German artist captures the Bakken

Self-portrait by Andy Scholz in Minot, N.D., on Aug. 15, 2013

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — A German photographer is capturing the Bakken through an artist’s eyes.

Andy Scholz, an art photography faculty member from Regensburg University in Germany, is spending several weeks in North Dakota working on a project about the oil boom.

The project is a cultural exchange funded by the German Consulate.

In addition to showing his work in Germany, Scholz will have an exhibition at The Rourke Art Gallery Museum in Moorhead, Minn., in fall of 2014.

Scholz said he has a friend in Fargo and he’s long wanted to visit North Dakota. His interest grew after hearing about the state’s oil boom.

“I read about it and I thought, ‘I have to go there,’” he said.

Scholz, who describes his style of art photography as minimalistic, is not interested in touristic photos or well-known views of oil country.

Instead, he focuses more on architecture or objects, such as a stack of drill pipe, a row of workforce housing or steel wires holding up a structure.

“I think like a sculptor, look like a painter and do pictures like a filmmaker,” Scholz said.

Pipeyard near Dickinson, N.D., pictured Aug. 13, 2013. Photo by Andy Scholz

Scholz spent two weeks and drove thousands of miles in the Bakken, including going all the way around Lake Sakakawea twice. He said he expected to see drilling activity more concentrated but instead was surprised to see such wide open spaces.

His project, which has a working title of “The Luckiest Place on Earth: Oil in North Dakota,” also will incorporate film and sound, Scholz said.

Scholz is in Fargo-Moorhead this week and will give lectures at The Rourke Art Gallery Museum today and North Dakota State University on Friday. His talk at NDSU is part of the Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture lecture series and will focus on his work in Europe, as well as the North Dakota project.

Scholz said he’s grateful for members of several North Dakota Rotary clubs who have hosted him. Staying with families allowed him to learn more about the Bakken, as well as eat his first bison steak, he said.

“I’m deeper in it and that’s what I wanted,” Scholz said.

Oil boom schools: Williston adds 350 students; Watford up 160

Librarian Diane Luttschwager reads to a class at Hagan Elementary School in Williston, N.D., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, on the first day of school. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Schools in the booming towns of Williston and Watford City welcomed hundreds of new students Monday.

Early enrollment estimates in Williston show a student body of about 3,150, an increase of about 350 students since the school year ended last May, said Superintendent Viola LaFontaine.

Much of the growth is in the elementary grades because many families moving to North Dakota’s Oil Patch tend to have young children. Williston now has about 300 students in 15 sections of Kindergarten.

Enrollment numbers are expected to go up and down throughout the year as many families move in and out of the community, LaFontaine said.

McKenzie County School District opened a new elementary school this fall and it’s already full, said Superintendent Steve Holen.

“We’re using every classroom we built to the max,” Holen said.

McKenzie County had 1,027 students on its first day of school Monday, up 162 students or nearly 19 percent more students than the district ended with last May.

“These numbers are still probably in flux,” Holen said.

Officials in Watford City are already beginning to plan for another building. A study projects that the school will have 1,622 students by the 2017-18 school year, and this year’s numbers are ahead of those projections, Holen said.

The district hired 20 teachers, counselors and other staff members, Holen said.

In Williston, the district hired 39 teachers to fill several positions left vacant by retirements, as well as new positions.

Williston Public Schools, which had prepared for a larger influx of students a year ago, accommodates the growing enrollment by renting 32 modular classrooms. The district also reopened McVay Elementary last fall, a school that had been closed for more than a decade due to declining enrollment.

The district has aimed to bring on additional classrooms to prevent class sizes from getting too large, LaFontaine said. The largest elementary classes this year are some sections of fourth through sixth grades with 25 students, she said.

“We wouldn’t want to go larger than 25,” LaFontaine said.

In Stanley, the district has 616 students this year, said Superintendent Tim Holte. The district ended last school year with 575 students.

Stanley recently added more elementary and high school classrooms to accommodate the additional students, Holte said.

Faces of the Boom: A match made in the Oil Patch

Chris Kamph, left, and Amanda Propper, pictured Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, in Williston, N.D., met in North Dakota on a blind date and will be married in Williston this week. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Amanda Propper was so nervous for her first date in North Dakota, she had her friends wait across the street.

“I didn’t want to go. I hadn’t dated anybody up here,” said Propper, who moved from Georgia to Watford City about 1½ years ago. “That wasn’t in the plan. I didn’t want to date, I just worked.”

