A1 A1
Farmers face complex political, economic landscape in 2021
  • Updated

Farmers face a complex landscape for 2021, above and beyond the usual variables that affect them — such as, quite recently, drought and windy weather that is stirring up dust and a potentially harsh spring here in the MonDak.

Not only is America still struggling with economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — which is itself threatening to resurge on the strength of COVID-19 variants amid slower-than-hoped vaccinations — but there is a new sheriff on board, with very different priorities than the previous federal administration, and that shift in focus includes agriculture.

“Elections matter, votes matter, and they matter for agricultural policy,” said MSU professor of agricultural economics Dr. Vincent Smith. “The first, most obvious thing is, compared to the Trump administration, there will be a very different approach to trade.”

The Biden administration has already appointed a U.S. trade representative who has a long history of working on multilateral agreements, Katherine Tai.

“They’re almost certainly going to roll back the one-on-one bilateral tariff war with China,” Smith said. “So many people would say well didn’t the Trump administration already accomplish that. And the answer is yes and no. There was a commitment from China to buy a fairly substantial amount of U.S. soybeans, corn and other traditional program crops.”

But whether China would follow through was a big question. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has engaged directly with China on the tariffs.

“There’s an agreement to lower those tariffs substantially for a three-month period, as a first step to returning to what most economists would argue are more normal trade negotiation relationships,” Smith said. “And that’s also been done with Europe.”

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration has already signaled a shift toward conservation-related programs, including CSP and CRP, which will focus in on farm-level innovations that have a climate change rationales behind them.

Funding from the COVID-19 relief bill for farmers also shifted focus. That money has been targeted toward beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.

Against this landscape, there is also concern about the future direction of the next Farm Bill, and the preservation of safety net programs.

“The average farm family has a higher household income than the average U.S. family and the average taxpayer,” Smith said. “And those may become important issues in the (2023) Farm Bill debate.”

There are many competing interests that are being pushed by both the party in power and the party not in power right now. Among the discussions that could gain traction is the increasingly severe budget deficit outlined in a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office.

“The context may be, we are spending too much money in general. Which programs is it politically least costly for us to cut?” Smith said. “Is it a program that affects let’s say 40 million people — that would be the SNAP program — or a program that effectively benefits, when you distill where the monies go on the farm subsidy programs, around about 200,000 to 250,00 farms. Because those are the farms that get 90 percent of all subsidy payments right now.”

That kind of calculus has the Farm Bureau and other major farm interest groups nervous about what may happen to the funding traditionally available to agricultural safety nets.

“The Farm Bureau’s current president, Zippy Duvall, received a great deal of flack a few weeks ago from his members at the annual Farm Bureau meetings for engaging and seriously talking with the federal government, particularly about agricultural programs focused on climate change,” Smith said. “Mr. Duvall’s response to his members was, if we’re not at the table, we’re not at the table. And if we’re not at the table our losses could well be greater. And in both contexts, from the perspective of his constituents his position seems entirely sensible.”

Meanwhile, Republican minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has already signaled an interest in deficit reduction, Smith said. He has also, based on past history, not been a strong supporter of farm subsidies.

That could land agriculture’s safety nets high on legislator lists for cuts — a concern recently articulated by Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, who pointed out farm programs may be particularly at risk under pay-go requirements, which require Congress to at least notionally find ways of paying for any increased spending by cutting expenditures elsewhere.

“Only a few days ago, Secretary Vilsack shook up agricultural interest rates by stating that inequities in farm subsidies have arisen because they’ve been tied to farm level production,” Smith said.

That comment was in the context of discussing funding for socially disadvantaged farmers that was included in the $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package.

“Here’s a thought that I have, and I’m not saying I’m right or wrong that this will happen,” Smith said. “But if the principle of basing payments on farm family need, and total family income, rather than farm size, is carried forward into a new 2023 Farm Bill, then it would unambiguously radically alter current programs that are particularly linked to the production and prices of major crops like corn soybeans, rise, peanuts wheat, barley and so on.”

Leadership Williston tackles health and education during second session

Leadership Williston held its second workshop of the 2021 session, focusing on education and wellness.

