Pass the collection plate

 

 

April 11, 2012

There is a great deal of concern among my household and that of thousands of households in western North Dakota. I am a life long North Dakotan as is my spouse. Both our families have long standing ties to the community that trace back to homesteading days. Our grand parents and great grand parents came to this state two and three generations ago and by the sweat of their brow and the callousing of their hands carved out a life, a community, a future from the land. Some years were good to them, some not, as is the case when you rely on God’s grace to send rain when needed, to hold storms at bay until harvest in done, to keep the family healthy and safe in between.

North Dakota has been blessed with abundant natural resources, both in the agriculture sector, which includes our families, as well as the energy sector which touches all of us whether or not one has an interest in those resources. One could say that we are in a “good” cycle now and they would be able to make a strong case for that argument. In many cases they are right. The state has, as you are aware, reaped a bountiful harvest from the recent activity in oil exploration and production. Ron Ness, President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council recently reported that there are 5300 wells operating in the state with that to certainly increase. The deputy tax commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger reported in a recent interview that the state has harvested 350,000 barrels of oil per day in March of this year and the state projects to receive $2 billion in oil tax revenue over the next two years. Ron Ness indicated production could reach 700,000 barrels per day by 2015. The last two year budget included $1 billion in savings earmarked for the various state trust funds. In the calendar year 2010, 31% of North Dakota’s tax revenue came directly from oil taxes. It may be more as of this date.

There are many numbers that help tell the story. The city of Williston for example has been rated by the U.S. Census Bureau as the fastest growing micropolitan area in the United States between April 1, 2010 and June 1, 2011 with a growth rate of 8.8%. In 2010 Williston’s population was estimated at 17,000. In 2012 that number has been estimated at 38,000. Tom Rolfstad of the Williston Economic Development Association has cited sources estimating this to grow to 50,000 in 3 years and 100,000 in 5 to 7 years. A similar growth is being experienced through out western N.D.
Watford City’s population swelled from 1500 to 6000 in 18 month. Tioga had a residential population of 2000 a short time ago, but that has certainly doubled during this expansion.

The impacts of this growth are evident in many ways. Williston schools struggle to stay afloat. In a PBS NewsHour September 27,2012 interview, District 8 Principal Steve Guglich said he expects the districts enrollment to double in the next couple years. The school district hired 14 new teachers last year according to Mr. Guglich. 5 are still without permanent housing. In the same interview, Williston Public School District 1 Superintendent Viola LaFonataine echoed those concerns. She said the student influx has required the revamping and use of an old and outdated elementary school building, Mcvay, and the use of multiple portable class rooms. 34 portables were added last year alone, 24 at Mcvay, and 8 at Williston Middle School. The housing shortage has caused harm to students as well as teachers. According to Superintendent LaFontaine there were approximately 19 homeless students in district 1 five years ago. Today there are 170. As families move to the area this crisis will intensify.

Is there a doctor in the house? Increasingly, in western North Dakota, the answer is no. Scare you? If not it should. Maybe where you live you have ample access to healthcare with a variety of specialists. I say that’s wonderful. But at the same time I say to you, your fellow North Dakotans deserve the same care, or at the very least basic level care. Hospitals here have taken a beating. A Stanford University Rural West Initiative piece dated October 1 2012 addresses the issues we face here and is well worth a look.

Healthcare access in rural areas has always been challenging but has become critical with the oil boom and influx of population. Physicians, nurses and all levels of healthcare professionals have been stretched to the limit. Because of the rural nature of the state, the recruitment of new physicans and healthcare professionals is difficult. In the past the population was aging and therefore a different approach was needed to care for them. Recently the patients being served are younger and the injuries and needs quite different. Families with newborns are increasing, as are industrial and vehicular accident and trauma injuries. With limited walk-in services in the community many services are provided at the E.R. level. The Stanford article quotes a statistic by Matt Grimshaw, CEO at Mercy Medical Center in Williston, that pre-boom E.R. visits were about 8,000 per year. In 2013 that will triple to more than 24,000. The article quotes the CEO of Tioga Medical Center, Randall Pederson and Dr. Tyrone Langager at Montrail County Medical Center in Stanley addressing similar concerns with E.R. visits off the charts.

