Tales from the Oil Patch: Part 3

Photo: Corinne Dokken Frey Ryan Taylor, a North Dakota political leader with Norwegian-American roots and author of three books on “Cowboy Logic” stands by a corner post on his fourth-generation 3,200 acre ranch, preparing to travel to Norway on a fellowship to study lessons learned from Norwegian management of oil resources.

Photo: Corinne Dokken Frey
Ryan Taylor, a North Dakota political leader with Norwegian-American roots and author of three books on “Cowboy Logic” stands by a corner post on his fourth-generation 3,200 acre ranch, preparing to travel to Norway on a fellowship to study lessons learned from Norwegian management of oil resources.

By Larrie Wanberg

Feature Editor

Amid the chaotic development of rapid growth in the Bakken Oil development, Ryan Taylor, a fourth-generation rancher, author, motivational speaker and a North Dakota (N.D.) political leader with Norwegian-American roots, is headed for Norway to study lessons learned from Norwegian management of oil resources.

After serving as a N.D. State Senator for ten years, a minority leader during 2010-12 term and a democratic candidate for Governor during the last N.D. election, he has been awarded a two-year Bush Fellowship for a time of study in the land of his ancestors.

“In a nutshell,” Ryan said, “my study involves learning, outreach and engagement. I will be learning the Norwegian method of oil development, sharing that with fellow North Dakotans via statewide outreach and asking for engagement of our policymakers by those with their new knowledge of Norway’s successful model.”

“We know the challenges to N.D.’s infrastructures…the problems are largely self-evident by those that live there…what we know less about is the impact on quality-of-life and how to develop sustainable policy.”

He added, “We need to pause, think, and develop a statewide conversation about the current boom, its rewards and its risks…and we need to pattern our policies after what works.”

During his fellowship, he will study Norwegian petroleum policy, which is stated in principle “to exploit the petroleum industry’s expertise in order to achieve the highest possible value creation and ensure a qualitatively better society.”

Ryan plans to dialogue with Norwegian policymakers, who collectively have accumulated almost 50 years experience and developed the “10 Oil Commandments,” which are declarations of principles underpinning Norwegian oil policy in a Storting (Parliament) White Paper in June 1971.

A preamble-like objective of Norwegian petroleum policy reads, in part, that petroleum resources should “contribute to improving the quality of life in Norway in the years to come. To achieve this objective, our management must be comprehensive and based on knowledge and facts. Management of the resources must take place within a prudent framework as regards health, safety and the environment.”

“Because about one-third of N.D. citizens have a common heritage with Norway, there is a cultural connection that we can draw on,” Ryan said.

“My mother’s first language was Norwegian and my ancestors emigrated from Hallingdal and Gudbrandsdal with names like Dokken, Oium, Bryn and Larson.”

He added that he was taking an online course in Norwegian from the University of N.D.

While gaining a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics and Mass Communications in 1992, Ryan started an entrepreneurial business called Sandhill Communications, where he began writing a syndicated column, “Cowboy Logic,” which today reaches 200,000 readers in agricultural newspapers in western N.D. and Canada. He has since authored three books on “Cowboy Logic” and has tallied 250 professional speaking engagements on the topic (see www.mycowboylogic.com).

Photo: Larrie Wanberg A father passes on stories of heritage to his nine-year-old son about life on a frontier, showing a 44 Colt “Lightening” black-powder rifle that the grandfather used in hunting.

Photo: Larrie Wanberg
A father passes on stories of heritage to his nine-year-old son about life on a frontier, showing a 44 Colt “Lightening” black-powder rifle that the grandfather used in hunting.

Ryan, his wife Nikki with a Norwegian ancestry of her own, and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 5, ranch 3,200 acres of native grassland 20 miles from the geographic center of North America in central N.D. Nikki grew up in Keene, a small town in Western N.D. “The church where we were married in is now surrounded by oil derricks on the horizon,” Ryan said.

In the role as a citizen rather than a politician, Ryan believes that what he gains from his fellowship can be better shared in a statewide conversation that honors our past, builds prosperity and creates a proud future for our children.

As some speculate whether Ryan will run for political office again, I asked him what his long-term goals were. “The ranch is our anchor as a family. It can also be a launch pad for growth, and a place that sustains our family. Time will tell where the road leads as far as my political future, but I know the road begins and ends on this ranch and with my wife and family. Those are the constants that are never sacrificed in any other demand life presents us.”

Ryan shared some cowboy logic with me, knowing how to tame the unbounded energy in a young horse to become a valued productive asset on a cattle ranch.

“If you stand in the middle of a training corral with a young horse, and frantically wave your arms up and down, the horse will race around at the edge of the corral looking for a way out. However, if you drop your arms, turn away calmly, show the horse there’s a safe place near you in the middle of that chaos, and, perhaps, have some oats in your pocket, the horse will gradually come to the center, nudge your shoulder and offer to be your partner.”

For me, growing up knowing Ryan’s parents, remembering the stories his father shared with me as a youth over six decades ago and reading the hometown newspaper column his mother wrote weekly, even when I was a continent away in the military – all came back to me in conversation with Ryan, sitting at the kitchen counter, overlooking a landscape that his mother often painted in oils, one of which hung on my family’s living room wall where ever we lived.

For it is cultural values in a community, vested in Nature and the land, focused on the well being of future generations, mixed with a little horse sense, and marked with a family-forged branding iron from immigrant homesteaders that is the true legacy of a legacy oil fund.

This article originally appeared in the September 20, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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