The new class met at Williston State College’s Teton Lounge for a morning full of highlights on education in the area. WSC President Dr. John Miller kicked off the morning’s presentations, describing how the college operates, and how the pandemic has affected aspects of the college such as enrollment and programming. While the pandemic has lowered the number of students attending the college, overall enrollment has been promising, Miller said. The college was quick to adapt to the virtual classroom, Miller added, which has shown success for WSC’s students.

Dr. Jeff Thake, superintendent of Williston Public School District No. 1 and of Williston Basin School District No. 007, spoke with the leadership class about the reorganization of Districts 1 and 8, and the challenges and benefits that would come from it. Working together with District 8 has been a challenging and rewarding opportunity, Thake said, and that the outcome of reorganization will present a new future for students, staff and educators in the area.

WSC CFO Riley Yadon took the group on a brief tour of the college campus, visiting the WSC nursing and music programs and speaking with a few staff members and faculty regarding their roles within the college.

The second half of the day saw speakers from CHI St. Alexius Health Williston, the Upper Missouri District Health Unit, and the North Star Human Service Zone. A light lunch from Meg-A-Latte kicked off the afternoon, with Dr. Robert Kemp of CHI St. Alexius discussing the ongoing COVID prevention efforts, including the state’s vaccine distributions.

So far, Kemp said, more than 200,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed to North Dakota residents. Kemp continued to stress the importance of masking, as well as following other virus-fighting protocols.

UMDHU Community Health Coordinator Chelsea Ridge added to Kemp’s comments about the importance of masking and taking advantage of the COVID vaccine, saying that the Health Unit has seen a significant number of residents seeking to get vaccinated, especially those in the vulnerable population. Ridge pointed out that there are 15 providers in the area providing the vaccine, giving residents multiple options to for treatment.

The health and wellness portion of the day rounded out with a presentation from the North Star Human Service Zone, going over some of the programs and benefits available to residents, as well as discussing foster care and adoption services in the area.

Leadership Williston’s second session ended with more public speaking development from Helen Askim, with each of the 12 participants giving a two to three minute speech on the subject of a common misconception people have about them, or a challenge they are currently facing. Each speech was scored by Askim, with feedback from the other participants.

As part of Crossfit Vokse, Leadership participant Travis Pribula said the health portion of the day was what intrigued him most.

“This was right up my alley with health care, so I found it very informative and I really enjoyed the speakers that presented,” Pribula told the Williston Herald. “I learned a lot of insights as far as the healthcare systems we have in the region. Overall the takeaway was very positive.”

Janessa Storlie said with both the healthcare and education presentations, the main takeaway for her was the importance of being community-driven.

“I think to me, it’s all about helping out the community,” she explained. “So for me, for my project I’m going to look for community involvement, and what we can do to bring the community together. Showing up and being active in your community, I think those are really key ways that you can be a leader in any situation.”

Program Leader Rochelle Villa said the information the class received was intended to help them understand the role health and education play in a community. With both areas, she said, she hoped students would be able to use that information and integrate it into their leadership styles, as well as their upcoming projects.

“There was a wealth of information that the participants got today,” Villa said. “It was really great to see how responsive the class was to the information they were given and to actually get feedback from them after each session on whether that information was useful and helping to build on knowledge they already have.”

Leadership Williston will meet for its third session, focusing on Emergency Services and Ethics, on April 21.

Delta resumes services to XWA in June, City approves incentives to coax new carriers
  • Updated

With Delta returning to Williston Basin International Airport, the city is looking at ways to bring more flights to town.

Delta Airlines is returning to Williston, with daily flights to Minneapolis beginning Saturday, June 5.

Anthony Dudas, Williston’s airport director, told the Williston City Commission that as XWA continues to work through the challenges the pandemic has posed to air travel, he believed it was necessary to implement an air carrier incentive program to continue to promote XWA’s facility and enhance air service for the region.

The program, which follows FAA guidance, identified incentives which the city would offer for new air service, including new air carriers and destinations.

