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Big names line up to invest in value-added natural gas in North Dakota

Alberta, Canada was once like the Bakken, flaring an abundant supply of natural gas — and future wealth — to the blue sky. The province was able to change that by investing in the right infrastructure, helping it to eventually produce and export value-added natural gas products.

Bakken Midstream wants to help write a similar success story in North Dakota, where the state is flaring 20 percent or 555 million cubic feet per day of natural gas, according to the most recent statistics. The company has just announced the closing of a Series A funding round, to begin the process of doing just that.

Series A is the term investors use to refer to a company’s first significant round of venture capital. It’s typically issued as some type of preferred stock.

A news release characterized the round as “over-subscribed,” but did not say how much money was raised.

Mike Hopkins, CEO for Bakken Midstream, indicated the round is just the first of more to come as the company looks at building the right infrastructure to bring value-added natural gas companies to the Bakken.

Several big names were dropped in the release as investors in the Series A funding round. These include:

• Richard A. Galanti, longtime CFO of Costco Wholesale

• Charles J. Philippin, formerly longtime chairman of Ulta Beauty

• George P. Orban, co-founder and lead director of Ross Stores

• Herald L. Ritch, founder of DC Advisory

The round was led by the Family Office of Bakken Midstream founder and chairman Steven E. Lebow, who is described on the company’s website as a financier for the early stages of several world-class companies, including Costco, Starbucks, PetSmart and Ulta Beauty.

Lebow has been studying the natural gas situation in North Dakota for the past five years, according to the company’s website.

“The natural gas resources of North Dakota are certainly a big opportunity,” Lebow said in the company’s press release. “We’ve assembled a world class leadership team, including our CEO Mike Hopkins who helped develop over $12 billion of natural gas-based infrastructure before building his prior company, Ice Energy, into the leading distributed thermal energy storage company. The projects being undertaken by Bakken Midstream are very capital intensive and highly attractive to infrastructure and private equity funds and other institutional investors we know well.”

Hopkins said Lebow was introduced to North Dakota by friends, and intrigued by the abundant — and growing — natural gas resource that is presently being lost to the air.

“He saw it as a combination of a tremendous opportunity that is not a flip or a quick hit, but one that, with the right partners and the right capital, can be a business that goes on for generations,” Hopkins said. “And he is a person, like myself, who looks to not only do well in business, but to do good. This is a tremendous opportunity to do good.”

The state legislature recently approved tax incentives intended to attract a plastics plant. Bakken Midstream was among those testifying in favor of that. However, the company isn’t looking at building a plastics plant or an ethane cracker. They are looking at building the infrastructure for value-added natural gas industries willing to locate in the state and put the state’s flared gas to work.

In all, Hopkins said Bakken Midstream has 12 different projects under consideration. These would all be contracted projects, for companies that want to utilize the infrastructure that is being built.

“Everything we looked at, every single project that is under consideration, is going to be good for North Dakota,” Hopkins said. “Once we have individual priorities nailed down, we will announce where and what.”

Hopkins is described on the company’s website as an entrepreneur from Alberta, who has participated in the development of more than $12 billion in natural gas-based infrastructure there.

Alberta, Hopkins said, provides a roadmap of how and what could happen in North Dakota. Canada now flares just 3 percent of its natural gas, according to the company’s website, and has invested in projects exceeding $224 billion, of which a petrochemical industry is $4.8 billion.

North Dakota can write a similar success story, Hopkins believes.

“Extraordinary volumes of gas are being flared, and what is being transported out of the State delivers low value for producers, royalty owners and the State,” Hopkins said in the company’s press release. “Bakken Midstream and our partners are bringing transformational change by developing not just natural gas infrastructure as North Dakota has known it, but infrastructure designed to add value in the State.”

Robert Brewer • Williston Herald  

Keybirds home opener

Fans line up at the concession stand during the Keybirds home opener on Wednesday, June 5 at Aafedt Stadium in Williston. For more on the ‘birds, see page 7.

