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Drilling bits & terabytes: How the Bakken created statewide opportunity

The boom in the west is being heard in the east as companies in the Red River Valley strive to create innovative new technology to further advance and enhance oil development in North Dakota’s Bakken.

On Monday, September 21st, the energy and tech sectors will converge in Fargo to discuss the relationship between the Bakken and the Red River Valley at a public event hosted by the North Dakota Petroleum Council and Bakken Backers.

At “Bits + Bytes,” the public will have the opportunity to gather at the historic Fargo Theater to learn about how businesses in the west have grown as a result of the oil boom, how the technology being developed there is being used in the oil fields and to hear the stories of how the companies came to be. Additionally, attendees will hear about the latest developments in the oil patch from leading experts on the front lines of the Bakken.

Before the oil boom, North Dakota’s economy was driven largely by the Red River Valley in the east. With the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University leading the charge, the area’s economy witnessed targeted growth in the areas of technology, advanced manufacturing and distribution.

Already poised for expansion, companies working in these sectors were immediately available to help facilitate the state’s economic growth along with the flurry of oil and gas development out west in 2010. The explosive growth of the Bakken not only prompted the expansion of these businesses within the state, but also offered vital experience within the oil and gas industry for companies to reach out into other markets such as the Niobrara shale formation in Colorado, the Eagle Ford and Permian in Texas, and the Marcellus and Utica in Ohio.

From open plains to oil patch

During the mid-2000s North Dakota was beginning its growth spurt, though, the overall population was steadily declining and average income and business activity was ranked in the lower half of the nation.

Meanwhile, wildcatters were spudding wells near the state’s eastern border and tapped into an economic potential that nobody could predict. The dowser’s wand quickly led the industry toward the Bakken’s core and to the mapping of the region’s world class potential.

While the rest of the nation was dealing with the fallout of the economic downturn, North Dakota traipsed about with immunity. Average incomes jumped from 38th to 6th in the nation. Birth rates rebounded and concerns about how to retain the state’s young adult population quickly subsided.

In the years since, North Dakota has been routinely lauded as one of the best states in the nation to start a career and a family. The Midwestern values of hard work and a reservoir of prehistoric luck came together, bringing a state once struggling economically into the nation’s limelight.

Statewide impact

The Bakken, of course, has most greatly affected the communities in the northwest region of North Dakota, but the impact has resonated across the state and beyond its borders. Throughout the state, over 15 percent of all workers are employed directly by the oil and gas sector.

Even Fargo and Grand Forks, although hundreds of miles away from the nearest oil well, have thousands of people working directly with the oil and gas industry, not including the ancillary services crucial to ongoing energy development. Overall, more than 80,000 North Dakota workers have the Bakken to thank for their jobs, not to mention the economic impact of the $43 billion generated by the oil patch.

At the forefront though, are the towns in the heart of the Bakken, which have had to learn how to deal with the explosive growth, both good and bad, on the fly. As populations of these once sleepy towns quickly grew to twice, three times, and even eight times (in the case of Watford City) their size, contracting and engineering firms from the east stepped in to fill the demand, evidence of how far the economic impact of the oil patch has echoed throughout the state.

Enrollment in skilled trades has climbed and graduates are finding six figure jobs. The region’s steel fabricators have expanded, adding jobs and new locations while other areas of the nation are witnessing the same industry flounder. The effects have also been a buoy for the area’s tech sector as firms have taken to coding software to enhance operations in the Bakken and make processes more efficient.

Despite the recent drop in oil prices, the boom has by no means gone bust as production continues to stand strong. The industry is in for the long-haul. Just over than 10,000 wells have been drilled in the Bakken thus far, and over the next few decades, this figure is predicted to reach 60,000.

Oil and gas producers are finding ways, thanks in part to the work performed in the east, to do more with less. By improving drilling methods and developing new efficiencies, production rates on new wells have increased 30 to 50 percent within the past year alone. With continued construction on new homes, apartments, retail stores and industrial centers, the long-term outlook continues to shine.

[drilling] Bits + [tera] Bytes

Bits + Bytes celebrates the Red River Valley’s chance to not only participate in the development of one of the largest crude oil reserves in the world, but also to use it to help foster strategic growth and unique expertise. The event will educate the public about the basics of continued oil and gas development, complimented by stories of growth from local businesses.

Some of the eastern companies riding on the back of the Bakken aren’t widely recognized, and others are the result of local leaders who, with applied experience, are creating and innovating new products and services. At Bits + Bytes, these companies will share the stories about how capitalizing on the unique possibilities presented by the Bakken came to fruition.

Border States Electric CEO and host of Bits + Bytes, Tammy Miller, will kick off the event by recounting how the oil and gas industry fueled the company’s recent, rapid growth, and how it became one of the largest businesses in the Red River Valley. Acting as moderator, Miller will preside over the Innovation Report featuring Jake Joraanstad, founder of mobile app developer Myriad Mobile talking about mobile app use in the field, Glenn Mitzel of JDP Automation addressing systems integration, and Jason Sanden of AE2S speaking about the development of pipeline flow monitoring.

Following the Innovation Report, Tom Kenville from the University of North Dakota’s Center for Innovation will present about how the oil and gas industry has taken interest in Unmanned Aircraft Systems, the tech’s growing presence in the Red River Valley and how it can be used to help solve issues in the west.

Additionally, attendees will hear the latest from three of the most prominent leaders in the Bakken: President of Neset Consulting Services Kathy Neset, Director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms, and Executive Director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority Gene Veeder. They will address the Bakken’s basic geological makeup, technologies used in the region, the effects of the drilling downturn and what the future holds.

Come join Bits + Bytes for its celebration of the Bakken and the opportunity it has presented to the Red River Valley to not only be part of one of the largest oil discoveries in recent history, but to make calculated steps forward in business and technological innovation.

Bits + Bytes Part of the North Dakota Petroleum Council Annual Meeting

September 21, 2015

Fargo Theatre | Downtown Fargo | 314 Broadway N, Fargo, North Dakota

Hosted by Tammy Miller, CEO of Border States Electric

3:00 p.m. Welcome from Rob Lindberg and introduction of Tammy Miller

3:05 p.m. Tammy Miller, CEO of Border States Energy, building a company in Fargo to serve the electrical needs of the oil industry and their communities, including in the Bakken.

3:25 p.m. Innovation Report: 7 minute briefs on the new efforts of Red River Valley tech: Jake Joraanstad of Myriad Mobile, Glen Mitzel of JDP Automation, and Jason Sanden of AE2S

3:50 p.m. Tom Kenville: How UAS can work in Oil & Gas

4:15 p.m. Bakken 101 Education Sessions Kathy Neset, President, Neset Consulting Services Lynn Helms, Director, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Gene Veeder, Executive Director, McKenzie Co. Job Development Authority

5:30 p.m. Adjourn

(All times are Central Time)

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