Milestones to Mileposts: Signs of progress in western North Dakota

2014 created many memorable Bakken memories. These are just a few that the North Dakota Petroleum Council helped to produce.
By Tessa Sandstrom | December 12, 2014

This year has been a momentous one for North Dakota. As has been the case in the past few years, North Dakota has again found itself producing record levels of oil and gas while contributing significantly to the nation’s drive toward energy security. Earlier this year, we celebrated reaching 1 million barrels of daily production, joining only Texas and 19 other countries in the world that currently produce at this level.

North Dakota achieved another significant milestone for both the state and the nation in December when the Dakota Prairie Refinery near South Heart, North Dakota, accepted its first shipment of Bakken crude. The refinery is the first to be built within the United States in over three decades. “I think you can’t underscore enough the significance of somebody getting this done in America,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. “The fact that it ends up being a North Dakota company, built by a North Dakota contractor like Westcon—it’s just a fantastic achievement."

The industry celebrated other ribbon cuttings this year as new or expanded gas plants sprang up, accepting more natural gas and helping our state and industry meet aggressive gas capture goals set at the beginning of the year. Capturing gas has been one of the many challenges faced by the state, but in an effort largely unprecedented for our industry, we worked together to come up with a set of recommendations that have since been adopted and more importantly, opened up lines of communication among the upstream, midstream and service contractors, which has allowed us to be better partners.

In another collaborative effort, the NDPC and its members elicited a comprehensive study of Bakken crude characteristics. The study is the most comprehensive of its kind for a shale play to date. This information will not only be incredibly useful to shippers in ensuring the proper handling and transport of Bakken crude, but it is has also created a standard for Bakken crude that may pave the way for a Bakken benchmark.

Community Progress
Over the past decade, technology and innovation have allowed us to recover more resources, pushing production, tax revenues, salaries, population and the number of jobs ever higher. For the communities, this rapid growth has brought with it many growing pains, from housing shortages to congested roads. This year, however, we’ve begun to gain on those impacts.

I came to that realization in November as I walked casually across Elk Street in Alexander, North Dakota. It didn’t dawn on me until I got to the other side of the street that this was not ususally such an easy task. Instead of traffic streaming steadily past on the street—Elk Street is also U.S. Highway 85—it now hums along a new four-lane bypass outside of the small town. Here, instead of being marked by data-based benchmarks or milestones, progress was literally being marked by mileposts.

New Town and Watford City celebrated the same achievements when bypasses circumventing their downtowns opened this year, bringing some relief to the main streets of both communities. For New Town, it presents new opportunities for progress. According to Mayor Dan Uran, a renovation of New Town’s downtown will begin in the spring, and new businesses will begin growing along the Highway 23 bypass.

Renovation and revitalization have also been the themes for many western North Dakota schools. Alexander, Powers Lake, Watford City and Williston, among others, have either passed new or expanded school projects or already broken ground on them. These schools will help accommodate the growing number of families moving into the state. This is important for the state and it’s important for the industry because we are starting to get the amenities we need to attract good, dependable workers and their families, which will help fill some of the service jobs open in many of the new retail establishments that are flourishing in these busy, vibrant communities.

With our Bakken Rocks CookFests, we get the privilege each summer of celebrating two of these growing communities and see the progress being made. In Kenmare this year, we surrounded its beautiful square that had just been updated with new lighting, sidewalks, and curbs and lined with several new businesses. Dunn Center welcomed us to its park and even rolled out the horses for wagon rides.

The events are always a highlight of the year. That’s why I’m excited to announce that this year, we are going to bring the traffic back to Alexander—at least for one day—to host the Bakken Rocks CookFest in the community park just off Elk Street. As a tremendous host for the industry for so many years, we are honored they are welcoming us to their community on July 14 to allow us to throw them a little party. No stranger to lots of activity, South Heart will welcome us July 16, and we look forward to celebrating progress as well.

Author: Tessa Sandstrom
Communications Manager,
North Dakota Petroleum Council