. The company also was fined in 2011 for improperly cleaning up an oil spill near Dickinson.

Ambulance services hurting in the Oil Patch

Matt Miller, a paramedic with the Dickinson Ambulance Service, checks an oxygen tank on Thursday, July 18, 2013. The 21-year-old was transferred from Sisseton, S.D., because of staffing concerns in Dickinson. Dustin Monke / Forum News Service

PARSHALL, N.D. – Ambulance volunteers in western North Dakota are so stressed they can’t leave for a weekend because there’s no one to cover for them, said the director of an Oil Patch ambulance service.

Four southwestern North Dakota ambulance services formed a nonprofit group and are seeking grant funding to hire part-time staff to fill in scheduling gaps.

“The volunteers are so active and putting in so much they really need some relief,” said Lynn Hartman, administrative director for Dickinson Area Ambulance.

Emergency services in the Oil Patch were highlighted Thursday during a meeting of the Vision West Consortium in Parshall. Community leaders of 19 western North Dakota counties are working together to address challenges that come with rapid growth.

Ambulance calls have increased nearly 60 percent since 2006 in oil-impacted areas, compared with 5 percent in the rest of the state, said Tom Nehring, director of the Division of Emergency Medical Services & Trauma for the North Dakota Department of Health.

Of the 44 ambulance services in oil-producing counties, three have paid staff and the rest have volunteers or have some partially paid staff, Nehring said.

“We’re putting a huge burden on the backs of the volunteers,” said Nehring, adding that employers are becoming reluctant to allow staff to be on call.

Dickinson’s ambulance service, which has paid staff, teamed up with volunteer departments of New England, Mott and Regent to form the nonprofit Rural EMS Assistance Inc., a pilot project to address staffing shortages.

The North Dakota Department of Health supports the public-private partnership, Nehring said.

“This is one we’re watching to see if we can use and replicate this across the state,” he said.

The North Dakota Legislature recently approved $7.34 million to support rural emergency medical services across the state, $14.5 million for fire protection districts across the state and $1 million for local public health units.

Another $7 million is available in energy impact grants for emergency services. But the Board of University and School Lands is reluctant to use that one-time money for staffing, which is the biggest concern for emergency services, Nehring said.

In the 2012 energy impact grant round, $2 million was available for emergency services and communities submitted $44 million in requests, Nehring said.

More oil workers expected in ND to catch up on fracking this summer

A hydraulic fracturing crew works on an oil well in Mountrail County, N.D., on June 11, 2013. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

BISMARCK – More temporary oil workers are expected in Williston, Dickinson and Minot this summer to catch up on a backlog of wells that need hydraulic fracturing, North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator said Monday.

Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said drilling crews are outpacing well completion crews. At the end of May, an estimated 500 oil wells were waiting on fracking crews.

North Dakota oil production rose 2.1 percent in May to set an all-time high of 810,129 barrels per day, according to preliminary numbers from the department.

“We finally broke through that 800,000 barrel-a-day barrier,” Helms said.

Production increases are expected to be more substantial this summer as oil service companies bring in additional workers and equipment to catch up on the backlog, Helms said. They’ll likely put pressure on housing in the three hub cities in the Bakken where the companies have headquarters, he said.

Companies are taking an average of 22 days to drill a new oil well, but the length of time to complete the well and bring it on production has increased to 92 days, Helms said.

North Dakota had the wettest May on record, which prompted restrictions on some roads to last longer than usual, making it difficult to move heavy equipment, sand and water used for hydraulic fracturing, Helms said.

Some companies are refocusing their workforce to add more well-completion personnel in North Dakota instead of drilling crews, Helms said.

The percentage of North Dakota crude oil transported by rail fell from 75 percent to 69 percent in May, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

The change resulted from a shift in market prices, which prompted more oil to be transported by pipeline, Kringstad said.

North Dakota officials are monitoring the investigation of the train carrying Bakken crude that derailed in Quebec.

“Continued shipment by rail is critical to continued development and production growth of North Dakota,” Helms said. “Without it, price differentials and lower prices would have a big negative impact on what’s happening in the Bakken and Three Forks.”

The price of sweet crude was $97 per barrel on Monday, up from an average of $85 to $87 in previous months. Helms attributes the increase to unrest in Egypt.

North Dakota natural gas production rose 4.5 percent in May to 899,977 thousand cubic feet per day, also an all-time high.

The percent of natural gas flared in May remained at 29 percent. The all-time high was 36 percent in September 2011.

Faces of the Boom: Seamstress in high demand for oilfield alterations

Virginia Wock, owner of alterations business The Perfect Fit, holds a pair of oilfield coveralls in need of repair on Thursday, June 27, 2013, at her shop in Dickinson, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

DICKINSON, N.D. – Next to wedding gowns waiting for alterations, seamstress Virginia Wock has 10 bags of oilfield clothing in need of repairs.

The owner of alterations business The Perfect Fit in Dickinson is in demand to alter and repair fire-resistant clothing for workers who come to North Dakota from all over the country.

“I’m close to 40 states just off the top of my head,” said Wock, 66.

