Q&A with Brent Brannan

Brent Brannan, director of North Dakota Oil and Gas Research Program, talks about recent projects funded by the N.D. OGR program and how they could impact the state's future.
By Luke Geiver | September 15, 2014

1. To start, what is the North Dakota oil and gas research program?

North Dakota's OGRP was established by the Legislature in 2003. It's a program designed to demonstrate and promote environmentally sounds exploration and production methods and technologies. It encourages wise and efficient use of energy by developing the state's oil and gas resources in partnership with the private sector through research and educational activities concerning the oil and natural gas exploration and production industry.
The program is funded from the state's share of the oil and gas production tax and extraction tax revenues with up to $10 million available to the OGRP each biennium.

2. As director, what is your primary role?

I'm the liaison between the applicant, the Oil and Gas Research Council, and the North Dakota Industrial Commission. I assist the applicant through the proposal process, advising on how they might bring the best possible application to the council. I help screen the applications through a series of minimum requirements such as: does the application propose education, research, development or marketing of oil and gas natural resources? Is the project research related to issues affecting exploration, production, transportation, processing or refining? Does the project have matching funds, industry partners?

3. The OGRP has provided more than $20 million in funding to roughly 60 projects since 2003. How does the grant application and project approval process work?

Once the application is received and the minimum requirements have been met, I identify independent experts to assist in reviewing and rating the application. The technical reviewer assesses the technical and fiscal merits of the application. Upon completion of its review, the technical reviewers (there are usually three) make their recommendation to me, the council, and the commission.

If the scores and recommendations are favorable, within approximately 60 days, the applicant formally presents the application to the Oil and Gas Research Council. The council then considers the scores, my recommendation, and votes whether to approve. If the majority of the council votes to fund the application, it is forwarded to the N.D. Industrial Commission whose members are the governor, the attorney general, and the agriculture commissioner, for their consideration.

4. You recently started a quarterly newsletter detailing some of the work of OGRP. Why?

Part of the program's intent is designed to demonstrate to the general public the importance of the state oil and gas exploration and production industry and the newsletter helps tell the story of the program. This story has likely been under-told. What has the state done to inform students of career opportunities? How is the Energy Curriculum Program being developed enabling students to learn about the industry? What progress has been made to capture natural gas in remote areas? How has the industry improved in its drilling and completion techniques, cost efficiencies, infrastructure, and safety? The goal of the newsletter is to shed some light on how the state strives to take a proactive approach to oil and gas development, stimulating innovation and partnerships, and making researchers aware of this funding opportunity.

5. OGRP has funded a wide range of projects from fire safety to directional drilling technology. Can you talk about some ongoing projects that the OGRP has funded?

The OGRP is currently involved in a project to understand the effects of oil and gas development on the mule deer population and identifying measures to mitigate these effects. Another study tested various products that could be used to reduce dust in western North Dakota on roads. The program, along with its industry partners, helped establish UND's Geological Petroleum Engineering Program. The Energy and Environmental Research Center was recently awarded a grant toward its Bakken Production Optimization Program. This program is investigating new technologies and approaches to increase potential petroleum reserves in the Bakken - Three Forks while decreasing recovery costs in an environmentally sound manner. The anticipated results will include: less truck traffic, resulting in decreased diesel emissions, road dust, and spills; reduced road maintenance costs, wastewater production, disposal costs, and freshwater use; reduced land use impacts; and increased revenue for the state, royalty owners, and operators from added product streams, captured earlier in the well life cycle. It's an exciting time in the program's history and we're looking forward to providing information to the industry and the public on best practices to be used in developing oil and gas in North Dakota.

6. What are the characteristics you and the OGRP team look for in a potential project?

The mission of the OGRP is to promote the growth of the oil and gas industry through research and education. The oil and gas industry presents a number of opportunities and complex challenges. The program recognizes these challenges, and harnesses relationships with the likes of Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota universities and colleges, exploration companies, service companies, and others. We look for projects that have reputable industry partnerships, and the ability to provide innovative solutions to complex challenges.

7. The Bakken seems to be constantly evolving. How have the projects—both submitted and approved—evolved in the past five years?

The OGRP has become increasingly competitive over the past five years and the quality of applications is improving, becoming more diverse, and specifically addressing key challenges and issues in the development phase.

8. Take us behind the scenes of the OGRP's work. What can you share about the status of its current group of projects?

Behind the scenes you'll find applications attempting to recycle drill cuttings into fertilizers, or examining additional uses or disposals for waste/byproducts. You'll find waste management and integrated waste screening demonstrations. You'll find a competitive market of natural gas projects testing commercial viability while utilizing the entire gas stream to capture natural gas in remote areas, not currently tied into pipelines. You'll find remote pipeline monitoring projects using unmanned aircrafts. The competitive market forces the applicant to improve its proposal, and oftentimes, adjust its funding request due to the variety of excellent proposals.

9. How will the next biennium impact OGRP's future success and role in the state's oil and gas industry?

Each biennium there is a constant effort to promote safety intiatives, education, and technological innovations and efficiencies. The state emphasizes the importance of research by assisting with developing the technology to more effectively produce North Dakota's oil and gas resources by tackling the key challenges facing production growth.

10. Every entity in the Bakken has a story. From your perspective, what is the story of the OGRP?

The OGRP is led by an educated and engaged council and industrial commission. The public-private partnership integrated through this program helps define the past and future success of the state.