Past year proof of life’s uncertainties

The only thing certain in this life is uncertainty.

Never was that more true than in southwest North Dakota in 2015.

We came into the year nervous about the state of the energy industry here as oil prices steadily dropped.

The commodity that had sparked so much growth, development and excitement in our little corner of the world all of a sudden wasn’t having such a great impact. Instead, everything seemed to hit pause, and oil companies began shuttering operations, taking down rigs and cutting workers by the dozen.

We now go into 2016 knowing it’s unlikely that the oil industry will soon return to the boom times that sparked and sustained our growth.

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Year of change in Oil Patch: City leaders move forward after unexpected crude price declines in 2015

An oil well pumps on the outskirts of northwest Watford City on Oct. 14. Despite the decline in oil prices, a hectic way of life continues in many Oil Patch cities, though some city leaders say 2015 brought many changes
An oil well pumps on the outskirts of northwest Watford City on Oct. 14. Despite the decline in oil prices, a hectic way of life continues in many Oil Patch cities, though some city leaders say 2015 brought many changes

Leaders in western North Dakota’s Oil Patch cities say life didn’t change as abruptly as many expected it to in 2015 as crude prices bottomed out, oil rigs disappeared from the landscape, and oilfield workers packed up and left the area in droves.

As traffic slowed, crew camps closed and apartments emptied, Williston, Dickinson and Watford City continued to build infrastructure and work on long-term projects while keeping a close eye on the industry for even the slightest changes.

“As a city, we haven’t had a chance to take a breath yet,” Williston Mayor Howard Klug said. “We had $100 million worth of projects going on. We’re finally getting them all buttoned up.”

In McKenzie County, which produces more oil than any county in the state, Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said “it’s really business as usual.” But, he said, challenges are neverending, despite the creation of what city and county leaders believe is a long-term industry through both oil and natural gas production jobs.

“People are still busy,” he said. “There’s not a lot of job loss in Watford City, comparatively, and there are still job openings. There are still employers who are still trying to figure out plans for hiring the right amount of employees and the right employees.”

Dickinson, meanwhile, has fallen back on its manufacturing industry to soften the blow of massive oilfield job loss after what City Administrator Shawn Kessel said after the city experienced multiple years of 10 percent growth.

“I think people really have to look the whole thing in perspective. … That stuff is really not sustainable in the long term,” he said. “What the downturn has done has allowed our manufacturers to take advantage of the economy. They had a hard time expanding because of such a low unemployment rate. They couldn’t find employees. Now they can. Rather than having expansions happen in other communities, they can now look at Dickinson again. I think that’s great. I’m really glad to see that. It further diversifies our economy. It makes us more resilient in managing the back side of the boom.”

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Fulfilling a favor: Paralyzed Keene man takes last mountain lion of season in N.D. with help of his friends

From left to right, Beau Wisness, Dusty Hausauer, Chase Wisness, Rusty Christophersen, Chaston Lee and Hailey Schaper pose with the mountain lion that Chase Wisness, who is paralyzed from the waist down, killed on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted in western North Dakota this year. Special to the Forum
From left to right, Beau Wisness, Dusty Hausauer, Chase Wisness, Rusty Christophersen, Chaston Lee and Hailey Schaper pose with the mountain lion that Chase Wisness, who is paralyzed from the waist down, killed on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted in western North Dakota this year. Special to the Forum

It was late July 2008 when Levi Wisness asked his friend, Rusty Christophersen, to do him a favor.

Levi wanted Christophersen to help his younger brother, Chase, hunt a mountain lion in the North Dakota Badlands.

“He goes, ‘Do you ever think we could get Chase in on one?’” Christophersen recalled on Wednesday. “I said yeah, I’ll do everything I could do to get him one.”

Levi Wisness died a week later in his sleep from complications related to a brain tumor he’d been battling for nearly a year.

At the time,17-year-old Chase’s future was uncertain.

He had been paralyzed from the waist down, the result of an auto accident in June 2007 — just months before his brother was diagnosed with the tumor.

“It was pretty cool he thought of me then and it was cool that Rusty was serious when he said we could do it,” Chase said on Saturday.

Over the past month, Christophersen did everything he could to fulfill the favor.

Last Monday, he and about a dozen friends capped off more than three weeks of tracking, scouting and hunting to help Chase, 24, of Keene, hunt and kill a 100-pound female mountain lion near Grassy Butte.

It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted this year in the state Game and Fish Department’s western North Dakota zone.

“It finally worked out,” Christophersen said.

Continue reading “Fulfilling a favor: Paralyzed Keene man takes last mountain lion of season in N.D. with help of his friends”

Becker calls for big budget cuts

One of North Dakota’s two Republicans seeking the nomination for governor said Saturday in Dickinson that the state’s next leader will be faced with cutting $1.5 billion in appropriations spending out of its general fund.