Proposed within this program are a reduction in rates and charges for new air service, reduction or waiver of terminal fees, marketing matches, landing fee waivers and more. Additionally, the program details the destinations which XWA has targeted to see new air service to. These include Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Fort Meyers.

As part of this program, The city would establish an air service incentive budget as proposed new service is brought forward by potential operators, with incentives being provided as funds are available. The program will distribute incentives on a first come, first serve basis up to the maximum amount available.

Dudas added that once a designated market has established service, no other incentives will be available for that market. Any eligible, new service commencing on or after May 1 will be eligible under this program.

The commission approved a deal last week that would bring back Delta, through SkyWest Airlines.

In response to the global pandemic and a sharp decline in air travel, Delta suspended air service out of XWA on July 7, 2020. These new flights, operated by SkyWest Airlines, will once again provide Williston travelers with expanded travel options.

“We’re excited to continue our partnership with Delta Air Lines which will bring additional air service to XWA as the nation continues to recover from the pandemic,” said Anthony Dudas, Airport Director. “Delta’s return of daily service to Minneapolis will greatly benefit our region’s leisure and business travelers. With stringent cleaning and safety measures in place, we look forward to welcoming additional travelers to the Williston Basin.”

Each SkyWest-operated Delta flight will be onboard the 50-passenger CRJ200 regional aircraft.

“Whether heading to Minneapolis or beyond, these flights will provide travelers greater access and options for all their travel plans,” said Greg Atkin, SkyWest’s Managing Director of Market Development.

“I’m excited for the City of Williston’s opportunity to partner with SkyWest to bring Delta service back to our community,” explained Chris Brostuen, Airport Commissioner. “As air travel recovers from the impacts of COVID, having a local Delta service connection to Minneapolis and beyond is a huge quality of life and economic benefit to the air travelers of the Williston region.”

Wellspring Hydro's Bakken brine solution getting closer with help of $750,000 state grant
  • Updated

Saltier than the sea, the Bakken’s produced water has long been a problem for oil and gas companies in the nation’s No. 2 oil play. But sometimes with problems come opportunities in disguise.

Triple8 LLC, doing business as Wellspring Hydro, is a Williams County business that has been working to develop an opportunity out of the Bakken’s brine problem since 2016. It just received a $750,000 loan from the North Dakota Development Fund to pay engineering costs on a process that recycles Bakken saltwater and turns it into several different products, among them hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and table salt. The grant was one of 22 totaling $3.16 million to help new or expanding businesses develop.

The principal owner of Wellspring Hydro is Williams County Commission Chairman Steve Kemp. His role as a commissioner is not directly related to the business venture.

Kemp told the Williston Herald the process he’s working on would not be feasible in any other oil play. Their brine is just not salty enough. Bakken brine, on the other hand, has so much salt in it, that operators sometimes pump fresh water in to dilute it and prevent corrosive salts from building up on equipment.

Kemp has recently been to Illinois to view results of tests on Bakken brine at a pilot plant that’s been set up to test the company’s full concept on a smaller scale. This is a necessary precursor to seeking the financing that will be necessary to build the $170 million plant.

“We’ve actually seen the salt they’ve made from our Bakken brine, and it looks fantastic,” Kemp said. “It looks just like any salt you’d see on a table, which is consumable by humans, so that’s pretty pure.”

Of course, Kemp is not relying on the human eye to tell him that the salt is pure. The salt has also been subjected to a battery of tests to verify that there is nothing else in it and that the purification process is working as expected.

“That is literally the stage we are at right now,” Kemp said. “We are finding out how pure the salt is. The Chileans set the gold standard in the world, and what we’re hoping is that the new gold standard will be Bakken salt.”

Salt, however, is actually just a precursor for the main products the plant will produce. Those are hydrochloric acid and and sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as caustic soda or lye.

Caustic soda has been used extensively for carbon dioxide removal. Project Tundra in North Dakota, for example, needs 25 to 30 tons per day of caustic soda to scrub carbon dioxide from its stack.