Bad debt is increasing as well, mostly due to the fact that even with good paying jobs, housing is not available. Those receiving services disappear into the community without a traceable address. Even with precautions to obtain as much information as possible, they are sometimes like a wisp of smoke. The workforce in this area is very “fluid” to say the least. Grimshaw indicated pre-boom bad debt at $2 million per year. This year? $7 million. This is not sustainable.

Law enforcement, firefighters, or ambulance departments have felt the pressure as well. Law enforcement reports a 260% increase in emergency calls since 2009. Nights with 30 or more calls are common now. In the past there were an average of 5 or 6 a night. Ambulance calls have doubled in the last 5 years with 436 vehicular crashes last year, many between cars and semis, however the Williston Fire Department still has the same number of employees it had prior to the boom. The police department has fared slightly better and has been authorized by the Williston City Commission to hire 7 new officers and have done that. They are needed as DUI’s are up 77% from 2009 numbers. More domestic calls, crashes, fights, more child abuse cases.

What will it take to recruit professionals for all areas? More doctors, nurses,lawyers, dentists, therapists, accountants, teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, retail, hospitality industry, or tradesman? One word. Infrastructure.

Williston hired the services of Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services Incorporated to assess those needs. Here is a quick, but certainly not all inclusive, “laundry list” of what they reported as essential. The needs of the city in their opinion include, $102 million for storm sewers, $18 million for solid waste, $23 million water plant upgrade, $87 million for waste water improvements, and $258 million for roads and transportation.

That’s just the “ground work ” but it is essential in order to build homes, that will bring families that will fill out our community and broaden the tax base. It will bring the teachers to teach, the store owners to provide goods and services, the healthcare workers to care for our families, and the clergy to minister to us. It will provide the city workers to care for our city, to keep it clean, keep it safe, and promote not only Williston, or Tioga, Stanley, Watford City, or Dickinson, but North Dakota as a whole. We have a rare opportunity here, a once in a lifetime opportunity to show the nation and in some instances the world what we can do here in rural America. We can provide a way to lift our country out of its dependence on foreign oil. We can provide jobs to Americans and security to the nation at the same time, but we can not do it alone. We need our legislators.We need them to see a vision that is not a two year or three year vision. We need them to look a dozen years, two dozen years down the road. To see what will be not only next year, but next generation. That vision requires courage. It requires a bit of a risk. It requires funding. Without courage it will be difficult to take that first step. Without enduring risk it will be difficult to stay steady and patient and without funding it will be impossible altogether.

I hope they strike down proposed cuts in funding to oil impacted communities. When the “collection plate” is passed please take a moment to support adding to it.  It is an investment in our fellow North Dakotans, old and new alike. It is an investment in our children and their children. It is a reminder that we are a state that cares for one another, friend and stranger alike and are a people who are not afraid to meet a challenge. We can do this, we must do this, but we must do so together.

Kevin Baisch
Williston N.D.

 

A Winter Day in Williston and Watford City on the Bakken

Today and yesterday I spent the day in Williston and Watford City.  I am working on some projects in the area including housing and commercial developments.  Williston and Watford City are in the heart of the Bakken. The majority of the drilling is near Williston and Watford.  Watford City is about 45 miles south and west of Williston.  Hwy 85 is the main highway and is loaded with truck and vehicle traffic.  This year the road will be made a 4-lane section which will help make a safer drive.  Especially in the icy conditions of the winter.

The extent of the Bakken play.

The extent of the Bakken play.

This is a panorama of one of the busiest intersections in North Dakota for truck traffic, Hwy 2 and Hwy 85 which goes south to Watford City.  Non-stop traffic occupies the highway between these two oil towns.

Panorama of the intersection Hwy 2 and Hwy 85.

Williston is adding some nice housing and appealing neighborhoods.  These houses just went up.  The need for housing is still strong.  All kinds are needed from temporary work-force housing, apartments, and single family homes.