But the 36-year-old found she had much in common with Chris Kamph, an oilfield electrician from Idaho she met through a mutual friend.

Both have teenage children from previous marriages and moved to North Dakota’s Oil Patch to pursue high-paying job opportunities.

Ever since that blind date in Watford City last November, the two have been practically inseparable. They will be married on Saturday at Williston’s Spring Lake Park.

“We’re blessed, we really are,” Propper said.

Kamph, 34, who has worked in Williston since 2008, is an electrical foreman for Precision Drilling. He works about 80 hours a week to monitor 10 drilling rigs in the Bakken, in addition to being on call once a month to respond to issues that arise at the company’s 128 rigs across the country.

Kamph said he’s grateful for the job opportunities in North Dakota.

“They’re wonderful,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity here to get a good head start in life.”

Propper’s brother worked as a welder in Watford City and recruited her to work as a welder helper. Propper, who had done welding work in her early 20s, initially said she was too old to do that again.

Then she learned the month-long job would pay $10,000.

“I said, ‘Maybe I’m not too old,’” Propper recalled.

That month led Propper to a position working in the office of the company, Saddle Butte Pipeline. She enjoyed it, but after meeting Kamph, she was always driving back and forth from Watford City to Williston.

Propper, who had never seen snow before moving to North Dakota, decided driving on U.S. Highway 85 during the winter was too tough, and she moved to Williston in January. She now works part-time managing the Williston Senior Apartments and plans to go back to school to pursue a nursing degree.

Kamph has two children and Propper has three, ages 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18. All five will live in Williston.

“It’s like we’re the Brady Bunch,” Propper said.

Finding a house in Williston, especially one big enough for the whole family, was challenging. For a few months, six of the family members lived in a three-bedroom condo. But even in the tight space, the two families blended well together.

“Our children really got along. That was amazing,” Propper said. “A family that united well, that’s for sure.”

They moved into a new house a few months ago and recently finished the basement so everyone will have a bedroom. The family plans to live in Williston for several years, likely long enough for the kids to finish high school. The couple says they’d eventually like to move to the Oregon coast, where they plan to take their honeymoon.

Family members are flying in from around the country to attend Saturday’s wedding. Propper plans to sing the Etta James hit “At Last” during the ceremony.

“She’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever met,” Kamph said.

Postmaster general promises improvements in the Oil Patch

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser, from left, talks to Sen. John Hoeven, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and Postal Service District Manager Roy Reynolds on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, in Williston, N.D., during a roundtable discussion about postal service in the Oil Patch. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe toured North Dakota’s Oil Patch Wednesday and pledged to improve service to the rapidly growing area.

“I’m sorry this has taken so long, but we will get this stuff resolved,” Donohoe told community leaders during a roundtable meeting in Williston.

Residents of Williston and surrounding communities told Donohoe about inadequate post office facilities, mail that’s delayed or never arrives, and waiting in line for hours to pick up a package.

As Donohoe heard the concerns, he often said “We’ll take care of it” as his staff quickly took notes on his directives.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., hosted Donohoe in Williston to see the growth and the mail delivery challenges firsthand. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., also recently met with Donohoe with concerns about delivery to oil field housing units.

In Williston, Donohoe said the post office will add a station in the north side of town with post office boxes, an automated postal center and other services to take the pressure off the downtown post office.

Donohoe said he’ll send his vice president of facilities to North Dakota and have every Oil Patch post office surveyed in the next two weeks to better understand the needs and each area’s population growth.

Watford City’s post office, which is not much bigger than the meeting room where Wednesday’s discussion was held, was the perfect size for a community of about 1,500 people, said McKenzie County Farmer Publisher Neal Shipman.

But now that the city has grown to an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people, the post office is too small and has no room to grow, said Shipman, one of the roundtable participants. With many new residents receiving mail “general delivery,” it forces thousands of people to stand in line at the post office window to get their mail, he said.

“It is a massive problem,” Shipman said.

Reino Rousu, who manages 168 apartments in Watford City that house employees of Nuverra Environmental Solutions, formerly Power Fuels, said the postal service considers the apartments to be similar to college dormitories and will not deliver their mail.

However, in nearly two years, Rousu said residents of only two units have moved out and the rest have been long-time tenants.

Donohoe said as long as the workers are not coming and going every few weeks, they should be able to receive mail through clustered mailboxes.

