Powering the future with Bakken

Photo: Renae Mitchell Jack Gerard (left), the president and CEO of American Petroleum Institute, and Jack Dalrymple, governor of North Dakota with the “Bakken” license plate.

North Dakota’s “Oil Patch” draws over 4,000 people to petroleum conference in Bismarck

By Dr. Larrie Wanberg

“Bakken Gold” was a huge graphic backdrop on a stage of speakers discussing the promise, advancements and realities of North Dakota’s “Oil Patch,” now the second largest oil producing state, next to Texas.

The 20th Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D., drew over 4,000 attendees from 46 states, and nine countries, including Norway. The three-day event on May 22 – 24 offered 55 profiled speakers and hosted 257 indoor and 40 outdoor exhibits.

The corridors were like alternating streams of energetic people, half going to workshops and half coming from workshops. People gathered at side tables to chat, checking their emails or negotiating business on their cell phones, with a hand cupping their ear and often pacing. In most every workshop, all chairs were filled and participants stood, lining the walls. Human “energy” was flowing throughout the Civic Center, and spilling over to the parking lot, where gigantic, imposing machines were viewed.

The keynote speakers at the Wednesday luncheon were Tex “Red Tipped Arrow” Hall, Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman and Jack Gerard, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO.

Later, I sat down with Tex in a quiet spot and we reflected over the 20 years that I have known him, first as Tribal Superintendent of Madaree School, a small village on the Ft. Berthold Reservation that was displaced by flood waters which made room for the Garrison Dam in the 1940’s and then through his reign of leadership of the Three Affiliated Tribal Nation over three terms and as a two-term president of the American Indian Congress in America.

We commented on the history of his peoples, dating back to the 1833, when Prince Maximilion from Germany spent a year with the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians (Arikara joined later) and how he organized a reunion of descendents of famous Chief Four Bears of Jeffersonian times and the current descendents of Prince Maximilian from the historic palace on the Rhine River. In a single tepee on the shores of Lake Sakakawea, illuminated by a “council fire,” descendents renewed their ancestries with stories across generations.

Tex reflected on the human side of the impact of “Bakken Gold” from land once considered desolate, and now valued for its natural resources. The tribe will build the first refinery in America since 1976.

In the corridors over the drone of chatter, I heard the sounds of conversations in the Norwegian language, and joined a circle of seven Norwegians from investment groups in Norway. We met later in a hotel restaurant and continued a dialogue by email after they returned to their homes in Norway.

I asked them to reflect on five questions, like “How did you highlight your trip to North Dakota with your family after you returned?”

Some of the following consolidated comments suggest the questions asked.


“I told my family that North Dakota must be the western border of Norway because we met so many people with Norwegian parents, grandparents… very friendly… roads go in a straight line… very flat.”

“What caught my eye was the nature… the landscape… the drilling pads. Imagine, cows, sunset, green grass and a drill tower in the same picture is just amazing…”

“I benefitted from the conference by getting a grip on the Bakken field and an eye opener for its possible implications on a broader scale… Less doubt, more belief in how big this will become!”

“I enjoyed a visit to a ranch… something “different” – very cool and exciting… first time in a saddle… riding a horse was more difficult than I imagined, especially trying to herd cows.”

“In a potential future trip, I’d like to visit a Tribal community…see if I have any relatives in North Dakota… maybe do some hunting…spend more time.”

Kari Bjerke Cutting, Vice President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council summed up the Council’s outreach program: “Teachers and students visited the conference for hands-on awareness of the oil industry in North Dakota. The educational outreach program has reached more than 70,000 teachers, students, school administrators and parents since its inception in 2002.”

For me, seeing young students in hard hats mixing with world leaders in energy was inspiring.

Reminiscing as a retired educator, I was a dozen miles away as a college student when the Iverson oil well near Tioga came in the spring of 1951 and last year met with the Tioga Chamber of Commerce on a University of North Dakota “Community Connect” student tour during spring break.

In 1976, my family operated a “Family Academy” in Stavanger Norway for young (up to age seven) expatriate children of oil families from 27 countries over seven years. The motto of the school rings true today: “A child’s imagination is Nature’s highest form of energy, both costless and priceless, capable of changing the world.”


Norwegians interviewed included Lars-Henrik Q. Røren and Halvor Strand Nygård of SEB Enskilda of Oslo, as well as Jan Magne Gatåen and Trygve Lauvdal of Rasmussengruppe from Kristianands S.


To learn more about the oil boom in North Dakota, visit http://www.ndoil.org.

This article originally appeared in the June 8, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.