The fire-resistant coveralls that are required for oilfield workers typically come too long – sometimes as much as 12 inches, she said. Oil companies and individual workers come to Wock, in the back of the Dakota Sew & So fabric shop, for help.

“You don’t want to be tripping in the oilfield,” Wock said.

Wock, who has been sewing for 58 years and has done it as a business for the past 14, also puts zippers into pant legs so they fit over boots and patches the FR clothing when it rips.

“They’re so expensive they have to make them go as far as they can,” Wock said.

Wock often works at least 60 hours a week to keep up with the oilfield clothing in addition to her traditional customers. She once hemmed at least nine pairs of coveralls on a Saturday so the workers could begin training on Sunday.

Lately, Wock notices less turnover with the oilfield workers, and she does most of her work between seasons. After she gets caught up with wedding customers, she has bags of insulated oilfield clothing to repair before it gets cold again.

“If you’re out working in the cold, you deserve to be warm,” she said.

People have told Wock to triple her prices for oilfield workers, but she still charges $9.50 to shorten a pair of coveralls – the same price she charged to farmers 10 years ago.

Starting in August, Dakota Sew & So will sell the store’s own design of fire-resistant pants that truck drivers can easily pull on over their clothing when they get to job sites instead of worrying about coveralls, Wock said.

Many workers leave Wock with a cellphone number from Idaho, the state she lived in before moving to North Dakota “only 47 years ago,” she says. The other two states she sees most often are Michigan and Minnesota.

While Wock said she’s glad those workers have a place to go to support their families, she feels bad that they have to be so far away from their loved ones.

“You shouldn’t have to be uprooted like that for a job,” she said.

Faces of the Boom: Dickinson woman proud to return to N.D. oil industry

Erin Wanner, a land professional for Whiting Oil and Gas in Dickinson, N.D., is pictured Tuesday, June 11, 2013, at the company’s office near New Town, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

NEW TOWN, N.D. — Erin Wanner grew up in a family that owned an oil service company, but she never thought about the industry as a career option for herself.

That all changed after the Dickinson native earned a master’s degree in business and the best job she could find was managing a Walgreens.

“That was the only choice I had. There were not jobs,” said Wanner, who was working in Dallas at the time. “And I had a master’s degree and it was really disappointing.”

In 2005, Wanner decided to return to North Dakota and work with the company owned by her father and uncle, now known as MBI Energy Services.

That led her to opportunities with other oil companies in North Dakota. She began as a landman, pulling deeds at the courthouse and doing title research. After gaining experience with mineral rights, Wanner began working with landowners to negotiate surface use agreements to drill for oil on their land.

Wanner now works as a land professional for Whiting Oil and Gas in Dickinson, overseeing surface operations in North Dakota and eastern Montana. That includes working with landowners and helping implement a program to control dust on gravel roads near the oil activity.

“We work really hard to be a good neighbor and do whatever we can as far as the roads and the fences and all those sort of things to do the right thing,” she said.

Wanner, a graduate of Trinity High School in Dickinson and Dickinson State University, spoke last week to a teacher education seminar at Whiting’s offices near New Town. She encourages other women to consider the oil industry as a career option.

“People need to realize that there’s not just working a shovel or working a wrench in the oilfield,” Wanner said. “There’s every aspect of every industry, there’s finance, marketing, IT.”

While many jobs in the oilfield require long hours and rotating shifts, Wanner said her job allows her to work Monday through Friday. She also has enough free time to participate in rodeos and coach high school girls’ basketball.

Although she didn’t expect to wind up in North Dakota’s oil industry, she said she’s now proud to be a part of it.

“The whole world is watching at this point and to be a part of it, it’s really exciting,” Wanner said.

Oil companies continue Pick Up the Patch campaign

Volunteers clean up a ditch near Dickinson, N.D., this spring. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Petroleum Council

TIOGA, N.D. — Volunteers from oil and gas companies will clean up litter from roadways in Tioga today, continuing the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s Pick Up the Patch initiative that has already involved 500 employees this spring.

Dozens of energy companies have helped pick up more than 900 bags of trash and clean 20 miles of roadway in western North Dakota during the past four weeks. Cleanup efforts have been held in New Town, Williston and Dickinson.

Today’s event focuses on the Tioga area and an event Friday focuses on the Minot area.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council launched the campaign last spring to clean up debris left behind after the snow melted. Last year, more than 70 companies and 1,000 volunteers picked up more than 200 miles of roadways.

Demand for library services increases as Oil Patch population grows

Patrons use the Williston Community Library on Saturday, April 13, 2013. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – The oil boom has prompted demand for library services here to quadruple, and the Williston Community Library is changing to meet the needs of its new population.

Job-seekers and oil boom workers often stand outside waiting for the Williston Community Library to open.

They come to use the computers or free wireless Internet to apply for jobs online, update resumes or email loved ones back home. At peak times, the patrons – primarily men – fill nearly every seat in the library.

Library Director Debbie Slais said the spike in demand for services has been stressful on staff, but they’ve made some changes to better keep up.

“It’s been quite a wild ride,” Slais said.

Some employees live in city-subsidized apartments, which has helped the library retain staff, Slais said.

