Tales from the Oil Patch: Part 4
By Larrie Wanberg
For those behind a steering wheel in traffic, driving across the landscape of the Bakken Oil Field in North Dakota (N.D.), the growth seems chaotic.
For those steering the development of oil and gas behind the scenes, growth is systematic, strategic and promising.
Eight hundred such developers attended the 32nd Annual Meeting of the N.D. Petroleum Council in Grand Forks last week, where leaders in the oil industry from across the state, across the country and across continents gathered.
Attendees shared information and told their stories – about the impact of technologies, N.D.’s staggering growth economically, and informing the public to gain an understanding of its great potential to overcome the Nation’s dependency on oil. Current challenges of the impact of rapid growth were addressed with strategic solutions.
What was most impressive from the three-day conference was the “well-oiled” organization of N.D. Petroleum Council since 1952 as a voice in the industry. After 60 years of geology research at the University of N.D., combined with a close link to Norway’s North Sea Oil development over 40 of those years, collective knowledge gained from science plays a prominent role on a global scene in sustainable fossil fuel development.
The “spirit” of the conference was cast by Lou Holtz, famous winning coach of the Notre Dame football team. With a microphone in hand, he “walked his talk” to entertain the audience with humor and a simple philosophy for excellence – a passion to win with a willingness to sacrifice, a right attitude even when people say you can’t make winning happen, do what’s right and profitable for others and maybe even earn a “buck” yourself.
His personalized stories about teamwork from the “game field” energized the audience with standing ovation. One of his capsules of wisdom stated that “you become what you practice”; another ”Do not live your life as a spectator.”
Two large viewing screens at each side of the speaker’s stage showed videos and images that augmented the narration of a speaker at center stage. Detailed graphics illustrated the technologies to explain how oil is extracted using advanced technologies.
Common concerns about fracturing that are often heard in public were quelled by visual understanding the process and safeguards used in today’s drilling.
Bill Mahoney, President of Statoil U.S., outlined Norway’s oil development and its contribution through advanced technologies in a talk “Leading the Way for Statoil’s Growth.” He emphasized how partnering is creating value through knowledge, resources and innovation.
He said that the importance qualities of leading are “learning the business from the ground up, partnering with ‘good neighbors’ and collectively building an industry at higher levels of performance.” Statoil is number three in U.S. oil investments and development, after Shell and British Petroleum.
N.D. Governor Jack Dalrymple encouraged citizens to participate in N.D.’s growth with ideas, with participation in community development and with engagement in the energy industries through supportive resources available from State agencies. He emphasized how N.D.’s national leadership in agriculture is providing a foundation for managing the exportation of oil to distant ports, by a combination of pipelines and rail transportation from the State at the geographic center of North America.
The luncheon speaker, Matt Rose, CEO, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, gave an illustrated presentation on the “Role of Rail in the Growth of Domestic Crude.”
Complimenting developing pipelines, which are currently flowing full to specific destinations, he explained that rail transport of crude is built on a foundation of N.D.’s grain exports. Trains with a 110 oil cars go non-stop every day to a destination port in East or West coasts, Gulf of Mexico or Great Lakes, gauged by wherever the optimum time is for turn-around, where the best demand is for export on a given day, or where the market price per barrel is the highest.
While the partnering of private and public corporate players in the Bakken Field is reassuring, based on generations and decades of cooperative guidance in development, the impact of growth in families and neighbors with Norwegian-American lineages is causing “fracturing” of a different kind.
About one-third of N.D. families’ carry the identity of Norwegian farm names dating back generations to a patch of land in Norway from immigrated ancestors. Perhaps three-out-of-five N.D. families have one or more genes from a Norwegian ancestor in their family tree.
Today in the oil patch, these families, whose name-identity relates to a farm name from Norway, fall into three categories: those who’s unfathomed dreams for new wealth come true; those who are invested in maintaining the land but mineral rights are held elsewhere; those families who are socially “fractured” as they stand on the sidelines – seeing others surrounded by rewards of being in the right place, yet experiencing the downside of rapid growth that degrades their daily wellbeing, especially the elderly.
One speaker at the conference said that there are 12 dimensions of complexity requiring solutions in the Bakken Field development. Primary social, civic and environmental issues – both upside and downside – are progressively being addressed and these topics will be explored in this column in future editions.
This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.