BELFIELD — Troy Ohlhausen never lets the needle on his pickup’s speedometer go beyond 10 mph when he’s on an oilfield site — even if the site where he’s driving is nothing more than a simulation.
As Ohlhausen drove slow and steady around MBI Energy Services’ training facility Thursday, he pointed out truck drivers training to haul crude oil by first spending time in classrooms, tank batteries set up to show employees proper safety techniques, and even one trucker undergoing a quality control check on how to properly put chains on his truck’s tires.
“You can do training out in live operations, but it’s so fast,” said Ohlhausen, MBI’s director of training. “Everything is fast-paced. We slow it down out here.”
In December 2013, MBI launched its unique training venture after acquiring the 80-acre site about 3 miles southeast of its main office in rural Belfield. At the training site, there are simulated oil and saltwater tank batteries, classroom trailers where there’s never more than a 4-to-1 student-to-trainer ratio, an area where truckers learn to drive with double trailers, and even a training parking lot where drivers can properly learn how to park their trucks.
“If you’re going to be the best and you’re going to be the biggest, you have to train your people to do it,” Ohlhausen said.
MBI, a Belfield-based oilfield services company, has grown exponentially since the beginning of the North Dakota oil boom. It now has seven locations in North Dakota, three in Wyoming and another in Colorado.
Jason Homiston, MBI’s executive vice president of business development, said while the company isn’t involved in every facet of the oil business, it provides “cradle-to-grave” services for well sites — from aspects involved in drilling a well, servicing it through its lifespan and finally to the well’s completion when the oil runs dry.
MBI also employs approximately 1,000 truck drivers who haul everything from crude oil and produced water to freshwater and sand.
“That’s where the business started,” Homiston said. “It’s still 60 percent of our business.”
It’s also why, he said, the company has invested in safety.
Every driver, regardless of experience, must go through the company’s orientation and then move over to the training facility.
“It’s really indoctrinating them into the safety culture we have, the standard operating procedures we want them to follow to make sure they’re using the best practice to make sure we’re not going to put fluid on the ground,” Homiston said.
“It’s really not a truck driving job. It’s a service job,” he said. “A lot of your time as a driver, you’re in and out of your truck all day long hooking up hoses, unhooking hoses, moving fluid around — whether it’s fluid, water or sand.”
The Bakken’s abrupt boom and extensive growth sparked the need for better training, Homiston said. The opening of the training complex has also helped bring incident rates down, he said, as drivers unfamiliar with North Dakota’s driving conditions — including bitterly cold winters — are now able to get more in-depth training.
“We’ve seen the improvement,” he said. “It’s somewhat difficult to gauge sometimes. With the buildup, you had experienced people. But then, once these people have graduated on and continue to grow, ultimately, you keep reaching deeper and deeper into those people who have not been in the oilfield before.”
Rich Wentz, one of MBI’s quality control specialists, spent time Thursday at the training site quizzing a young truck driver on different aspects of his job.
“Instead of leaving a guy out on his own, I show up and check on them every now and again to make sure they’re doing what it is they’re supposed to be doing out here in the field, as far as safety goes, loading and unloading,” he said.
Wentz started with the company nearly six years ago and said he has been in the Oil Patch for 10 years. He said the transition in MBI’s safety policy and policing is “night and day” from what it was when he started.
“It was sink or swim back in the day,” Wentz said. “Now we’re taking time that we need to invest into these guys to make sure we’re getting good quality, safe, efficient drivers.”
While the training complex is now mostly for truck drivers, MBI has plans to expand to include training for workover rigs and wireline operators — disciplines, Ohlhausen said, that don’t have traditional skill-set training.
There’s an abandoned well on the site that can be used to train employees how to trip pipe and use the proper tools in the processes.
“We give them that exposure in a very safe, very slow, very non-productive environment,” Ohlhausen said. “That helps them to see those processes.”
Ohlhausen said he likes to compare MBI’s training system to the training provided by the military or even in different types of athletics. Repetition makes a difference and practice makes perfect, he said.
“It mirrors what we want to do out here,” he said. “Give them enough time, give them enough reps that they can do it because it’s ingrained in them now.”