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Sanford delivers State of The Bakken at oil conference
Lt. Governor talks about industry efforts to reach governor's challenge of zero leaks, 2 million bpd

It’s been a year since Gov. Doug Burgum issued a challenge to the oil and gas industry to eliminate spills and reach the 2 million barrel production mark.

The challenge was issued at the Bakken Conference and Expo in Bismarck last year in July.

This year, at the same expo, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford gave the industry something of a performance review and talked about the challenges the industry has taken on, from the technology that is steadily increasing production to initiatives like iPipe where industry leaders are seeking to push the next generation of leak detection forward more quickly.

Meanwhile, the Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms was reporting that oil production in May hit 1.393 million barrels per day — near the previous record 1.403 million set in January, during his monthly production report.

That amount, Sanford said, was accomplished with far fewer rigs than at the peak of activity in the boom. The rig count Tuesday was just 58, as compared to more than 200 at peak activity during the boom.

“It’s a testament,” Sanford said, “to all the technology we are here to talk about today. Private sector innovation is what makes this possible.”

Gas production is the main obstacle to reaching the 2 million barrel per day mark, Sanford said, and is something he believes will be solved only through industry-led innovation.

Companies like Bakken Midstream could play a critical role, Sanford suggested, while also laying the foundation for a new and lucrative petrochemical industry in the state.

Meanwhile, entities like the University of North Dakota with its petroleum engineering degree, are training the next generation of industry leaders, and thus laying important groundwork that will also make the Bakken better.

In a panel on Bakken research and industry-led efforts to solve Bakken problems, Mehdi Ostadhassan, assistant professor of petroleum engineering for University of North Dakota, talked about research that’s probing the deeper nature of Bakken shale as a rock, to learn more about its interactions with fluids for enhanced oil recovery.

Karthik Balaji, a graduate student with the UND Petroleum Engineering program, meanwhile, talked about efforts to use things like daily drilling reports and logs to optimize well operations and cut down nonproductive time.

Sen. Rich Wardner, among those in the audience at the Bakken Expo Tuesday, thanked Balaji and Ostadhassan for their efforts, which he said not only improve oil production but will ultimately increase state revenue and help the state reach its goals of improving the quality of life in North Dakota.

“I can’t tell you how important you are to the state of North Dakota,” Wardner said. “I was rejoicing on the inside as I was listening to you speak.”

Wardner said legislators get “beat up” for bringing in out-of-state students and educating them.

“There’s an element in our state that says we shouldn’t educate these people,” the Senate Majority Leader said, indicating that’s because of tax money involved. “But to see someone like Karthik … He came from California to here, and I hope you stay, because you are already benefiting the state of North Dakota.”

Wardner said it is important to get the message out to the general public about the good work that people like Ostadhassan and Karthik are doing for the state.

“If you stay and you are a petroleum engineer, whether working crunching numbers or out in the field, you are going to increase the revenue, and that is going to keep other taxes down because of the production of oil.”

Some individuals want to “beat the crap” out of education, too, Wardner added.

“Here we have research that is absolutely knocking the ball out of the park, and nobody knows about you,” he said. “Well I know about you, but it is a quiet thing. Somehow, some way we have to get the message out there about what is going on at UND and your petroleum engineering department and what it is doing for the state of North Dakota.”

Ostadhassan, in response to questions from a different attendee, said he felt that UND has not had a good presence on the western side of the state in the past. It is something they are working to improve for the future, however. And that includes working with Williston State College to create a feeder program into UND programs for petroleum engineering.

Sanford, in his address, hit several highlights on attracting people from out of state. That effort is key to filling open positions in the state, as well as bringing new talent that can tackle challenges with a fresh eye.

“We need people from other states and countries to keep moving to North Dakota,” he said. “We have more jobs than people seeking jobs, so we need to offer an attractive place to live.”

Those attractive places need to be available across the state.

“All the families cannot move to Fargo and Bismarck,” he said. “All the state needs to be welcoming.”

He believes word is getting out, however, about North Dakota, with recent ratings by media outlets like US and World Reports, highlighting North Dakota as having the best quality of life.

