Eintime Conversion for education and research 04-08-2008 @ 12:48:24|
Copyrighted by originating associated source: Original
It is a peculiar sight in Stanley, population roughly 1,200, one in a constellation of isolated and, in some cases, shrinking farm towns along North Dakotas wide open western edge where few residents recall a traffic jam.
The early morning line hints at the sudden fortune that has arrived: Oil companies, saying that they located what may prove to be one of the largest recent oil finds in the United States, have begun drilling all through these parts. Fifty-two drilling rigs were at work in the state at the end of December; a count taken in October showed that 198 new wells had been drilled in a year, state officials said.
At the courthouse, the crush of people, known as landmen in the world of oil, spend their days scouring enormous old binders of deeds, each trying to sort out who owns the mineral rights to land that once seemed valuable mainly for growing durum wheat or peas.
It seems like God flew over this country, and a dart landed on Granddads homestead, said John Warberg, who is being paid royalties for the new oil well on the land where his grandfathers crumbling, nearly century-old homestead shack stands.
People here say the oil boom could be the answer to fears that Stanley might one day disappear, like so many ghost towns in North Dakota, where the population peaked in 1930. In Stanley and towns like Killdeer, Parshall and Tioga, oil crews have filled roadside motels. And schools are growing or, at least, not shrinking anymore.
But new strains have flowed along with the oil. Roads and water systems are being used at levels unseen here. The number of workers switching to oil jobs the oil industry in the state expects to need 12,000 new workers by 2010 has left some restaurants shortening their hours, county and town officials leaving positions unfilled, and at least one desperate fast food place offering signing bonuses.
A year ago, the North Dakota Department of Commerce began recruiting prospective workers at job fairs in Chicago, Denver and St. Paul. Marketed mainly to people who had once lived in North Dakota, the fairs even provided home-state food buffalo meat, a dessert known as kuchen and chocolate-covered potato chips to lure people back.
Were going to get nothing out of this except a headache and a heartache, Ken G. Halvorson, the county sheriff here who has been elected eight times (and also serves as coroner), said of the oil boom.
For the moment, North Dakota, where oil was first found in 1951, is only a tiny piece about 2 percent in the nations domestic oil production, well behind Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and others. About 129,000 barrels daily come from North Dakota, said Ron Ness, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, but the numbers are growing.
The oil is being drawn from a formation beneath the land here and parts of eastern Montana and Canada. Named the Bakken, after the owner of the land where oil was first found, it was identified more than 50 years ago, but no one figured out how to tap into it successfully until recently.
In 2001, new exploration into the Montana side of the Bakken an Oreo cookie-like structure of shale, a layer of tan sandstone and siltstone, then shale again began netting crude oil, thanks in part to new extraction technology. By about 2004, with rising oil prices, companies began sending a few landmen to western North Dakota; in the area around Stanley, the boom took off in 2007.
Lately, landmen some are women fill the county recorders office, the courthouse hallways, the community room upstairs and even the jury deliberations room, save the rare day when a jury trial comes to quiet Mountrail County.
In a single month this fall, the county recorder, Joanne Stanley, was handed 1,200 documents for recording most of them legal agreements for drilling rights on the land of local farmers, and more than twice what had been a normal workload.
The size of the target is whats got everybody excited, said Lynn Helms, the director of the North Dakota Industrial Commissions oil and gas division, which regulates drilling in the state.
No one is certain how much oil the Bakken will produce. However, Steven G. Grape, of the federal Energy Information Administration, said calculations from the Montana side already suggested that, aside from five fields in Texas and California, it was producing more crude oil than other onshore fields in the lower 48 states.
Estimates have ranged wildly, said Julie LeFever, a geologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey, but many scientists suspect that the Bakken may contain 200 billion barrels of oil significantly more, for instance, than the much debated field in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Still more in doubt, though, is how much trapped oil can be recovered.
But Mr. Helms can also list worries that the oil boom has created. Much of the natural gas that has also been found in the drilling here is being burned off while workers race to build new natural gas plants in the region. The area needs more pipeline to make use of the oil it is finding. It also needs more electricity for its new gas plants, more fresh water for all this drilling, more housing and more workers.
Some here also wonder how long the oil boom will last. In places like Williston, a city of more than 12,000 about 70 miles west of Stanley, people have been through such a boom before and suffered through the bust that followed.
When oil showed promise in the early 1980s, some thought Willistons population would grow to 40,000. City officials took on more than $20 million in debt to build streets and sewers for subdivisions that never arrived after the price of oil collapsed in the mid-1980s.
No one has forgotten.
Some people are conservative about this now, and some people are just bitter, said Cyndy Aafedt, an owner of El Rancho Motor Hotel in Williston, its 92 rooms nearly always full these days.
Ms. Aafedt has struggled so much to fill 10 job openings that she sometimes cleans rooms herself. I think people just say they dont think this will last, though, she said. They dont want to get caught with their pants down, admitting that they actually do believe.
Mr. Warberg, the owner of a farm where an oil well was drilled a year ago, would not say how much he was earning from , the company that sunk the well. Such talk, he said, would hardly suit a North Dakotan.
What Ive gotten this far, Mr. Warberg said, some people would consider it wealth and some people would blow it on one shopping trip.
Mr. Warberg said he hoped to use his money on travel, bills, farm equipment and new door hinges on his blue 1983 Chevrolet pickup. He said he also planned to continue planting durum wheat and wearing his old work boots.
Mr. Warberg, 55, said that he sometimes missed the solitude and silence he grew up with here, but he proudly pointed out the well that carried his family name on its sign. Standing on a rise beside the well on a recent evening, the distant sound of drilling echoed. The glow of flares natural gas burning off warmed the air and dotted the landscape. Oil trucks kicked up dust along the gravel roads.
I hope the place wont change, but it probably will, he said. I have thought about this a lot. I guess what I hope is that I dont change.
(Original Len: 11654 Condensed Len: 8651)
04-08-2008 @ 12:48:24