Bakken Backbone Seminar highlights infrastructure needs

By Emily Aasand | July 27, 2015

The first day of the 2015 Bakken Conference & Expo kicked off today with a single-day seminar, titled “The Bakken’s Backbone.” The day focused on infrastructure issues important to the Bakken, including: rail, pipeline, water, gas processing, fleet transportation, power and commercial construction. The seminar also featured never-before delivered presentations on the future economics of the Bakken.

The morning started out with presentations from Watford City’s mayor, Brent Sanford, who outlined a brief history of the growth of the city. Sanford noted that his city has a “strategic importance” when it comes to community expansion. Sanford also outlined the city’s community borrowing budget of $300 million for infrastructure, with funds allotted toward a new high school, a community events center, a city wastewater plant, hospital improvements, a county law enforcement center and daycare and apartment needs.

Mike Dunn, fellow presenter and business development manager for Construction Engineers, and his company are contracted to construct the new Watford City jail—a $52 million project—which is slated to be completed in 2017.

Also presenting was a panel on rail infrastructure and transload facilities in western North Dakota, and Dean Bangsund, research scientist with North Dakota State University’s agribusiness and applied economics department, who touched based on future Bakken economics. An audience of roughly 85 also heard from a panel on commercial construction and property valuation and received an infrastructure overview from the commissioner of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, Julie Fedorchak.

The morning session ended with Dale Niezwaag, senior legislative representative at Basin Electric Power Cooperative, whose team is working to meet the demands in western North Dakota. Niezwaag and his team has two main generation stations out in western North Dakota. The power generation stations are two fold, Niezwaag said—to meet the need and to support the transmission system out there.

“The big part of the Bakken play is the clash of how to meet needs of the cultures from the oil side to the utility side,” said Niezwaag. “Sixty-five percent of all our growth is going to be in the Bakken, so it is a major part of our business and a major part of our focus is making sure we have low cost power to get to people working in the area.”

The Monday portion of the three-day event ended with a special presentation titled, “Bakken Workforce Update,” which described employment trends, challenges and opportunities for every entity tied to the Bakken.

The panel, led by The Bakken magazine staff writer Patrick Miller, included Cheri Giesen, executive director, Job Service North Daktoa, Michael Ziesch, manager of the Labor Market Information Center, Job Service North Dakota, Nancy Hodur, research assistant professor at the North Dakota State University Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department and Patrick Bertagnolli, human resource director at B&G Oilfield Services. 

Despite the low price commodity, Giesen said, “We still have 60 people a day coming into our Williston office to get help finding a job.” 

“We have seen the effect and we expected to see the effect,” said Ziesch. “We’ve seen the workforce shift from jobs in manufacturing to the healthcare and service providing side of the economy.”

"Our first [significant] change we expect to see is on the earnings side, rather than the employment side," continued Ziesch.

Hodur discussed current observations she's seeing in her workforce survey. To date, her survey has more than 1,400 observations with 14 firms representing roughly 7,640 employees. Hodur said among those she interviewd in her survey, most said housing continued to be a number one issue-there’s not enough and it’s still too expensive. 

To commence the second day, Continental Resources Inc. will provide a keynote address outlining the operator’s perspective on the Williston Basin and its stance on U.S.-based crude exports. John Harju, associate director for research at the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, has created a presentation explaining the evolution of the Bakken. In the past decade, EERC has been on the leading edge of Bakken-based research, work Harju said helps to illustrate how the Bakken will transform in the years ahead. Harju will also be co-presenting with Continental Resources on one of the Bakken’s most-watched and important projects to date: The Hawkinson Unit project, a multiwell pad that could represent the future for several Williston Basin well pads.

Along with the Bakken’s largest producer and the play’s most-respected research institution, the second day will feature a behind-the-scenes look at a proposed $4 billion gas-to-plastics plant that will utilize Bakken associated gas as feedstock. To give attendees an up-close experience with some of the Bakken’s most prominent figures, Geiver will be sitting down with Kathy Neset, owner of Neset Consulting Services, Dan Eberhart, CEO of Canary Wellhead and Brandon Elliott, executive vice president of Northern Oil & Gas Inc. The sit-down, roundtable discussion will include on-point questions and answers to some of the play’s most pressing issues and trends.

“Our team is seeing an increase interest in the efficiencies and cost-reductions of multiwall pads, something numerous Bakken operators are looking to get involved with. This dual-presentation with John Harju will be relevant to all attending,” said Luke Geiver, program director of the Bakken Conference & Expo and editor of The Bakken magazine.

More than half of all presenters slated for the event hold the title of President, CEO or Director, Geiver said, an element of the event that guarantees attendees a comprehensive view into the Bakken circa 2015. In addition to decision-maker insight, other presentations included during the three-day event are: “The Future of Hydraulic Fracturing,” “The Message During Low Oil Prices,” “Bakken Gas Processing Technology Advancements,” and “Understanding The Environment: Waste Handling, Remediation and Prevention Strategies.”


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