WATFORD CITY — Oil and gas was not something Karolin Jappe had been exposed to very much when she came to McKenzie County and eventually became its emergency management director.
She had been trained up for earthquakes — and had even been through one of them in Helena, Montana — but oil country was something new altogether. There was a definite learning curve.
Among her early experiences were tank explosions. A video of one of these explosions was a drop-the-mic moment during the recent North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual conference, which hosted nearly 500 Oil Patch executives and employees.
Jappe has told the Williston Herald she typically has at least four or five fires each year at oilfield sites.
There were five explosions in the particular year the video she played at the conference was taken. Four of the five companies involved didn’t have an emergency plan in place, she added.
“After this happened six, seven times, I definitely knew we were way too close, but I wanted to do something about it,” she said. “I come from a county where I’m used to national forest. I’m not used to oil. I had to educate myself.”
One thing she did to get educated was to sit in on tabletop exercises. But now she only agrees to do them if she can participate directly.
“A lot of the companies here, the first year I was here, would invite me and it was good, but I didn’t learn a lot,” she said.
When she started asking to participate directly, light bulbs went on for both sides.
“There are things we would not have known if we did not let down our guard and trust each other,” Jappe said.
McKenzie County’s Emergency Management Director has also encouraged oilfield companies in McKenzie County to provide her with a local contact, rather than just a toll-free number. She wants to get to know the people who will be involved on-scene before there is an incident.
Been there, done that
She also finds it tough to call a toll-free number before she’s actually been to a scene, and for calls that happen in the very late or early morning hours of night, she’d rather be talking to someone she knows.
“Once you see how well it works, you will understand,” she said. “It is really nice to have someone to go one-on-one with, because we can help each other.”
Jappe is using the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System, or IPAWS, in McKenzie County, which allows her to send out alerts to specific portions of her territory.
But, people have to make sure the alert is turned on in their smartphone, she added.
“If you don’t go in and turn on the alert, you will not get my message,” she said.
Many of the workers who have come to McKenzie County are not familiar with tornadoes or winter weather below zero, Jappe added. Because of that she is constantly sending out educational materials using social media.
Ten of Jappe’s fire departments are all volunteer, and some of them are fairly small. Grassy Butte, for example, has a lot of federal lands in its district. It’s not getting a lot of tax support for its operations.
Support and donations from oilfield companies have been vital to help her small, volunteer fire departments be ready. Jappe has recently received grants for an air compressor trailer and for new radios that will be compatible with a statewide network that’s being developed.
Jappe has learned to take a hazmat kit with her at all times. She has provided them to her departments as well. These kits contain tools to immediately stop leaks.
There is a soft, pliable material shaped like a cone, which can be stuck into a small hole to plug it. The cone shape makes the device work for a wide range of hole sizes and shapes.
Among incidents where the cones were used, a rock came up and hit a gas tank.
The soft cones were placed into the hole, keeepin most of the gas inside.
But not every leak is small enough for the cones, and the cones also won’t stop produced water.
For that, she has a different tool, one like a ping-pong or golf ball and the other like a child’s nerf football.
These, too, are soft and spongy. Until you add water. Within five minutes of getting wet, they harden, like concrete.
To use them, they are soaked in water first, then immediately put into the hole, while still soft, to plug it all up.
The kits, she said, come from a veteran-owned company, and are $96 each.
“That’s a lot less expensive than a whole trailer of saltwater dumped on the ground,” she said.
On one occasion, the football was able to save 110 barrels of saltwater from going into the ground.
“My fire departments have three each of these,” she said. “And if they run out, they let me know, so we can replace it. It’s such a good tool, because we can stop something immediately in the field if we just have the right tools.”