January 4, 2012

Bakken booms in 2011

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

2011 has been a huge year for the oil and gas industry throughout western North Dakota. The number of oil producing wells has exploded, as has the number of trucks, supplies, and workers needed to keep them running. McKenzie County has seen the heaviest oil traffic of all the oil producing counties.
Most recent reports show that in October there were 1,179 producing wells in McKenzie County with another 191 wells capable of producing. That accounts for 19 percent of all producing wells in North Dakota, more than any other county. In December of last year, there were 972 producing wells with an additional 166 capable of producing in McKenzie County.
There are also 55 drilling rigs currently active in McKenzie County with 195 active in the state, according to the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division. This number is up from the “Infogram of the Dakotas” report of 47 active rigs on Dec. 16. McKenzie County has more than 28 percent of all the rigs in the state.
According to Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, all of these factors make McKenzie County the hot spot for oil industry activity, which goes without saying when producers were able to push oil production above 500,000 barrels a day, approximately 102,081 of those coming from McKenzie County alone.
The plan for 2011 in oil producing counties was to really push infrastructure to keep up with all the growth, but a hard winter and spring made 2011 more of a catch-up year. The hope now is that the weather in 2012 will allow for more major infrastructure projects to be started and completed, according to the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
“We all know there is a great infrastructure hill to climb and there will be lots of frustration while we climb that three- to five-year hill,” says Ness. “But with more pilot cars, delays, and traffic and communities full of construction workers, we must keep safety a priority.”
Despite the weather setbacks, the North Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT) was able to complete the “Super 2” construction of 40 miles of U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and Williston. The project added turning lanes and passing lanes to ease congestion and enhance safety. With $47 million spent on the project to date, projected plans include expanding Highway 85 to a four-lane, undivided highway from Watford City to Williston.
The DOT also completed repairs on 13 miles of N.D. 1806 north of Watford City to Tobacco Gardens, with another 12 miles to be repaired as well.
The vast increase of roadway activity has the North Dakota Highway Patrol sending more troopers to western North Dakota. It hopes that this December they will graduate 12 new troopers, with the majority of them being stationed in Killdeer, Crosby, Watford City, Hazen, Williston, Dickinson, Bowman and Stanley. The Highway Patrol has hopes for more funding from the state to begin another training program with graduates ready for service by mid-summer 2012.
The North Dakota State Legislature has been working hard as well to see that oil producing counties are getting the kind of aid they need. In April, the Legislature granted $100 million for oil impact grant funds. At the request of Gov. Jack Dalrymple, another $30 million was allocated in November.These grant funds will focus on improvements in sewer and water services, maintaining and building new streets, expanding water treatment plants, and any other projects that support developing additional residential housing.
Along with a total of $1 billion in funding being allocated for infrasturcture, Ness believes the Western Area Water Supply Project (WAWS) was a extremely important bill to come out of the Legislature this year. WAWS includes an extensive pipeline project that will pump water from the Missouri River and transport it in new pipelines to various western counties.
“The communities and water districts and industry came together and got it done. It will have long-lasting impacts for the area while providing critical water access for industry,” states Ness.
In order to see all the necessary changes required in western North Dakota and specifically, McKenzie County, funding will not be enough. A fact that Gov. Dalrymple knows very well.
“Meeting our challenges in western North Dakota goes beyond providing funding,” Dalrymple said. “It requires innovative solutions and a strong commitment from the state, our counties and cities and private industry.”
As 2011 comes to a close in McKenzie County, it seems as though there is more that needs to be accomplished than when the year began, and hopes remain high that 2012 will see marked improvements in a number of areas.
Construction will commence for the Bridger Pipeline project and the ONEOK Garden Gas Plant in mid-January with grand openings in Watford City on Jan. 20, 2012. The Petroleum Council projects that the pipeline has the ability to take 300 vehicles off the road each day and is the safest, most cost-effective, and efficient means for moving commodities. The gas plant, and more like it, will allow North Dakota to process one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day by the end of 2012, according to the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division.
Alison Ritter, Public Information officer for the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, believes that 2012 and beyond will be big for implementing construction projects, allocating more funds, updating procedures, and increased drilling.
“We are looking forward to hitting the 225 rig mark. We have predicted that number as something North Dakota could see,” says Ritter.
The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division also seeks to fill the remaining seven positions of the 17 they have been approved to hire which will increase their staff by 30 percent. Other improvements include adjustments to rules, effective April 1, 2012, which aim to keep up with new technologies, updating the online availability of data collection, and the use of video conferencing for case hearings, as well as access to exhibits.
The North Dakota Petroleum Council has another full-speed year ahead, according to Ness.
“The Petroleum Council spent nearly 80 percent of its time in 2011 working toward helping find solutions for the growing list of impact issues related to economic growth. We hopefully will see some of the benefits of road improvements, new housing units, more Highway Patrolmen, resources for emergency care services, and gas plants and pipelines.”
With engines and wells pumping, 2012 in McKenzie County will be an exciting place to be.