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Oil field expansion will impact Central Dakota infrastructure

10/02/08 (Thu)

Oil field expansion will impact Central Dakota infrastructure

If the surveys hold true, the eventual Bakken oil exploration will move east into McLean and Sheridan Counties. The lessons the western counties are currently learning should be a welcome forewarning for the eastern counties, if they heed the message.

Infrastructure set up to handle farm equipment and rural travel and populace, will not be sufficient, generally, to take the beating of millions of gallons of water being hauled, heavy equipment moved weekly, and the constant shuffle of workers moving equipment or materials from site to site. The wells that produce 35,000 barrels a day, with an increase seen by oil professionals to near 165,000 barrels per day for the state by December, also add their toll to the wear and tear on roadways and surrounding land.

Pioneer Rig 57, near Parshall, which State Representative Kenton Onstad, an employee of Mountrail Williams Electric, estimated took 24 days to drill to 14,600 feet, is one example of the rapid fire appearance of wells on the former prairie and croplands of these western counties.

Along with the impact of machinery and truck travel, the housing, food, medical care, social and other entertainment for the many workers are also impacting on the surrounding communities and available resources. Houses that couldn’t find buyers a few years ago at $3,000 are now earning $400 dollars per bedroom per month for the owners.

New apartments in Stanley reportedly rent for $1,200 per month for one bedroom, $1,500 for two bedrooms. This also puts regular workers in the state at a disadvantage, along with those on fixed incomes, who see their rents skyrocket far beyond their salary or income limit.

Workers work hard, seven days on, seven days off, 12 hours on, 12 hours off, or other arduous schedules. The constant physical labor demands a place to rest and high energy meals to stay in shape for the work. Onstad noted that the crews that drill the wells are like family; many have worked together for years, traveling from oil field to oil field, across the nation. And with each well established, three jobs are created per well site, a roustabout job, a trucker, and a maintenance person. These people may serve many wells, but the average needed per well equals three per well. Some wells may, at times, require more workers for short periods of time.

Well depths have changed from earlier wells at 7,500 feet to more than 12,000 feet down, plus the curve and the additional feet drilled horizontally for the fracturing (fracing) of the rock to extract the oil.

Onstad noted that of the 100 wells drilled in Mountrail County, there were 28 operating. Between US Highway 2 and ND Highway 23 there are 100 producing wells and he expects there will soon be 500. The drilling on the Bakken formation started three miles north of Parshall three years ago (2005) on state land, the Zacher 1 well, stated Onstad.