“But it’s going to take more than in migration,” he added. “We need efforts aimed at developing talent in our schools, too.”

Sanford pointed to companies like ONEOK and Hess, which are sending company representatives to talk to high school students about opportunities in the Bakken, including paying tuition for college if students will stay in state and work for them.

As far as the push for zero leaks, also part of Gov. Burgum’s challenge to industry last year at the Bakken Expo, Sanford praised the recent iPipe initiative.

Industry leaders in that coalition are using a Shark Tank style to select next generation leak detection technology and give it a push across the finish line.

That effort has recently opened up to other states, Sanford said. “Oil and gas companies are extremely competitive, but operators are willing to come together when they face a common challenge.”

Jer Bears Sno Shack treats Bethel Lutheran residents to a sweet summer treat

A sweet treat on a sunny day not only helped to stave off the summer heat, but brightened a few spirits, too.

Residents and staff at Bethel Lutheran Nursing Home in Williston were treated to shaved ice from Jer Bears Sno Shack, as the business set up shop in Bethel’s parking lot the afternoon of Tuesday, July 16. Jer Bears co-owner Tami Enget told the Williston Herald that they were contacted by Bethel’s activity director, asking if they’d like to come set up and serve their signature treat. Enget and her husband Jerys, the “Jer” behind Jer Bears, said they wanted to be more involved, and the Sno Shack is the best, and most fun, way they can do so.

“We’re not doing this to make money,” Jerys said. “We’re doing it so we can give back. It’s a tool for us to be able to give back to the community.”

Originally starting out with just one shack, Jer Bears has to expanded to three shacks, with a permanent location in Williston and Dickinson, and a mobile shack that can travel to various events in the area. The staff and residents at Bethel certainly seemed excited for the opportunity to try a shaved ice of their own, with many sitting outside with their treats while others enjoyed live music inside. Resident Marian Rasmussen, assisted by CNA Nancy Maldonado, had her hands full with a cappuccino-flavored shaved ice, piled so high she almost couldn’t carry it.

“It’s very good,” Rasmussen told the Herald. “But it’s way too much!”

Clayton Lee, another resident at Bethel, enjoyed his shaved ice, but had a one recommendation for Jer Bears staff.

“If I was to make one suggestion,” he said, “they need bacon flavor or buttered popcorn.”

As Tami, Jerys and their staff served up the various colorful creations, staff and seniors alike continued to thank them for stopping by, asking when they would return and where they would be next. Tami and Jerys said they’ve become passionate about giving back, taking part in different events and fundraisers to help give back to the community. Donating the tips they make to organizations, while matching the funds themselves, is just one of the ways they’ve given back.

Tami said that it also gives others an avenue to give back as well, as she said some people may want to donate to a cause, may may not know how. What better way, she said, than to get a treat for themselves, and having that money go towards a worthy cause.

“It just gets people to give, and that’s what life, I feel, is about.” she said.

District 1 board OK's teacher contracts

The Williston Public School District No. 1 board voted unanimously Tuesday, July 16, to approve a two-year contract for teachers.

The contract includes an increase to the district’s base pay, as well as a change in how some teachers at Bakken Elementary are compensated. One of the biggest changes, though, is the length of the contract itself.

For a number of years, both sides have asked for a two-year agreement, but that has been elusive. The last time both sides negotiated was in summer 2017, when the board declared an impasse, and, after a report by a fact-finding commission appointed by the state, eventually imposed a contract on teachers.

In 2018, the Williston Education Association, which represents teachers in the district, agreed to stick with the same contract as a way to support efforts by the district to pass a bond to build new schools.

Both sides reached an agreement in principle very quickly, board Vice President Thomas Kalil said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Kalil said one item that will likely continue to change is the pay for extra duties and advising co-curricular activities. The plan is to tie the pay for extra duties to the amount of work involved.

One change has been an issue for several years now but is being resolved. When fifth and sixth grades moved to Bakken Elementary at the start of the 2016-17 school year, that changed the number of classes some teachers taught.

Some were teaching seven class periods a day, while most teachers in the district teach six a day.

“They’ve been under compensated for working seven periods,” Jeffery Thake, district superintendent, said.