Appealing single family homes in nice neighborhoods are coming to Williston.

Watford City is also showing lots of growth.  Apartments, hotels, work-force housing, and single family homes.

Apartments being built in Watford City.

Sights like this are common on the road between Williston and Watford City.

Transfer facility between Watford City and Williston.

One of the many truck stops.  These are an oasis during the long stretches of road.

Truck stop for refuel and rest. Many of these in the Bakken.

Downtown Watford City is active.  New shops and growing.

Downtown Watford. The large building on the right is new and has a fine dining restaurant, movie theater, nice indoor courtyard, and other businesses.

Wait, who is this watching over Hwy 85?

Is that Honest Abe?

And who is this outside of Watford?

Is that the Ol’ Rough Rider himself?

The Bakken is still booming.  I expect a big construction season for infrastructure (roads, sewers, watermain, utilities, etc.), housing, commercial, offices, and industrial.

Come out to the Bakken, and be a piece of history.  We want you!

Follow me on LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/paulwallick; and Twitter, paulwallickpe.  I post a lot of interesting articles on the Bakken.

No stoppin’ the Bakken (headline courtesy of the Minot Daily News)

I am back in Minot working for Wenck Associates.  Wenck Associates are civil engineers, environmental engineers, and scientists.  The three Wenck North Dakota offices opened in 2003, 2009 and 2012 to better serve our North Dakota clients. In Fargo, Mandan and Minot, our teams focus on Municipal Landfills and Solid Waste Services; providing the Oil and Gas Industries with Natural Resources and Air Quality Services; and assists clients to develop infrastructure. Our team has an extensive background in project management as it relates to engineering design, construction administration, permitting/regulatory requirements, and renewable energy projects.  We also work with land developers to help them with their residential, commercial, and industrial projects from initial design through permitting and construction.  Personally, I am a civil engineer licensed in North Dakota and Minnesota.  Ok, that is some background about me and my company.

I am from Minneapolis and people ask me what it is really like out here in the Bakken area.  Other parts of the nation hear things on the news about the strong economy and the oil boom.  I want to give my perspective as an engineer working in the Bakken.

Things are still very busy.  It is cold.  I thought Minneapolis was cold.  But northwestern North Dakota is even colder.  Even in the cold winter months there is “No stoppin’ the Bakken” (that slogan is courtesy of the Minot Daily News).  People just have to bundle up (layering is the secret).  The last three days the temperature has been a frigid sub-zero and gusty winds.

The need for housing for all of the workers coming to the region is still present.  With the new residents a need for commercial development is necessary.  Many of these workers are making good money and are looking for a place to spend it.  I see many young men driving brand new fancy pick-up trucks.  I was in the Applebee’s in Minot last night and the bartender told me that the ratio of men to women in Minot is 8:1.  And I believe it.

With the lack of commercial establishments and workers expect to wait a little longer for things.  If you are unhappy with the service you just can’t go to the competitor because they are just as busy.  Patience is a virtue in the region.

Today I am in a coffee shop I discovered near the campus of Minot State University, called Beaver Brew Café.  The coffee is great and the service is friendly.  Amber, the barista working, gave me a background of the coffee shop.  $1,000,000 was donated to the Minot State University Entrepreneurship club by a local entrepreneur and the club was able to pick the business they wanted to start.  The club chose a coffee shop and they wrote the business plan and did all of the start-up work and they now run the shop.  And do a great job!  Here are some pictures of the Beaver Brew Cafe.

In future blogs I will document my experiences in the Bakken.  I hope you keep reading and add your comments and questions.  I post a lot of interesting articles and facts about the Bakken on my LinkedIn page (http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulwallick) and my Twitter account (@paulwallickpe).