“So right here in North Dakota we’ve got a great client and a nice green project for removing, I mean that’s the equivalent of removing 800,000 cars from the road today,” Kemp said. “And what’s ironic about 800,000 vehicles is that’s just about exactly how many vehicles are registered in the state of North Dakota.”

Caustic soda also has uses by paper and pulp mills to break down tree fibers to make paper, and it has uses in refineries as well.

On the chlorine side of the salt or sodium chloride equation, chlorine will be captured by electrolysis to make hydrogen chloride. The oilfield industry uses that in hydraulic fracturing processes, as well as for cleaning up saltwater disposal wells, and various other things.

Kemp expects to sell both caustic soda and hydrochloric acid locally.

A third potential product the plant could make is calcium chloride, by combining its hydrogen chloride with lime. Calcium chloride is often used for dust control on gravel roads.

“We’re hoping that will be useful for all the gravel roads that we have in Williams County,” Kemp said. “And in all the counties in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.”

Last but not least, there is likely to be leftover, pure distilled water, which Kemp said might be used by the plant itself as a water source. It will of course be tested thoroughly to ensure it is purely water.

Kemp hopes to begin construction on the plant later this year and to begin operations by 2023. It would employ 250 to 300 people for construction, and then 60 people long-term to operate once complete.

The plant would be built near Trenton by the Savage transloading facility and rail loop.

That location was preferred by the companies Kemp will be working with for the saltwater feedstocks he’ll be accepting, and will provide cost-effective transportation for the plant’s finished products.

Kemp expects the plant will consume about 60 percent of the saltwater that comes in for disposal. The remaining 40 percent will be disposed of the usual way, by injecting it about 6,000 feet underground.

“We will get paid to take the saltwater,” Kemp said. “That’s a key component to what makes us competitive with, you know, some of the bigger operations down on the Gulf Coast.”

Kemp’s idea for this brine-recycling, chlor-alkali plant started with a different idea altogether. He wondered, after reading a newspaper clipping, whether the Bakken’s produced water would have enough lithium in it that it could be extracted.

That turned out to be unfeasible on its own, but led to the other ideas he’s working on now. The lithium extraction may yet become feasible, however. New technology is making the idea less expensive and more efficient. Kemp is, in fact, already working with a company on a process to extract lithium from Bakken brine in the future.

“It’s a great story for the oil and gas industry to be able to tell,” Kemp added. “Getting lithium out of this water helps keep North Dakota and our energy sector relevant, well into the future. Because there’s a transition that’s happening. There’s going to be more and more electric vehicles built. And those electric vehicle are going to depend on lithium.”

And, unlike the strip mining process that is normally used to mine lithium, Kemp’s process will be environmentally friendly.

“Lithium mining is a dirty, dirty business,” Kemp said. “We are doing it in a much different way. “With like existing waste that’s being disposed of, and we are just mining it selectively out of that water. There’s a lot of synergies between our lithium partner and us, and it’s really going to be exciting to see this develop.”

Woman accused of having 27 grams of cocaine
  • Updated

A 36-year-old woman is facing a felony charge after police say they found nearly an ounce of cocaine in the vehicle she was driving.

Kylie Claxton was charged Monday, March 29, with a class B felony count of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.

Claxton was pulled over Saturday, March 27, for having expired tags and illegal window tint, and police searched the vehicle with her permission, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Northwest District Court. A search turned up 27 grams — one gram short of an ounce — of cocaine.

The drugs were packaged in six bags, court records state. There were four bags with one gram each, one with seven grams and one with 14 grams.

A preliminary hearing on the charge is scheduled for April 29.

COVID-19 vaccination by the numbers
  • Updated

Doses administered statewide: 388,991

Residents who have gotten at least one dose: 227,599

Statewide rate for one dose: 39.1%

Statewide rate for two doses: 25.3%

Williams County rate for one dose: 22.2%

Williams County rate for two doses: 13.1%

Divide County rate for one dose: 45.9%

Divide County rate for two doses: 26.7%

McKenzie County rate for one dose: 23.5%

McKenzie County rate for two doses: 13.6%

Mountrail County rate for one dose: 38.7%

Mountrail County rate for two doses: 23.5%