“If they’re permanent residents, we’ll take care of it,” Donohoe said

Business and community leaders told Donohoe they’ve had to provide affordable housing for employees in order to retain staff.

“You have to think outside the box and do things necessary to continue to provide service,” said Williston Mayor Koeser, adding that it’s likely more difficult to do that on a federal level.

Donohoe said he doesn’t think the postal service could assist employees with housing, but salaries in the Bakken could potentially be bumped up, similar to how the service pays employees in Hawaii and Alaska.

“We’ll take a look here because it’s very unique,” Donohoe said.

The postal service has added more career-level carriers in northwest North Dakota to improve hiring.

Roy Reynolds, district manager for the Dakotas, said Williston is the only place in the country that had 10 career-level city carriers added in January, with even more staff being added.

Donohoe said he’ll be back in North Dakota to review the improvements that have been made.

“Do not worry. From afar, I will be keeping very close tabs on this,” Donohoe said.

Koeser and others complimented the postal service staff and said they work long hours to provide service.

“The people who work here, especially the people who work at the counter, are marvelous,” Koeser said. “You may wait in line a long time, but those ladies smile. I don’t know how they do it.”

Recycling fracking water could be a ‘game-changer’ in N.D.

Chad Monger, right, and Walter Dale, both with Halliburton, explain advancements in technology that can allow oil companies to recycle water used for hydraulic fracturing on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Watford City, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The technology is now available to allow oil companies to recycle water used for hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota, industry representatives said Tuesday.

But implementing that technology in the Bakken will take time as operators adjust to the new methods and regulators respond with new permitting rules.

Oil service companies Halliburton and Nuverra Environmental Services held an event in Watford City Tuesday for industry leaders to learn more about a new system that could reduce the amount of fresh water being used for oil production in North Dakota.

The oil industry used about 5.5 billion gallons of fresh water in North Dakota in 2012, according to the North Dakota State Water Commission.

In recent years, Halliburton told its customers that hydraulic fracturing required fresh water, said Walter Dale, strategic business manager for water management solutions.

But technology advancements have changed that, and Halliburton is now promoting a system it says can reuse water that is injected into deep underground formations in North Dakota.

The system can reduce the fresh water usage, reduce truck traffic and reduce disposal costs, providing environmental benefits and saving operators an estimated $100,000 to $400,000 per well, Dale said.

“It just makes sense,” Dale said.

In fracking, the fresh water is mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped at high pressures into the underground formation to extract oil and gas. Some of that water returns to the surface and must be pumped into disposal wells constructed to ensure the waste does not contaminate drinking water sources.

Companies also use a similar injection process to dispose what is known as produced water, which comes up with the oil and has a high salinity content.

Recycling the water would cut down the amount of wastewater that will need to be disposed.

Nuverra, formerly Power Fuels, is partnering with Halliburton to handle the logistics of implementing the technology.

“We believe this is a significant game-changer,” said Mark Johnsrud, CEO of Nuverra. “We think this has a long-term, meaningful impact to the industry.

As more wells are drilled in the Bakken, a tremendous amount of water will be required, Johnsrud said.

“If we take a look at this industry over time, we have to take a look at how we become sustainable,” Johnsrud said.

Nuverra is developing a site 12 miles east of Watford City that will store and treat the water for reuse. The company is working with the North Dakota Industrial Commission and expects to begin operating the facility within a month, Johnsrud said.

Dave Hvinden, field operations supervisor for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said state regulators are in favor of recycling water, but are reviewing the process to ensure that it’s done safely.

A major concern for regulators is that the water that’s being recycled – which has a high salinity content – is safely stored with adequate containment in the event that a tank leaks, Hvinden said.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission is developing a new administrative rule that relates to permitting of such treatment facilities, Hvinden said.

Three or four oil companies have expressed interest in using the new technology, Johnsrud said, and several operators in the Bakken attended the event to learn more about it.

Jeremy Myers, an operations superintendent with Hess Corp., said the technology looks good, but implementing it will depend on the logistics and availability of the recycled water.

“I think everyone’s going to be interested in it,” Myers said.

Johnsrud said he anticipates that companies will first test out the new technology for one or two wells and evaluate the results before adopting it on a large scale.

“We think this is going to take some time,” Johnsrud said.

Halliburton has set a goal of reducing the amount of fresh water the oil industry uses in North America by 25 percent by the end of 2014, but that depends on oil companies getting on board with the new technology, Dale said.