The Praying Type

The stress is building in the medical community each and every day. While the country debates jobs we have the opposite problem. Too many openings that remain unfilled. It’s not  for lack of applicants. Our population has swelled and applications pour in as well. The problem is what has been the problem for many many months. Infrastructure. Specifically, housing. Affordable housing. The medical community is stretched so thin  and they are beginning to show the strain.  Even doctors who have ties and commitments to the area are beginning to question how long they can hang on.  Some are leaving, including my daughters primary care physician. The doctors and nurses who remain are swamped with case loads and no longer take new patients. It is a frightening scene here. Just today a man came into the hospital looking for a “walk in ” clinic. When he was told there is not one available on Saturdays he made an angry comment about how he was from Montana and people said they were “backward” there, but it is much worse here.
I bristle at that. This has nothing to do with whether or not we are “backward” here in Williston. It has everything to do with resources. Sometimes late at night I toss and turn and slip from the comfort of my bed to look out the window at the cars driving by on the street out front. Glass of water in hand, I think about how a handful of employees at the local hospital and clinics are trying valiantly to hold those places together. I know many of them.I trust them. I have come to love some of them, but I also know that they are human. They are tired. They look for help. They receive little. And so they forge on.  I wonder if they would be ready for me should I or my family need them. I hear stories of  long waits in the emergency room.  Of doctors seeing too many patients in one day. Of personnel burning out, turning over, calling it quits.
While the providers in the area build new additions and in some instances completely new buildings I can’t help but wonder who will staff them. It is frightening, it is disheartening. Just yesterday the call went out for 5 ambulances at the same time. We have 4. The crews did the best they could and coped by pulling an older unit out of the garage. I am so grateful for those responders. I am grateful for all the medical personnel in the community. I also fear for them. The stress is overwhelming. Sometimes I am reminded of the old M.A.S.H. television series. The choppers approach. The medical team scrambles. Sometimes successfully, sometime not. It is a triage mentality.
Will this improve? I believe in my heart that it will. When?….only when the state takes the seriousness of this situation to heart and begins to think outside the box.  It will take bold steps and leadership. It will take someone to step up and no longer wait for “private enterprise” to close the gap in housing and infrastructure. We can no longer let the fear of stepping on the toes of real estate agents, contractors, and tradesman stifle what we know needs to be done. Under normal circumstances I agree with the free market system. In the long run the market will correct. It will provide. It will compensate.  In the short term, it can not. It will not. These are not normal circumstances. These are not normal times. When it comes to the education, health care and safety of the community it is necessary in extreme times to take extreme measures. To step up and take control of the situation. If that means providing temporary  ”man camps” for  employees financed and built by the state or federal government…so be it.  We need to provide housing for teachers, dentists, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, mental health, law enforcement, fire and first responder personnel. We need it now. These people are the glue that holds a healthy and productive community together. Without them, the community is less productive, less pleasant, less stable, less safe. If your’e the praying type, pray that our leaders see this, understand it, and act on it…even if it is unpopular. If your’e not the praying type….find someone who is.

It’s now completely safe to say that a producing well is on the way

Almost immediately after my last post the fracturing crew showed up and completed their task in less than a week.  All went as planned and the only thing left to do is place a pumping unit on top of the hole.  In fact, it may not even need one for a while considering that the well right next to it has been free flowing at 23,000 barrels per month.  All indications point to this baby being well on its way to kicking out a healthy first royalty check in about six monts.  The busy first trimester as over and now patience will be required over the next two.  Instead of a doctor the delivery will come via a postal carrier.

No need to send out announcements

When a sign such as the one below gets placed it becomes more official than ever that a financial windfall is on the way for mineral rights owners.  They can no longer deny that a financial windfall will be coming their way in about six months.

What does a fracking operation look like?

Maybe this isn’t quite what you expected, but this somewhat unorganized looking group of trucks, tanks and cranes successfully accomplished what is widely considered to be the most important stage of the overall process.

 

Big things really do occasionally come in small packages

Unless there are some unforseen circumstances there won’t be much to report on from this particular Bakken pad, but a financial based follow up will come early in 2013.  It’s been somewhat of a blurr so far, but now I will get the opportunitiy to cover some other aspects of the impact that the current oil boom is making on my home area.  So please look for posts in the near future that cover new topics.

