Ron Ness was among recipients of the 2019 API Achievement Awards, given out annually during the Williston Petroleum Banquet.
Ness, who is North Dakota’s Petroleum Council President, remembers a Bakken long, long ago and far, far away from where it is today.
“Twenty years ago today, I started this job,” he told a crowded banquet Friday night, just after accepting his award for Individual Achievement in 2019.
“We had one drilling rig,” he recalled. “Oil was $7.50 a barrel.”
At that time, the North Dakota Petroleum Council had a grand 14 members in all. Among them was Wayne Biberdorf, a former Williston Basin API Lifetime Achievement award winner.
“Lynn Helms took me out in the Badlands in search of that one drilling rig,” Ness said. “It was like trying to find a dinosaur.”
After the Badlands adventure, Ness stayed in Williston for a while, to network and meet industry members and city officials.
“You had to play golf with Cliff Peterson,” Ness said. “And fish with Larry Dokken. And meet with then-Mayor Ward Koeser, and all the friends I’ve seen here tonight.”
After each of these meetings, Ness would get invited to the brand new Applebees once again.
“So I ate the entire list of Applebees that winter,” he said, wryly.
The Bakken has come a long way since those days, Ness said. That is in large part due to the efforts, day in and day out, of the oilfield’s workforce. It is that workforce, and their efforts, that are the underlying reason for the Williston Basin Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute’s awards program.
API gives out three awards, Community Service, Innovation, and Achievement each year, taking nominations from those who either work in or with the oilfield.
“What the API chapter means to these communities cannot be understated,” Ness said. “Dickinson, Williston, Sidney and Minot, and all of the things you guys do for us in the industry. We take a lot of bullets, but what the API chapter represents is the heart and souls of the people who go to work every day to provide energy, for the health and safety of everyone.”
An evolution of change has been engineered by the oil and gas workforce, both for the Bakken and the nation, and have brought it to where it is today, the nation’s No. 2 shale play.
Community efforts, many of which have included oil and gas workers who live in the community, have been engaged alongside that process, bringing Williston to a new pinnacle as well. The city soon became known as the fastest-growing micropolitan in the United States, as well as a destination of choice for career-minded Millennials. Williston is now home to world-class features, such as new fire stations and the recently constructed ARC. It also just opened, weeks earlier, a brand new airport north of town.
“That is what this (award) is all about, so thank you all very much,” Ness said.
Monte Besler, the Fracin8tr, received a Most Valuable Player award during the banquet.
Besler said he’d just returned from Australia a couple of hours before the banquet started.
“Ken (Callahan) has been sending me all these texts,” Besler said. “I thought maybe he just had some more volunteer work for me.”
Besler has been described by many as the “encyclopedia of the oilfield” for not only the depth of his knowledge, but his willingness to share it with others.
“I’ve been out here for many years now,” he said. “If there’s an (encyclopedia), the people running the printing press, a lot of them are out here. And ...”
He stopped, tearing up for a moment. “I love you guys.”
Cliff Banks, in introducing the Lifetime Achievement Award Winners, Larry Laqua and Gary Routh, said the reason he likes returning to Williston so often is simply due to all the great people.
Laqua and Routh, to him, typify what he thinks a Lifetime Achievement winner should be.
“Hard-working and industrious,” he said. “They will take on any task, do anything for that organization. They are friends to Williston. Friends to API. Friends to the energy industry. And I’m glad to say, friends of mine.”
Laqua, born in 1944 to Leo and Irene Laqua, was raised in Hanks. He graduated from Grenora High School and attended Williston State College.
He was an active member of API for many years, serving as secretary and as treasurer, and helped lead the golf tournament and chili cook-off, as well as contributing considerable culinary skills to both events.
He married Maureen Hinsverk in 1972. They have one son, Ryan, and have many grandchildren. Laqua retired from the oilfield in 2013.
Routh, meanwhile, was born in 1951 in Red Lodge, Montana, but moved to Williston when he was 6 years old. He is a 1969 graduate of Williston High, and attended UND Williston for two years while simultaneously working three part-time jobs.
He started working at National Supply in 1972. A mere six years later, he transferred to Sidney where he opened a new store and was promoted to store manager. In 1981, he was transferred back to Williston, along with a promotion to regional sales manager.
Gary has been active in API in Williston, Sidney and Dickinson. He helped organize and participate in the API golf tournament in Williston for many years, and co-managed the chili cook-off for many years. He is well-known for his National BBQ wagon.
He married high school sweetheart Camille Smestad in 1970. They have two children and four grandchildren.
Kathy Neset, a former winner of the Lifetime Achievement award, said award winners are an example to everyone in the industry.
“I am so proud to be here to assist with that,” she said. “What we are trying to do is show the young individuals in this room, this is what you strive for. If you are dedicated to this work and to the state of North Dakota, I commend you and encourage you to follow these giants of our industry.”