Faces of the Boom: New granddaughter provides extra incentive

Kevin Taylor of Redding, Calif., talks to his daughter and new granddaughter Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, at the library in Watford City, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Kevin Taylor has a new purpose for the extra money he’s earning in North Dakota: spoiling his first granddaughter.

The Redding, Calif., man who is working for the oil industry in Watford City met his granddaughter for the first time Wednesday while video chatting with his daughter from the public library.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Taylor, who was trying to fight back tears of joy. “It’s just the most wonderful thing. I can’t wait to hold her.”

Taylor moved to North Dakota about a month ago in search of a high-paying job. He owned a construction business in California, which in recent years allowed him to “keep his head above water” but didn’t leave any extra money to save for retirement.

After arriving in Watford City, Taylor said he had multiple job offers with his work experience and a commercial driver’s license.

“If you have a clean CDL, they’re really knocking down your door,” Taylor said.

He chose to work as an environmental contractor for a Watford City energy company, a job that provides him housing.

Taylor now works about 75 to 80 hours a week and earns enough to save for his future, plus buy gift cards to Babies R Us for his new granddaughter.

“This oil boom is really creating a whole new comfort level for anybody who has any experience in a variety of things,” he said.

Taylor expects to be in North Dakota for the foreseeable future and eventually return to California. He plans to see his family in about a month, but in the meantime, he keeps in touch with them nightly through his laptop.

“Skype makes everything a whole lot better, even if it’s 10 minutes,” Taylor said.

New oil waste site opens near Watford City

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Nuverra Environmental Solutions, formerly Power Fuels, has opened a new oil industry waste site west of Watford City.

The Nuverra Environmental Treatment Center is permitted by the state to accept solid waste from oil exploration and production activities, including drill cuttings and other solids.

Each load will be screened to prevent the introduction of radioactive material into the facility, officials said.

“The Nuverra Environmental Treatment Center was designed and constructed to adhere to the latest standards for the safe handling of solid waste generated by the drilling and completion of oil wells,” said David Johnson, director of Nuverra Total Environmental Management Solutions. “As the oil industry’s needs increase and change in the Bakken, we plan to implement additional waste and recycling services that support environmental sustainability.”

The site is five miles west of Watford City and one mile south of U.S. Highway 85. The site will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Dan Quayle visit to Watford City highlights company’s big-name board of directors

Former vice president Dan Quayle, from left, tours a drilling rig near Watford City, N.D., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, with fellow board members of Nuverra Environmental Solutions Alfred Osborne Jr. and Andrew Seidel. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – What do former vice president Dan Quayle, football analyst Lou Holtz and the movie producer for several Adam Sandler films have in common?

All serve on the board of directors for Nuverra Environmental Solutions, the company created by the multi-million dollar merger of Watford City-based Power Fuels and Heckmann Corp.

Quayle and several board members with impressive resumes toured North Dakota oilfield locations Wednesday before taking part in the company’s board of directors meeting.

“This country’s better off because of what’s going on right here,” Quayle said following a tour that included a stop at a drilling rig.

It was the first visit to the Bakken for the board members, who wanted to learn more about the company’s operations in North Dakota.

Former vice president Dan Quayle, right, and movie producer Robert Simons, center, visit an oilfield landfill location Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, near Watford City, N.D., while on a tour as members of the board of directors for Nuverra. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

Nuverra CEO Mark Johnsrud, the Fargo native who bought Power Fuels and led it as it expanded rapidly during the oil boom, said he’s pleased that board members are committed to learning more about the operations, which include transporting drilling fluids and crude oil.

Johnsrud, who works from North Dakota as well as the company’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he would like to host board members in the Bakken once a year.

“They’re so interested and fascinated, I think they’ll say we want to come back and see it again,” Johnsrud said.

Power Fuels grew from 40 employees in 2005 to more than 1,100 workers and seven locations at the time of the 2012 merger.

Dick Heckmann, executive chairman of the board, said many of Nuverra’s directors are original board members from Heckmann, a  publicly traded environmental service company. That includes Quayle, who Heckmann says has “a rolodex that’s unbelievable if you ever need help,” and Holtz, who gives great motivational speeches to employees.

Each member of the board is there for a reason and brings a different type of expertise, including business and engineering backgrounds, Heckmann said.

Holtz, whose coaching resume includes Notre Dame and the New York Jets, had an ESPN appearance and wasn’t able to attend the tour, but he will be a featured speaker at the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting in September in Grand Forks.