State Rep. Rick Becker speaks to a crowd at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center in Dickinson on Saturday.
State Rep. Rick Becker speaks to a crowd at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center in Dickinson on Saturday.

State Rep. Rick Becker pointed to declining oil revenues and low, stagnant agriculture commodity prices for what he feels is a massive spending cut looming in the 2017 legislative session.

“We find ourselves in a situation where the status quo of what we’ve been doing and our level of spending isn’t going to work anymore,” Becker told about two dozen people who gathered for a town hall campaign stop at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center in Dickinson

Becker, a Mandan plastic surgeon who was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012, spoke for an hour about why he should be North Dakota’s next governor. He said he views himself as an “underdog” and a “non-establishment” candidate compared to state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who announced his candidacy in November and is viewed by most Republicans as the favorite to not only win their nomination, but also next November’s election.

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Editorial: Oil export ban repeal part of long game

In what has become dark days for the U.S. oil industry and the thousands of workers it supports, Congress provided some light this week by agreeing to repeal the American crude oil export ban as part of the 2016 spending bill. President Barack Obama signed the bill late Friday.

It’s a huge and historic moment for the sagging oil industry, which has seen prices bottom out to seven-year lows and drilling rigs stacked across the U.S. — in North Dakota and Texas, in particular — while thousands of oil workers lost jobs in the process.

North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp played a key role in making sure this happened, working the folks on her side of the aisle alongside Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski to assure bipartisan support. North Dakota Republicans Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer also kept pushing their bipartisan colleagues. Hoeven called it a “win across the board.”

 While the bill is not without some major flaws — which we won’t go into here — the Republicans are happy because the oil export ban has been lifted and the Democrats are pleased because the bill included big tax breaks for wind and solar energy.

 Many energy analysts have theorized that lifting the oil export ban will serve to help prop up oil prices just enough to make drilling in North Dakota more profitable, thereby creating jobs and keeping our energy industry humming while ensuring gasoline prices stay manageable for the everyday American.

But, as The New York Times noted earlier this week, the impact of lifting the ban is “extremely complicated.” The main point is that repealing the ban allows oil companies to dictate who gets to buy their crude, whether it’s a refinery in the U.S., China or elsewhere.

Earlier this fall, MBI Energy Services CEO Jim Arthaud told The Press he often analogizes the oil export ban into farming terms. He said, in the simplest of terms, telling the U.S. it can’t export oil but we can export gasoline and other refined fuels is like telling farmers they can’t sell their wheat for export, but they can export bread.

“They know now if they produce this oil and if they market this oil, the entire world is available for them in this market,” Heitkamp said in a phone call with North Dakota media earlier this week
She added that killing the ban won’t have immediate impacts on the North Dakota energy industry and called it a “long-term fix.” She added that the recent oil price freefall “obviously amped up the intensity” to get it tacked on to the spending bill.

The senator is right when she says this is all part of a long game. We shouldn’t expect the ban’s repeal to be some sort of magic switch that cranks things in the Bakken back up to summer 2014 levels immediately. It’s going to help, even if it takes a while.

 Will it bring the energy success story back to western North Dakota? Only time will tell.

3 months of fatherhood in 5 minutes

This week, my son Grant turned three months old. And we’re finally starting to get some sleep. The early days of having a newborn are well in the rear view, and now Sarah and I are trying to get used to balancing work and day care, while making sure the little guy also gets into a routine.

As we head into the holidays and the New Year, we are thankful that our 3-month-old boy is doing everything he should be at this point — not to mention a few things he isn’t supposed to do for another month or two.

At about 26 inches long, he’s a tall and skinny but sturdy little boy. He’s dangerously close to outgrowing his car seat, and he’s fitting neatly into clothing supposedly designed for 6- and 9-month-olds. Though, as just about everyone tells us, “Well, he’s a Monke.” It doesn’t shock anyone that Grant is already well on his way to being a big guy in a family where the shortest man is 6-foot-1.

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Either you want police to protect or you don’t

There are a segment of people in this country who don’t want anyone to have guns. Many of those same people all of a sudden also have a huge problem with police.

It begs the question: What the hell do these people want? Utopia? Because that isn’t happening.

First — and let’s just get this out of the way — the U.S. government will never go door to door and take everyone’s guns away. If our government tried that, they’d be inciting a second Civil War. No one wants that, so it won’t happen. But, that doesn’t mean a like-minded government won’t try and strip its citizens of their rights to obtain certain types of weapons and/or ammunition.

Last week in San Bernardino, Calif. — in a state with some of the toughest gun laws in the nation — a couple who the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleges has ties to the terrorist group ISIS walked into a holiday party and killed 14 of their co-workers while wounding several others. They weren’t criminals and had obtained their guns legally, according to The New York Times.

It took police armed with assault weapons and assault vehicles to stop them.

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