The library added more computers and put strict time limits on computer usage to allow everyone an opportunity. Slais has noticed that many workers save up their money and the first thing they buy is a laptop to access the Internet.

The Dickinson Area Public Library has seen a similar increase in demand, with oilfield workers using the library’s Internet for everything from job searches to taking online safety courses, said Assistant Director Tina Kuntz.

The library has added some part-time staff to help keep up with the demand, Kuntz said.

At the McKenzie County Public Library in Watford city, it’s not uncommon for every table to be full.

Earlier this year, Nate Jeffries, a public works employee for Watford City, had to sit at the kids’ table because no other chairs were available. Jeffries, who moved to North Dakota from Colorado, uses the library for its free wireless Internet in his free time.

Brent Siu, who moved from Tennessee to Williston earlier this month, is one of the library’s frequent Internet users.

Siu, a truck driver, lives in a camper about 30 miles outside of town with limited cellphone reception and no running water. He spent one Saturday at the library video chatting with a friend.

“There’s nothing else to do in town,” Siu said.

Workers also frequently use the libraries to send faxes, make copies or scan documents.

“Our front service counter is just busy all the time,” Slais said.

In March, 1,600 people used the Williston library’s computers and 3,100 people accessed the library’s wireless Internet. The same individual could be counted more than once.

In both Williston and Dickinson, new families who have moved to the communities are getting library cards and using the services.

The Williston library now offers six story hours each week, up from one each week before the oil boom. The story hours are especially important for families that can’t find day care in Williston, Slais said.

“It’s a really good place for these new mothers and new kids to come and meet people,” Slais said.

The Williston library also is seeing a need for materials in Spanish and is ordering bilingual books and a bilingual learning station for elementary students. Circulation for the bookmobile is up throughout Williams County, with some rural schools depending on the bookmobile to help serve their growing enrollments, Slais said.

But one aspect of the library hasn’t increased much – its budget. The library’s revenue is based on property taxes, but so far the new housing being built hasn’t had much of an effect on the library’s budget, which is about $500,000 for this year, Slais said.

“Our income doesn’t rise in proportion to what our expenses are,” Slais said.

The library is usually open seven day a week but will be closed on Saturdays starting Memorial Day weekend and through the summer. Slais said she often gets asked why.

“I don’t have the money to do that,” she said.

The library in Dickinson also gets requests to stay open longer, Kuntz said. But the facility is already open 68 hours per week.

“We’re trying to accommodate everyone, but we can’t be open 24/7,” Kuntz said.

Highway 85 enforcement nets 125 citations

DICKINSON, N.D. – A law enforcement saturation on U.S. Highway 85 in southwest North Dakota on Sunday resulted in 125 citations.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Billings County Sheriff’s Office conducted patrols Sunday in an effort to increase traffic safety on busy two-lane roads in western North Dakota.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Daniel Haugen said troopers said Sunday brings an increase in traffic to Highway 85 due to people returning to work.

The 125 citations were primarily for speeding and came from Bowman, Slope, Stark and Billings counties, Haugen said.

The effort also resulted in two arrests for driving with a suspended license, one arrest for driving without insurance and 34 warnings.

The saturation aimed to reduce traffic crashes and accident-causing violations.

Faces of the Boom: For Minnesota-based contractor, N.D. feels ‘almost like family’

Tony Godlewski, vice president of Shingobee Builders of Minnesota, pictured Wednesday, April 17, 2013, stands in front of an iconic building in Crosby, N.D., the company restored. Photo Special to Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – As a general contractor, Tony Godlewski likes to hear the sound of hammers seven days a week.

But when building activity slowed in his home base of Minnesota, competition for projects became cutthroat and profit margins declined.

“We were all trying to hang on and scrapping for work,” Godlewski said.

Godlewski, senior project manager for Shingobee Builders, decided about three years ago to take a trip to check out North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

The company embraced the idea of bidding some work in northwest North Dakota, and the contractor has been active in the Bakken ever since.

Godlewski has an apartment in Williston and travels from his home of St Michael, Minn., every two weeks to oversee construction projects.

“After three years, I still get excited about coming out here,” Godlewski said.

Shingobee Builders, based in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Minn., is a medium-sized general contractor that operates in a five-state region. The firm has 18 superintendents in charge of building projects and last year seven of them were based in North Dakota, Godlewski said.

The company’s first project in the Bakken was the addition and expansion of St. Luke’s Hospital in Crosby, which the builders finished 10 months early, Godlewski said.

The firm also recently completed the Roosevelt Inn & Suites in Watford City, the McDonald’s restaurant and Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative warehouse in Williston, and the addition and remodeling project for the Western Cooperative Credit Union headquarters in Dickinson.

One of Godlewski’s favorite projects was saving a former bank building that is iconic in downtown Crosby and renovating it into to a four-unit apartment building with a Verizon Wireless retail outlet on the lower level.

Among the firm’s next projects is the public works facility for the city of Dickinson.

Godlewski recently became vice president of the company, but made sure he can continue working in North Dakota. Part of what keeps him coming back to the state is working with the local officials.

“It’s almost like family,” Godlewski said.