Quayle, who posed for photos with oilfield workers, said he was impressed to see the amount of traffic and activity.

“It’s good for North Dakota and it’s great for America. Those that say we can’t have energy independence ought to come here,” Quayle said.

Robert Simonds Jr., vice president of the board, has produced more than 30 films including several movies featuring Adam Sandler and Steve Martin. While walking around a drilling rig location, Simonds said he texted his office about the possibility of another movie.

“We’ve got to do another movie, focused around this stuff,” Simonds said.

Simonds, who said he produces movies for fun but his primary job is working on water issues, said board members want to stay current on what’s happening in the Bakken.

“The advancements the industry is making on all fronts on a monthly basis is staggering,” Simonds said.

Alfred Osborne Jr., a business professor and senior associate dean at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he was overwhelmed by the advanced technology and innovation in the oilfield.

“Seeing this has been really remarkable,” Osborne said.

Board members also visited a new oilfield landfill Nuverra acquired that will handle drill cuttings. Power Fuels focused primarily on liquids management.

Nuverra also is working with Halliburton on recycling of water used for hydraulic fracturing.

Watford City affordable housing project dedicated

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Officials here dedicated an $8 million housing project Wednesday that will accommodate law enforcement, teachers, public service employees and their families.

Wolf Run Village, a 42-unit complex, uses public and private funds, including the Housing Incentive Fund, which will allow rent to be an estimated $800 to $900 a month for vital public employees. It includes 24 one-bedroom apartments and 18 two-bedroom townhomes.

Similar units in the oil boomtown would likely rent for $2,000 or more per month.

The complex, developed by Bakken Housing Partners LLC, is expected to be completely open in October, with some buildings opening this month to house teachers.

Wolf Run Village also will feature a childcare center that will accommodate up to 200 children, filling another critical need for the community. It’s expected to be completed in February.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem were among officials who marked the dedication.

“Law enforcement agencies in western North Dakota have repeatedly cited increased housing costs and shortages as an issue in recruiting and retaining officers,” Stenehjem said.  “By providing affordable housing for public employees and a new day care center for the community, the Bakken Housing Partners are helping to deliver a safer future for Watford City and its new residents.”

Super-sized vending machine proving popular in Oil Patch

Lisa Holman purchases a coffee drink Tuesday, July 16, 2013, from a Shop 24 automated convenience store at the Fox Run RV Park near Williston, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Lisa Holman cringes at the thought of driving five miles back to Williston for the one thing she forgot at the store.

Now the resident of Fox Run RV Park north of Williston has another option.

The park recently became home to an automated convenience store called Shop24, a large vending machine that sells everything from milk to laundry detergent to frozen pizza rolls.

The shop, which is popular on college campuses, businesses and transportation hubs across the country, is new to North Dakota and the first to be placed at an RV park.

A second Shop24 is located near Watford City at the Blue Sky Lodge crew camp.

The machines aim to bring convenience store items to temporary housing residents in North Dakota’s Oil Patch who are often miles away from a store, said Rob Lindberg, president of LaVenture Logistics, which owns and operates the two stores.

“If you’re out of Tide, you don’t want to drive all the way to Walmart just to do your clothes,” Lindberg said. “If you forgot an item, we’re kind of the local help.”

Rob Lindberg, president of Laventure Logistics, pictured Tuesday, July 16, 2013, near Williston, N.D., owns and operates two automated convenience stores in the Bakken. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

The response to the two shops has been strong, Lindberg said. Pop, iced tea and other beverages are the strongest sellers, but other items such as used DVDs also have been popular, he said.

The shops accept cash or credit cards and can sell anything that weighs between 1 ounce and 10 pounds. The exact items will vary depending on demand, but examples of other things sold in Williston are shampoo, ready-to-eat pork chops, headphones, Pepto Bismol and paper towels.

Some prices are higher than a typical convenience store. For example, a 20-ounce soda costs $2.14. But a footlong sandwich sells for $5.24, likely one of the cheapest options in the area, Lindberg said.

Holman said she’d gladly pay double to avoid waiting in a long line in Williston.

“Certain things you’ve just got to have,” said Holman, who also works at the RV park as office manager.

Harold Cushman, who lives at the park and does maintenance, said he is responsible for selling the shop out of sweet tea. But he’s not the only customer.

“This thing’s pretty busy, actually,” Cushman said.

Lindberg said the company is talking to other housing providers and is considering other locations in North Dakota.