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Oasis Petroleum also laid off Bakken workers in August — but much more quietly

Whiting wasn’t the only oil company in the Bakken to lay off employees in early August. Oasis Petroleum also laid off a sizable portion of its Williston workforce about a week after Whiting did.

No one was available with Oasis Petroleum to discuss the matter on Friday. An answering machine at the main desk said the company’s employees are off every other Friday. Neither emails nor phone calls to various Oasis Petroleum employees, as well as the main desk were returned.

A former employee told the Williston Herald the company laid off about half of its pressure pumping staff, and said the total layoff was around 80 people. Job Services North Dakota, meanwhile, confirmed that a notice was filed by Oasis as required by state laws. That notice estimated the layoff affected 40 employees in the Williston region.

Notices are required when companies with at least 100 employees in an office will be laying off either 33 percent of that workforce or at least 50 of those employees.

Oasis Petroleum’s latest earnings call on Aug. 7 did contain some clues as to what might have prompted the layoff, though it did not mention the layoff at all.

Among problems the company faced in the second quarter were unplanned delays in getting its Wild Basin gas processing plant in McKenzie County up and running.

The facility was down for about 20 days, company officials said, downtime that was attributed to normal efforts for the startup phase for a new facility. This downtime reduced quarterly production by an estimated 3,000 barrels of oil equivalent net per day in the second quarter, Oasis executives estimated.

Weather issues and North Dakota’s short construction season affected some other gas plant facilities more adversely, company officials also said.

“Getting that plant up online in time for December was a huge feat for the team,” an unidentified Oasis executive said on the call. “Now we are through it, and I think we are past it.”

The asset is what the company described as a “coveted” asset — whether it’s owned by Oasis, or a different entity, executives said.

There was a clear implication in discussion that followed that the facility could be for sale at the right price.

“More of our drilling activity will move out of Wild Basin, so that asset won’t be quite as strategic to us on a go-forward basis as it has been in the past,” said Oasis Petroleum’s Director and Chief Executive Officer Tommy Nusz.

“It’s still very important to us,” Oasis Petroleum’s Director, President and Chief Operating Officer Taylor Reid said. “But the biggest strategic piece of it, that we wanted to get it set up and in place, has been served at this point, so as we go forward and think about that investment and the value of it, people ask would you ever consider doing anything about that and we go on saying, like in 15 and 16, that we are open to alternatives and will consider all those things. We want to maximize value for the company, and will be thinking about all those things going forward.”

Touting success

Oasis officials said they were successful in bringing 24 wells online in the Bakken during the second quarter, despite challenging weather and flooding issues. Meanwhile, in the Delaware, tests continue to prove that the company’s Permian investments have great future potential — as good as or better than what the company is seeing in the Bakken.

The company will continue to use its Bakken profits to fuel Permian development.

Executives said they expect to generate $75 to $120 million in free cash flow in its exploration and production business in 2019 at $50 to $60 WTI. That money will be taken to its revolving loan fund, to reduce debt.

The company meanwhile expects to finalize additional assets in its Delaware acreage by Sept. 1, and its executives said additional spending in the capital expenditures budget was mostly to accelerate construction of infrastructure.

While there’s been some deterioration in the prices of natural gas and NGLs, Oasis executives said they were early with some strong contracts, which should keep its pricing toward the top end of its peer group.

Nonetheless, realizations from that area have dropped significantly — estimated to be about $30 million lower, based on where differentials and pricing are today.

Oasis said it has successfully reduced well completion costs in both basins where it is operating. In the Bakken, it expects to push well costs down to $7 million, from $7.6 million.

There was also some discussion of the “broken oil market” similar to a discussion in Continental Oil’s latest earnings call.

The Stockmarket isn’t valuing Oasis Petroleum the way it should, one analyst suggested.

Nusz harked back to the “coveted” assets the company has developed over time, which he said provide Oasis with a lot of “optionality.”

“We have that thing in place, and as we move drilling outside the Wild Basin complex, it increases options for us, is probably the easiest way to say that, if it makes sense,” he said.

If the company did “monetize” the facility, company executives told the analyst the proceeds would be used to reduce debt and get “right-sized” for a market that no one expects to change any time soon.

Going on a quest to improve education

Near the end of a class period on a sunny Friday afternoon, Tammy Bakken had a question for her sixth-grade class.