Under the agreement approved Tuesday, they will be paid extra for working seven periods as opposed to six.

The school year is also going to get a little bit longer in Williston, but parents and students won’t necessarily notice that. The agreement extends the year from 183 days to 186 days.

Previously, District 1 had the shortest school year of any class A school in the state. Now it falls in like with the others.

The extra three days are going to be used for continuing education, and will likely be added to the end of the school year. Thake said he had heard from teachers that there wasn’t enough time built into the school year for professional development and continuing education.

District 8 school board selects member to replace woman who resigned after theft accusation

The school board for Williams County Public School District No. 8 chose as its new member one of the people who tied for third place in last month’s board election.

The board voted 3-1 on Monday, July 15, to choose Dawn Hollingsworth to replace Deanna Senior, who resigned in June after being charged with stealing from another entity.

Senior resigned from the District 8 board after she was arrested on a class B felony count of theft in late May. Police said Senior stole nearly $30,000 from Missouri Ridge Township, where she served as secretary/treasurer.

Hollingsworth selection came at the end of a two-hour special meeting that included interviews with four of the five people who applied to fill the vacancy. One of the applicants, Doug Stangeland, withdrew his name during the meeting.

Stangeland said after he heard John Kasmer’s answers, he thought Kasmer was more qualified than he was and so he wanted to withdraw.

In all, Hollingsworth, Kasmer and Stangeland, Salena Gustaveson and Cody Bennett applied. All but Stangeland answered the same 10 questions from board members.

The questions, developed at a previous meeting, ranged from why the applicants applied and why they had or hadn’t run in the election that was held June 11 to how much they knew about the district and their thoughts on why a bond referendum failed in May.

After the interviews, Myles Fischer moved to appoint Kasmer to the position. Kasmer, co-owner of Kasmer & Aafedt Oil in Williston, has served on the school board for Williston Public School District No. 1.

Fischer and Kyle Renner, the board member who seconded the motion to appoint Kasmer, both also highlighted Kasmer’s experience.

“John just seems like he’s got a fair mind,” Renner said. “He doesn’t have an agenda.”

Board President Penny Soiseth said she knew Kasmer was well-qualified, but pointed out that he hadn’t been involved in the district in the way others, including Hollingsworth and Gustafson, had been.

The motion to appoint Kasmer failed, with Fischer and Renner voting yes and Soiseth and board Vice President Curt Sullivan voting no.

Sullivan moved to appoint Hollingsworth to the spot.

In her interview, Hollingsworth highlighted her involvement in the district over the last nine years. She has been involved with the PTO, as well as with the committee that supported the district’s efforts to pass several bonds.

Sullivan also brought that up.

“She was, at one time, the only yes committee we had,” he said.

He and Soiseth also pointed out that Hollingsworth was one of four people who ran for two school board seats. In that election, Fischer and Renner won seats. Hollingsworth tied with incumbent Amber Anderson.

“She decided to go through the process and she did receive votes,” Soiseth said.

The final vote had Sullivan, Soiseth and Renner saying yes and Fischer voting no. Hollingsworth will be sworn in at the end of July.

Airline boardings up 10% statewide

During the first half of calendar year 2019, North Dakota’s commercial service airports provided a total of 580,343 passenger boardings. This is a growth of 53,240 passengers or a 10% increase from this same time period in 2018.

In Williston, there were 8,009 passengers, an increase of 1,736, or 27.67%, over the previous year.

The last year with more boardings in Williston was 2015, when July saw nearly 9,000 passengers at the airport.

So far in 2019, there have been 42,018 passengers through Sloulin Field. That is an increase of 7,005 or almost exactly 20% over 2018.

Sobolik named Great Plains Food Bank President

The Great Plains Food Bank has named Melissa Sobolik as its new president, which took effect July 1.

With the promotion and change in leadership structure, Sobolik will serve alongside long-time Chief Executive Officer Steve Sellent, splitting her time between external relations of the organization and continuing to lead the efforts of Ending Hunger 2.0, where she was serving as director. Sellent will continue to oversee internal functions and the overall strategic direction and work of the organization.