The next stage is already here

What I very recently wrote about how could take months to happen appears to only ending up being a matter of weeks.  Almost like somebody associated with the fracturing company read my last blog post (which probably has somewhere in the area of a zero percent chance of happening) the referenced well location almost instantly began to buzz with activity.  The picture below gives one a good idea of what shows up on location leading up to the operation that is more important than the drilling of the hole itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was only a bunch of patiently waiting water tanks all of the sudden got some company this week.  Components necessary to the fracking process such as frac sand and the chemicals that get sent downward with it began to methodically gather.  To begin explaining what makes this type of sand different a good place to start would be comparing it to the sand that has been used for beach volleyball competion at the London Summer Games.

It takes alot more than near perfect sand, diesel fuel, and elements of the periodic chart that are part of the crude oil freeing cocktail necessary to getting the job done.  This row of port-a-potties is perhaps all that is needed to illustrate how much manpower must also be on hand to tie the entire task together.  If only a few are involved they must have constitutions of four-year-olds or their bladders are the size of regulation size olympic table tennis balls.

The premature-like pace has slown down

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I simply didn’t have much reason to.  Like many oilwells in the Bakken, the one I had reported on throughout May and June has been waiting to be fractured for several weeks.  I suppose there’s a good chance that this could even turn into months.  Drilling companies don’t really care about that as long as the hole gets drilled before their lease runs out.  Nothing more needs to be done to hold up their end of the deal, but the longer they must wait to move onto the next step the longer it will take to extract the crude to eventually be sold.  The fracking companies are having a tough time keeping up with the excessive amount of holes that are frantically being punched in the ground.  Pictured below are the several mobile tanks full of water to eventually be pumped beneath the once unscathed patch of prairie for production optimization purposes.

The emptying of some tanks is necessary for the filling of others

Many mineral rights owners will express how exciting it is to see the rig standing tall that will mean alot to their economic futures.  Like parents to be, they begin to think about what their child will look like at first.  But, I assume that the months of waiting cause the anticipation to build up beyond a bearable point.  Pulling that first royalty check out of the envelope in which it was stuffed could be comparable to a hospital delivery room experience.  Although the owners of this particular well have at least six months to go before this happens, the hype around it will continue to build.  The substance that is nearing an emergence out of a both deep and very long hole in the ground will no doubt continue to replenish the permanetly placed tanks as well as impact the lives of many for decades to come.

Picnic Anyone?

Today’s the day the kids have been waiting for. Each day I tell them how many days before the “event.”  The day has finally come. The ” Sizzlin Summer Party is today.  

Come to the party

” I can’t wait” Marlee says.  ” Will they have the jumping castles?” Anna asks, getting right in my face.
“Yes” I reply. 
“Will they have the pink one, can we go in it?”  She presses. 
“I don’t know what color they’ll have Anna, but they’ll have a big one set up, and sure you can go in it.”  I respond.
” Oh good!” She says as she jumps a little.
Ah, the life of a 3 year old. So simple.

 We pull into the church lot and park by the kitchen door.  As we walk in to drop off the cookies we baked for the event I notice the  fridge and church kitchen and  pantry are stocked with the goods of a picnic.  I spy 20 or 30 watermelons.  Flats of buns, jars of pickles, boxes of chips, large cans of beans, bottles of ketchup, mustard and relish.  Trays of cookies and deserts line the counter. Coolers are at the ready. Grills are lined up like soldiers ready to be given the command to press the attack. Looks pretty impressive. Pretty organized. Norwegians are like that. 

 We have been back in Williston for 8 years now. Each year First Lutheran Church throws a summer get together for the community. When it started it was simply a “block party” and involved maybe 100 to 200 people, most of which were First Lutheran Church members.  Today there there could be 2000 or more. The word is out. The need is great.

