Bakken’s Place In The Red River Valley

A public event hosted by the North Dakota Petroleum Council and Bakken Backers will bring stakeholders in the oil and technology industries together, in Fargo, N.D., on Sept. 21.
By Rob Lindberg | September 15, 2015

A public event hosted by the North Dakota Petroleum Council and Bakken Backers will bring stakeholders in the oil and technology industries together, in Fargo, N.D., on Sept. 21.

The public event titled Bits + Bytes, will highlight how Red River Valley firms have found opportunities to grow their businesses in the Bakken and includes an education session for the public with the Bakken's leading experts. Attendees will gain insight on the latest trends and practices in the oil industry, what makes the Bakken one of the most prominent oil fields in the world, and how Fargo, Grand Forks and other regional entrepreneurs are building new companies because of it.

For two decades or more, the Red River Valley, anchored by North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota, has expanded its economy with targeted growth in technology, advanced manufacturing and distribution. This strategy brought continual growth to the region before the Bakken and allowed its communities to take immediate advantage of the oil formation when the pace of drilling soared in 2010. A number of these companies utilized the Bakken to not only expand their businesses within North Dakota, but to also gain experience in the oil industry that allows the businesses to expand into other oil and gas regions such as Colorado, Texas and Ohio.

Transformed State
Although the idea that the Bakken has transformed North Dakota is widely known,  the magnitude of its impact is not always recognized.

In the mid-2000's, North Dakota had progressed substantially since the years when the state was pitched for the "Buffalo Commons." Yet, it was still known for outmigration and ranked far in the lower half of all states for income and business activity. However, discoveries at that time by wildcatters exploring for oil only a few miles into Montana would amplify North Dakota's economy to a level no one predicted.

Exploration quickly moved eastward toward the New Town and Parshall regions, an area where the world discovered the full potential of the Bakken and North Dakota's place in the world.

Because of the Bakken, North Dakota simply ignored the economic turmoil that plagued the rest of the country, including the state's neighbors. North Dakota has seen its place in the nation rise for average income from 38th to 6th. Birth rates have skyrocketed and the population went from worries about keeping young people in state, to becoming the youngest state in the nation and a state that is routinely regarded as one of the best states in the nation to start a career and family. The state worked very hard to do so, and with a little geological luck, it achieved what it had wanted for so many decades.

Widespread Impact
While the Bakken, located in the northwest corner of our state, made the greatest impact in the cities of western North Dakota, the surge of oil activity created a boon for the entire state.

The data shows it well. Across the state, more than 15 percent of all workers are employed directly by the oil and gas industry. Thousands of people in and around Fargo and Grand Forks work directly in the oil industry; in fact, each city has 1 percent to 2.4 percent of its total employment within the oil and gas industry, despite being 250 miles or more away from the nearest well. These numbers do not include the types of companies mentioned here that provide products and services to the oil and gas industry. In total, more than 80,000 workers in North Dakota owe their job to the Bakken and $43 billion of economic impact is generated by the young oil field.

More than the data, we see it too. Technology firms are writing software that make operations in the Bakken more efficient. Students are choosing skilled trades and graduating to find six-figure jobs. Steel fabricators added people and acquired new locations while their national and regional competitors shrunk by roughly 60 percent. Imagine rebuilding Jamestown and Grand Forks in four years. Eastern North Dakota engineering and construction companies flocked to the western side of the state to help communities grow double, triple, and, in Watford City's case, eight times their original size.

About Bits + Bytes
Some companies benefiting from the Bakken are not widely known; others are local leaders applying their experience to opportunities in the Bakken with new, innovative products and services. Each company, however, has an interesting story to tell about how they hooked onto the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is the Bakken to create a company of long-term value.

Tammy Miller, CEO of Border States Electric and host of Bits + Bytes, will open the event by sharing the story of BSE's rapid expansion to become one of the largest businesses headquartered in the Valley, in part because of opportunities it found in oil and gas regions across the United States. Miller will moderate an innovation panel with Jake Joraanstad, founder of mobile app maker Myriad Mobile, Glenn Mitzel from systems integrator JDP Automation and AE2S's Jason Sanden on the company's development of systems to monitor pipeline flows. Tom Kenville will present how the oil industry has taken interest in UAS technologies in the Red River Valley to solve needs in western North Dakota.

In addition to learning how local companies work in the Bakken, attendees will hear the latest from three of the Bakken's most knowledgeable leaders: Kathy Neset, president of Neset Consulting Services; Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources; and Gene Veeder, executive director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority. The three presenters will discuss the basic geology and technologies of the Bakken, the effects of the slowdown, and what lies ahead in the Bakken.

Long-Time Opportunity
Today, fewer than 10,000 wells have been drilled in the Bakken, far fewer than the 60,000 or more wells oil producers will drill in this formation over the next three decades. New well costs continue to fall and oil companies have developed new techniques that have grown new well production 25 to 50 percent in only the past 12 to 18 months.

The oil industry is here to stay and these companies hold a positive long-term outlook on the Bakken. The price per barrel might be down, but production has held steady. At the same time, homes, apartments, retail, and industrial construction continue to boom. We are seeing life and business normalize in the Bakken. For those who planned from the beginning to build long-term, well-managed businesses, the future is very bright.

Bits + Bytes celebrates the Red River Valley's opportunity to not simply take part in the largest reserve of crude oil in the continental United States, but to do so according to its own strategic growth and with its unique expertise. The public is invited to learn more about the basics of the oil and gas industry while hearing the impressive growth stories of these local businesses.

Author: Rob Lindberg
Director, Bakken Backers
701-989-5432
rl@backthebakken.org