When a saltwater tank gets hit by lighting, chaos quickly follows. Not only is there a fire that is likely to destroy the entire tank battery, spilling oil and produced water, but the lids themselves fly like frisbees.
Just ask Karolin Jappe, McKenzie County’s Emergency Management Director. Her county has had four lightning strikes on saltwater disposal units this year alone. And she says that number is not unusual.
“I lose four to five salt water disposals a year,” Jappe told the Williston Herald. “If you look at all the well pads, the central tank batteries, the compressor gas plants — we have more static electricity than the rest of the state.”
Among the fires this year was one that consumed a facility that was just five months old.
“It was a beautiful facility,” Jappe said. “But it had 13 fiberglass tanks.”
All of four of McKenzie County’s fires involved fiber glass tanks, she added.
Static electricity is what Jappe and many others in the oil and gas industry believe is attracting lightning strikes to fiberglass tanks. That is why the emergency management director has been pushing for changes to how the risks are managed, including what types of tanks are used.
As a result, the state’s Oil and Gas Research Council has recently voted to recommend commissioning a $300,000 study of lightning strikes and saltwater disposal fires by the Energy and Environmental Research Council.
Funding would come from a special pool that has been set aside for emerging issues.
“Normally the Research Council requires a 50 percent private or federal match,” North Dakota Department of Minerals Director Lynn Helms said. “But money from that pool does not.”
The proposal would require approval by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which will consider the matter Aug. 28.
Helms brought up the matter of saltwater disposal fires with the Oil and Gas Research Council last week.
The state’s top oil and gas regulator said he is seeing a significant increase in the number of disposal well permits, which he expects to double or triple in the next decade or two.
“Anecdotally the reports are that fiberglass tanks, when fluid flows through them — especially salty water — build up a significant static electric charge,” Helms said. “It’s something I’m told that you can physically feel if you are near the tank.”
If that’s the case, it’s a serious issue, and not only because it can attract lightning,” Helms said.
“It’s also creating hazards for connecting trucks and things like that,” he said. “You could get a spark.”
While some ideas for solutions have already been proposed, such as requiring the use of steel tanks, Helms wants to see a more comprehensive look at the problem before settling on recommendations for best practices.
“Rather than leap, we think we should get some science behind it first,” Helms said.
John Harju, with the EERC, said they are already drafting up some ideas on what could and should be done as far as studying the problem.
“There is some literature that needs to be reviewed,” he said, “and there are people we need to interview to just get a better handle on what is actually known versus what do people believe.”
Anecdotes aside, Harju said he has not seen any solid data on fundamental differences between salt water in fiber glass versus steel.
“We just need to do our due diligence, so we can design whatever follow-on study needs to be done appropriately,” Harju said.
Jappe, meanwhile, said she just wants companies to realize that lightning is a real hazard, and plans to work individually with companies to make sure they are fully aware of the risks.
“The weather can get wild out here,” she said. “And every well pad has salt water tanks on it.”
Caped Crusaders, Men of Steel and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes all made a visit to Williston State College on Friday, but they paled in comparison to the true heroes of the day: those affected by cancer.
The Upper Missouri Relay For Life held their 22nd annual event at the college campus on Friday, May 2, with the theme “What’s Your Superpower?” Teams decorated their booths in true comic book fashion, with capes, masks and photo ops with some life-size cardboard heroes.
Kids could try their best to make some heroes run crying to Aquaman as they took turns drenching them in the dunk tank. The Basin Kruzers held their annual car show in conjunction with Relay for Life, raising additional money for the cause. Dozens of custom and vintage vehicles, from the Hot Wheels inspired custom roadster, to a Batman-themed Dodge Charger, cars from all around the region were on display.
The Relay kicked off with the opening ceremony at 4 p.m., and the teams took to the track for the traditional first lap.
Relay had activities throughout the evening, culminating with a fireworks show and luminaria lantern release.
With three months remaining until the Williston Basin International Airport is scheduled to begin service, airline officials say they are currently in talks to attract additional air carriers to the area.
A release from the Williston Economic Development office on Friday, Aug. 2 states that Airport Director Anthony Dudas has met with several potential service providers, in the hopes of attracting new air carriers to provide “improved leisure and business opportunities.” The release said that as of now, no commitments have been made from any providers, but that Salt Lake City, Houston, Las Vegas and Phoenix are all possible new routes that have been discussed.
The release states that air service development consultant Landrum and Brown provided a recent statistic that Williston currently has the third highest fares in the nation. Additional air carriers could potentially bring those costs down, Dudas commented.
“Ticket prices are generally a direct result of the local economy and demand,” he said in the release. “So, with where we are, it is a challenge to bring the high prices down. We are hoping with more aircraft, larger aircraft and additional airlines, prices will go down.”
In a further effort to provide lower-cost airfare to the community and to incentivize potential future carriers, the city of Williston is seeking a Small Community Air Service Development Grant. The release stated that the grant was submitted on July 15 and will provide resources to fund a Minimum Revenue Guarantee for a future airline. If approved, the release said, the grant could significantly increase the chance of the airport gaining a new service provider.