The teacher at Bakken Elementary had seen one of the students out of his chair and not on task. She wanted to know if any of the other students on his team wanted to protect him.

One did and one didn’t, and, with that, the screen in the front of the classroom showed a new photo, one of a shield.

The student wasn’t in any danger — not physically, anyway. But Bakken is one of the first teacher in the district to use Classcraft, a web-based app that turns lessons into RPG-style quests.

Students have the chance to develop their own character, and can pick from three classes — Warrior, Mage and Healer. Like most RPGs, each class has advantages and disadvantages. Warriors are stronger, but healers can help other members of the party recover from damage, for example.

The ability to personalize the characters and, as the year progresses, to develop them and earn rewards, holds students’ attention, Bakken said.

“The kids get really involved, and that is the best part,” she said.

The program was developed by a teacher and got popular. Teachers can break lessons into quests where students have to complete tasks — reading quietly for a period of time at the start of reading class can earn a bonus, for example.

Leon Walter, the chief technology officer for Williston Public School District No. 1, said its origin is one of the things that makes it so interesting.

“It’s one of the few apps out there that was actually developed by an educator,” Walter said.

Bakken was one of several teachers in the district who started using Classcraft a few years ago.

This year, the district reached an agreement with Classcraft to roll out the program districtwide.

Classcraft ties in with programs teachers are already using, including Google Classroom. It also allows parents to check in on students’ progress from home. In fact, teachers and parents can arrange it so parents can award points for work students do at home.

It isn’t just for academic work, either.

Lesley Allan, district library coordinator, said she plans to launch a digital citizenship program that will use Classcraft to teach students about staying safe online. She hopes it will help spark student interest in the library more generally.

“It’s one way to keep interest,” she said.

Classcraft is one of several software programs the district purchased recently. The rollout is part of the broader effort to implement personalized, 21st-century education for students at every level.

The students in Bakken’s classroom are excited to take part in the quests.

“I think it’s really cool,” Michaelyn Egan said. “You can cooperate with people. And there’s a message box where you can talk to your teachers.”

Richter, Veeder Scofield recognized for their efforts in promoting downtowns

Williston was host to the 2019 North Dakota Downtown Conference last week, and the conference recognized some local events and volunteers for their work in promoting their downtowns.

The conference brought in around 100 people from across the state, offering keynote speakers, breakout sessions and networking events for its participants. The conference held a banquet on Thursday, Aug. 29 at The Williston Restaurant, where the inaugural Downtown Impact Award winners were announced. The awards recognized those organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to not only promote their downtown districts, but contribute to their success.

The awards were given in four categories, Downtown Event, Downtown Atmosphere, Downtown Champion and Downtown Leadership. The Event and Atmosphere awards were divided into two categories based on population, under 10,000 and over 10,000. No awards were presented in either of the over 10,000 categories. For this year’s awards, Williston and Watford City were both honored for events and individuals who have made an impact on the downtown and their communities.

Debbie Richter of American State Bank & Trust in Williston was given the Downtown Champion Award, which recognizes nominees who volunteer their time and resources to helping improve their downtown districts. Richter was honored for helping to found the Williston Downtowners Association and events such as Summer Nights on Main and the annual Crazy Days.

Richter said she was honored to receive the award, but felt that the downtown’s success was more of a group effort, rather than an individual achievement.

“I feel like none of us do any of this alone, so it’s hard to be recognized individually,” Richter told the Williston Herald. “We’re all in this together, and I know there are a lot of people that do a lot of work for a lot of projects, and so it really is a collaborative effort.”

As part of the Downtowners, as well as working downtown for over a decade, Richter said she has enjoyed seeing the changes that have made Williston’s downtown into what it is today.

“It’s nice to have watched it transform,” she said. “And I feel like downtown has transformed itself more than once in the past 30 years that I’ve lived here. I think we’re on a great track right now. It’s a vibrant part of the community, there’s a lot to offer, and I have a great respect for the people that own businesses downtown. Why would you not want to be involved?”

Just down the road in Watford City, Jessie Veeder Scofield was given the Downtown Event award for the city’s annual Best of the West Ribfest. Held every summer, the street fair, car show and ribfest always fills the city’s downtown with people who come from across the region to take part in the event’s activities. One of the event’s highlights is the musical entertainment, bringing in award winner musical acts year after year. The Ribfest brings in up to 10,000 people each year.

The Downtown Atmosphere award was given to Mary Gumke for Helping Hettinger Day.