As the community swells with new arrivals, the need also swells. The need for a meal. The need for a place to rest for even an hour or two on a summer’s evening. Hot as it is, and in a new place, the faces are always appreciative. They contain smiles, even if the eyes show signs of weariness. Of course many friends and neighbors will  come as well. Many will  “man” the grills, work the serving table, the cotton candy, popcorn and snow cone machines. Some, those with musical talent, will be under the tent put up on the lawn, to sing, play guitar, keyboard, or in some instances to dance a bit for the crowd who  will gather on chairs,  also sheltered from the sun.   The children will run and scream and laugh. Families will put blankets down on the church lawn to eat with one another. Quickly, if at all, in the case of the kids so that they can get to the games and “fun stuff.” 

getting ready

 

This is what we are called to do. As members of the community. As Christians, if that be the case, although there will be no “preaching”  in  a formal manner. Sometimes what is done by the people of a  community or church speaks louder than what is printed or preached. Lately I have been “big ” on examples. On actions. Sometimes that is not the case.  Williston is no different. Sometimes we are better at acting and sometimes we stumble in that regard.  Whether or not those who put on this event are members of First Lutheran, another church, or any church at all…they are setting an example of what it means to be charitable. An example of what it is to be a community. An example of what it means to be our “brothers keeper.”  I hope those who put this on and those who come will enjoy the experience. I also hope that those who come, the children, those who care for them, and those who simply want fellowship and a meal, will take note of the example set by the church, and the community of Williston. This is a good place to be.  The people are kind. They care. In the middle of all the bad stories of the day let’s not forget to acknowledge that fact.

Walk a Mile In My Shoes ( Boots )

The girls buzz up and down the aisle. Every couple feet I hear a ” Dad, can I have this?”  shouted out from one and then followed by the other two.  The toys they held up were beyond our discussed “limit” and my enforcement of those limits was being tested repeatedly. It seems they know that I will weaken eventually.
” Nope, keep looking.” I reply, which draws a couple of “awwww’s” from two of the three.  The third is quietly looking at books. She hasn’t learned the art of whining and begging yet it seems.
As i wait for them to choose I look toward the counter.  A tall, thin man is doubled over pulling his jeans down over a new pair of boots. His hands are dark from being in the sun as is his neck. I can not see his face. I glance at the jeans he is wearing. They are stained and smudged with the dirt, grease, and grime that comes with hard work and maybe hard luck. The knee has one big hole. His shirt fares little better. Pocket torn, also stained from sweat and dirt. Sleeves rolled up. He straightens up revealing a face that is etched with wrinkles, but one that contains a smile for his new purchase.  He brushes the sun bleached hair away from his face and turns toward the clerk.
“There” he says, putting his weight, which isn’t much, on his new boots for the first time. ” Made it a month on these.” he says proudly, holding up the old pair, the front of which is almost completely gone.  I detect a bit of a southern drawl.
The clerk in a patronizing tone that I find myself using sometimes with the girls when I am distracted or not too interested in their escapades, replies ” oh really?”  Then looking closer and with more interest, she continued with ” Looks like you’ve walked in some nasty stuff with those, gotten your moneys worth out of them for sure.”
“Yep”  he replies. ” Nasty stuff at work.”   He pulls a bag from the rack and places his old boots into it to take with him, although there is little left of them to take home. “Thank you ma’am” he says with a smile to the clerk. He picks up his bag and heads toward the door wearing the new ones.
“How about this dad?” my oldest says, drawing my attention away from the boot man. I turn to look at her holding up an appaloosa horse set, her sister at her side. Their eyes study my face. I can almost feel them holding their breath. My eyes dart to the price tag and I frown a bit and pause. The girls have seen this move enough to know that I am on the fence about their request.  After a moment I reply. ” Ok, but I want you to all to share them.”  I watch them literally jump off the floor. ” We will dad!”  The clerk smiles and she rings the set up, along with a book for my youngest daughter.
As we climb back into the pickup I consider the boot man once again. His pleasure with the new boots was not that different from that of my daughters with their horses. On one level the same, but on another quite the opposite.  One a necessity. One absolutely not so.  This man was grateful to have a job and from that job buy those boots. Something tells me, however, that man has more needs than boots. A new shirt? New pants?  A place to live? I don’t know.  I do know this:  you need none of those things to set a good example. This man did so for me without even knowing it.