“It is a challenge to educate the public on what is going on behind the scenes,” Dudas explained. “The city of Williston and the airport are working diligently to get those additional airlines that everyone, including the airport, wants. We are trying to make it so air carriers have an incentive to come to Williston and one way of doing that is by providing all of the upfront costs associated with coming to a new airport.”
Existing carriers United and Delta have already committed to continuing their service from Sloulin Field to Williston Basin, with each carrier replacing one 50-seat aircraft.
Delta Airlines will be bringing in a larger 70-seat aircraft, and United Airlines will upgrade to a 76-seat craft. Along with the additional space, both aircrafts will also feature a first-class section.
The airport is scheduled to begin service on Oct. 10.
Williams County announced Friday, Aug. 2, that in preliminary, in-house tests this week, a mosquito sample collected in Grenora tested positive for West Nile Virus.
Vector Control will continue to test samples and monitor the situation. The Centers for Disease Control website provides information about symptoms and prevention of West Nile Virus https://www.cdc.gov/westnile/symptoms/index.html.
Williston Vector Control will conduct aerial and ground adulticide treatments the week of Friday, Aug. 2 through Friday, Aug. 9 as needed, depending on trap counts, in the areas of Williston, Carolville, Grenora, and Ray. All aerial applications depend on favorable weather conditions and usually occur between an hour before sunset to an hour after sunset.
The announcement also reminded residents that they can avoid mosquito bites by wearing long sleeve shirts and pants, using a mosquito repellent such as DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus, and limiting time spent outdoors during dusk hours.
Citizens can help prevent mosquito repopulation by eliminating standing water on their property.
The Williston Job ServicesND office has been a little bit busier lately. That’s not just because of the Whiting Oil and Gas layoff, but those former employees — some of them long-time and thus highly skilled oilfield workers — have been among those served.
Williston Job ServicesND Office Manager Paula Hickel said her office is fielding a number of questions in the wake of the layoff.
First from the community.
“We always get this reaction of everything is bombing,” Hickel said. “If it is a big company, people wonder if it is an indication that the whole bottom is falling out of the oilfield. But that’s not accurate.”
Hickel said there have probably been around 50 companies with layoffs of one size or another, which she characterized as about normal for the Oil Patch. Companies are coming and going, trying new things, and adjusting to the demand of the marketplace all the time.
Whiting’s layoff was just the first this year that was large enough to trigger required notices, and make headlines.
Whiting laid off 254 employees on Wednesday, which is 33 percent of The Bakken-focused company’s workforce. Among factors contributing to the layoffs, company officials cited repaying debts and missed production targets, partly due to lack of gas processing and NGLs takeaway in the McKenzie County area.
About 100 of the lost positions are in North Dakota, Hickel said, and they are somewhat evenly split between Watford City, Williston, and New Town. About 40 percent were lease operators.
Hickel said the workers themselves have a lot of questions right now as well. That has prompted a workshop for them and anyone else going through a layoff.
The workshop is not just limited to the individual who has been laid off, either. Family members or other people supporting the individual may also attend on their behalf.
“This can be very overwhelming,” Hickel said. “It’s all presented to you in a bunch of information all at once. It’s information overload, particularly if you have never done it before and you don’t realize the time sensitive nature of all the requirements or where to look.”
The workshops will provide more, however, than just assistance with the unemployment process. It will be a wholistic approach, ranging from unemployment to re-employment, and all parts in between, including tips for handling the emotional roller coaster that comes with losing a job.
The first workshop is 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7 at the Roughrider Center in Watford City. The second is at Job Service ND in Williston, Thursday, Aug. 8.
“We do know that there were severance packages,” Hickel said.
That helps cut down the crisis level while seeking something new and suitable, Hickel said, but it also has people wondering if they can or should apply for unemployment at all.
The answer, Hickel said, is that it depends on how the severance was paid out.
“Your severance may or may not affect unemployment benefits,” she said. “You don’t really know unless you file.”
The other thing Hickel has heard a lot from oilfield workers is that they don’t want “handouts.”
“But it’s not a handout,” Hickel said. “It is a benefit that has been paid for. It is insurance, no different than if you crashed you vehicle. It’s not a handout to fix your car.”
The benefit has been paid by employers on behalf of employees and is only triggered when employees have been let go through no fault of their own.
While the benefit is much smaller than an oilfield salary, Hickel acknowledged, it can help bridge the gap until a new job begins.
With the semi-annual job fair around the corner in September, Hickel feels that the layoff makes the event even more vital to both job seekers and employers.
Hickel also said she is expecting the job fair to be bigger than ever this year. Each of the Job ServicesND offices has recently put up a Facebook page, Hickel said, and a recent job fair post sent from the Williston page has reached 7,000 people and had 22 shares.
“We are really working to increase awareness about the job fair as far as who is going to be there, as well as increase all the buzz about it,” Hickel said.