The award recognizes a special project that has helped to improve the ambiance and quality of life in a downtown district. Organizers said that Helping Hettinger Day attracted more than 100 volunteers who built sidewalk benches, painted crosswalks, picked up trash and much more.

The Downtown Leadership award was given to Kate Herzog of Bismarck. The award recognizes an individual in a leadership role who has made a positive impact on their downtown district.

Herzog is the Chief Operating Officer of the Bismarck Downtowners Association and President of the Downtown Bismarck Community Foundation. She is responsible for the effort to create North Dakota Downtowns and has hosted the first five North Dakota Downtown Conferences.

Scoping it out

Thomas Kvamme

Churchwide Assembly declares ELCA as sanctuary church, local leaders respond

On the afternoon of Aug. 9, 2019, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly voted to approve a memorial that declared the ELCA as a sanctuary church, saying the call to “love our neighbor” is central to the organization’s faith. The declaration left many congregations asking, “What does this mean?”

“In our baptismal covenant we promise to strive for peace and justice in all the world,” ELCA’s presiding bishop Rev. Elizabeth Eaton said in an email provided to the Herald. “One of the ways we live out this vow is through our commitment to welcoming the stranger. With this declaration, we publicly state that walking alongside refugees and immigrants is a matter of faith.”

The Williston Herald sat down with local ELCA representatives and leaders to discuss the declaration and what it means for churches in our area.

“My first question was ‘What does this mean?’ Because the word sanctuary, there’s a biblical definition, there’s a historical understanding, there’s a church culture understanding and now there’s the political understanding,” said Pastor Dave Maxfield, senior pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. “One the one hand, it’s not saying anything new, other than we’re putting a new language on it.”

“When you walk into a church, you’re walking in to a sanctuary,” added one ELCA representative who asked not to be named. “I think if you read the actual documents, all they’re trying to do is reclaim the original word of sanctuary, and this broad sense of freedom that pastors and church people have the authority to help them.”

Pastor Brian Knutson of First Lutheran Church noted that the declaration was not instruction to break the law or do anything illegal, which was also a talking point in Eaton’s email.

Knutson pointed out that “sanctuary” can mean different things in different communities, and may run the gamut from providing English as a Second Language courses to offering a space for individuals to live.

Each denomination must determine for themselves what the context of sanctuary mean, Eaton’s email stated.

“We have a broken system regarding immigration, refugees and asylum-seekers.” The email said. “To declare ourselves a sanctuary church body is to say that we seek to provide concrete resources to assist the most vulnerable who are feeling the sharp edges of this broken system.”

“I think too often we let fear get in the way,” said Deacon Tara Ulrich of First Lutheran Church. “The world tells us we should be afraid of this person or this thing. What about looking at the scriptures and saying ‘Jesus was all about love, so how do we be the church? How do we love our neighbor?’”

Knutson said he did not believe the declaration would create much change to the denominations in our area, saying that it would create a teaching moment and give the opportunity to engage in conversation with ELCA’s members.

“We now are engaged in a re-explanation of what it means to be a church.” he said. “I’ve had conversations which people are seeking information and they want to learn and so it becomes a wonderful teaching, because we get to talk to them about what does a pastor do, what does the congregation do, about membership. For us, it’s an invitation to rediscover in a new what what it means to be a church.”

Knutson and the other ELCA leaders noted that the declaration does not direct any members to a specific action, but that each congregation and ministry must determine for themselves the best way to interpret and adopt the new memorial.

North Dakota congressional delegation defends Bakken crude

Sens. John Hoeven, Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong released a statement Friday, Aug. 30, regarding Sandia National Laboratories’ study that found Bakken crude has comparable physical, chemical and combustion characteristics as crude from the Permian Basin and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The trio said the study bolsters their efforts to overturn a Washington State law requiring crude oil unloaded in the state to meet a 9 psi Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP), which would effectively block the Pacific Northwest as a destination for Bakken crude oil.

“The Sandia study proves that Bakken crude is not more volatile than other crude oil produced in the United States and can be safely and efficiently transported using the same standards as other oils,” the statement read. “This study shows that the Washington State law has no basis for targeting Bakken crude.”

Current North Dakota regulations require companies to extract the most volatile gases from Bakken crude oil to guarantee the vapor pressure does not surpass 13.7 psi. North Dakota state officials established that threshold based on a national guideline for stable crude oil, which is 14.7 psi.