City of Williston announces Walker as director of Upper Missouri River Region Dispatch Center

The Upper Missouri River Region Dispatch Center is growing under new leadership, as Williston announced a director for the organization.

Derrick Walker has been named as director for the dispatch center, which is focused on providing 911 dispatch service to northwest North Dakota. The dispatch center is governed by a board of stakeholders from surrounding communities participating in the effort to expand and improve emergency dispatch services in the region.

Walker hails from Gadsden, Alabama, and has over 20 years experience in the industry, working his way from a radio frequency technician to Public Safety Programs Manager for the State of North Dakota, where he lead the expansion and institution of program in all 53 of the state’s counties. As director of the dispatch center, Walker said he has ambitious goals for the agency.

“My goal is that in three to five years, western North Dakota will have the leading PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point)/Dispatch Center in the state.” Walker said in a news release. “Dispatch isn’t just a call center, it’s pre-arrival instructions, it’s stabilizing patients before first responders arrive, it’s getting resources on the scene. I want to help find ways with my team and first responders to take what was done in seconds and have it happen in milliseconds. That’s what dispatch does.”

Walker has previous experience as a volunteer firefighter and a deputy sheriff, but said he wanted to be able to do more, leading him into the career of dispatch.

“I wanted to help and be more hands on, but I also had to ask myself what was going to be the best way to do that. For me the answer was communications and dispatch,” he explained. “I consider myself lucky. I have been there — (in the field,) in that officer or fireman’s shoes. I’ve tried to make sure that any practice or system I put in place as a dispatcher gives our emergency personnel the information they need, often before they even arrive on scene, to do their job safely and provide the best possible service to the people in the community.”

Walker said he knows that goals for the dispatch center are going to be challenging, but he is confident that the people in the region have the right skills to get the job done.

“Western North Dakota has a history of taking the initiative and a willingness to get things done. When others say it’s not possible, western North Dakota says, ‘We’ll figure it out.’” he said. “I have spent my career finding solutions where others said it couldn’t be done. I’m excited to serve a community with the kind of drive that I see here, the kind of community that hears ‘not possible’ and says, ‘not yet.’”

Man held on $50,000 after being accused of selling heroin

A 24-year-old man is facing two felony charges after police say he sold heroin multiple times during May.

Jermaine Morris was arrested Monday, June 3, and charged with two class B felony counts of distributing a controlled substance, as well as a class A misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia and a class B misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance. He was ordered held Wednesday, June 5, on $50,000 bond.

Agents from the Northwest Narcotics Task Force recorded audio of drug sales to a confidential informant throughout the month of May, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Northwest District Court Wednesday. Agents from the task force also recorded text messages between Morris and the informant.

Morris sold the informant 1.2 grams of heroin on May 1 and again on May 2, court records indicate. The informant paid $300 each time.

On Monday, the task force arrested Morris at his apartment in the 2900 block of 17th Avenue West, charging documents state. In the apartment police found marijuana and a digital scale with marijuana residue on it.

At a bond hearing Wednesday, Kathryn Preusse, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, asked for Morris’ bond to be set at $50,000. She said there was a prolonged investigation in the case and that Morris was on supervised probation for a 2018 conviction in Ward County for possession of heroin with intent to distribute.

Morris asked for a lower bond.

“I can’t afford $50,000,” he told Northwest District Judge Paul Jacobson. “I don’t have any land to put up.”

He asked to be allowed to post 10 percent — $5,000 — to be released.

Jacobson set bond at $50,000.

Morris is due back in court July 3 for a preliminary hearing on the drug charges.

New Williston airport gets $8 million in federal grants

The Williston Basin International Airport project is getting an additional $8 million in federal grants.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced Wednesday, June 5, that the Federal Aviation Administration will award $840 million in airport infrastructure grants, the first allotment of the total $3.18 billion in Airport Improvement Program funding for airports across the United States.

“This significant investment in airport improvements at Williston Basin International Airport will fund construction and rehabilitation projects that will help maintain high levels of safety in U.S. aviation,” Chao said.

For the grant, $1 million came from entitlements and $7 million came from discretionary funding.