Oilfield Worker Earns Scholarship to Continue Education

BISMARCK — Chad Schoch thought he’d work in the North Dakota oilfields for two years, at most.

He wanted to roughneck, make and save money, pay off his bills, and then be out by the time he was 30. Six years later, the 34-year-old New England man is one of the state’s two Bakken U scholarship recipients and is slowly building a career as a petroleum industry professional.

“I’m in school mode right now,” Schoch said.

Schoch, a process plant technology student at Bismarck State College, was awarded one of this year’s two $5,000 Bakken U scholarships Tuesday by the North Dakota University System and the NDUS Foundation.

“I typed up a letter, an essay, and sent it in,” Schoch said. “I’d honestly forgot all about it until I got the phone call.”

Schoch is a health and environmental safety coordinator for Whiting Petroleum Corp. in Dickinson and said his boss convinced him to go back to school to finish up his bachelor’s degree. He graduated with a broadcast communications degree from Minot State University and then turned his sights on the oil industry.

Last December, he earned a petroleum production technology associate’s degree from BSC online is now in the process of earning his process plant technology associate’s degree.

“The whole key behind everything was to stay working,” Schoch said. “I’m kind of diversifying my portfolio, trying to make myself as well-rounded as possible.”

Schoch said he started in the oil business when he went to work as a roughneck for drilling company Helmerich & Payne. He spent 2½ years with H&P before moving to Baker Hughes, where he worked for a little more than a year. The oil bust hit western North Dakota when Schoch was working for Whiting near New Town.

Schoch said when oil prices dropped and jobs started being cut, he was certain he’d eventually end up back in the radio broadcasting world where he’d worked before joining the oil industry.

He said he knew that if he wanted to continue working in oil, he’d have to become a valuable asset to it.

“Drilling is going to go away, but production is always going to be there,” he said. “What could I do to keep working? I found that petroleum production tech program, just to make sure I always had a backup plan.”

Schoch praised his employer for allowing him to work while also furthering his education, and said he wants to stay with Whiting long term.

“Maybe move up the chain of command,” he said. “It’d be nice to find myself in a supervisor role either here in North Dakota or Colorado.”

Bakken U Coordinator Jerry Rostad said he thought Schoch had a great story of trying to further his success already achieved in the oilfields through enhancing his education.

“He’s one of those guys who it sure looks like he’s going to stay on his feet,” Rostad said.

Schoch was one of two people to receive scholarships out of around 40 applicants, Rostad added. Briley Crissler, a business management student at Minot State University from Belcourt, was also awarded a $5,000 Bakken U scholarship. Crissler began his education at Dickinson State University.

After six years in the oil industry, Schoch said he can’t imagine doing anything else. “It gets in your blood,” he said. “Now it’s hard to consider doing anything else right now.”

Dickinson Airport Recommends United Airlines as Essential Air Service Provider

The Dickinson Airport Authority Commission wanted to keep United Airlines at the Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, and it will likely get its wish.

The commission voted Friday to recommend the U.S. Department of Transportation accept United’s bid for Essential Air Service.

A federally subsidized air service contract for $4.16 million would keep United at its “status quo for the service that’s being provided currently,” Braun said. That means the 12 weekly flights between Dickinson and Denver on 50-seat jet aircraft will continue.

Braun said he and Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker will sign a letter that’ll be sent to the DOT as the city’s official recommendation.

“We don’t perceive that we’d have any difficulty getting the DOT to follow our recommendation,” Braun said.

Part of the agreement, however, allows United to have a 90-day notice period to terminate the service. Braun said if the airline were to choose to do that, for any reason, the DOT would likely place a stay order on them until the Dickinson airport could go through the EAS process again.

However, Braun said United also has the opportunity to remove itself as an EAS provider should the airport see a dramatic rise in passenger load, which brought the airline here initially.

“It’d allow them to withdraw from the program if at some point in the future it was beneficial for them to do so,” Braun said.

Braun said he, Decker, Airport Authority Chairman Jon Frantsvog, vice chairman Bob Zent and Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel reviewed four bids that were submitted to the DOT. Great Lakes Aviation, ADI and ViaAir also submitted proposals.

Great Lakes Aviation flew into Dickinson for 21 years before ending service in March 2014 due to a pilot shortage, but also after United and Delta Air Lines began serving the airport.

ADI is short for Aerodynamics Inc. and flies from Denver to Pierre, S.D., and Watertown, S.D. ViaAir is a small twin-propeller jet service that flies mostly on the eastern side of the country.

Column: Things Are Turning Around at Dickinson State

Things appear to be turning a corner at Dickinson State University.

After five years of enrollment and foundation scandals, questionable accreditation, shrinking enrollment and an overall lack of trust in the university, it seems that better days aren’t just on the horizon, they’re here. While we won’t know official enrollment numbers for a while, they appear — at least on the surface — to be either steady or up. Students are happy to be back at the university, and the community is happy to have them back.

The oil boom is in the past and Dickinson is beginning to look more and more like the college town of year’s past.

Continue reading “Column: Things Are Turning Around at Dickinson State”

Murder or Accident? Beach Man’s Attorney Claims Shooting of Friend Was Accidental

BEACH — A late-night combination of “doing tricks” with a pistol and drinking whiskey turned deadly for a Beach man, according to testimony during a preliminary hearing Thursday in Southwest District Court.

Richard Young, 24, of Beach, died on June 10, four days after his friend, Gabriel Castro, 23, also of Beach, allegedly shot him in the head with a 1911 .45-caliber pistol on or around June 6 at Young’s residence.

After initially telling Golden Valley County Sheriff’s officials that Young shot himself, Castro confessed to an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation on June 24 that he had pointed the gun at Young and fired it, claiming it was part of Young’s coercing him to perform a “trick” with the pistol. Castro was then charged with murder, hindering law enforcement and providing false information to law enforcement.

Castro’s court-appointed attorney, Kevin McCabe, argued his client stated in his confession that the shooting was accidental and, because of that, the murder charge should be dismissed.

Golden Valley County state’s attorney Christina Wenko, however, argued there was intent, as Castro had admitted in his confession that he handled the gun, pointed it at Young and pulled the trigger moments after Young called Castro a derogatory term.

“When he was called a (expletive) your honor, he decided to take other action,” Wenko said. “That’s when he rose up, he pointed that weapon, he pulled the trigger and then he was left with the consequences of his actions, which he attempted to conceal from law enforcement.”

Judge Dann Greenwood upheld the murder charge, a Class AA felony, and moved the case forward to further hearings following a short back-and-forth between McCabe and Wenko over the state’s definition of murder.

However, the judge dismissed the Class C felony charge of hindering law enforcement because of wording in the North Dakota Century Code that states the charge can only be levied against a person if they’re hindering law enforcement’s efforts involving another person. Greenwood upheld Castro’s charge of providing false information to law enforcement, a Class A misdemeanor.

BCI Special Agent Timothy Helmer said Castro and his girlfriend, Brenna Miller, initially gave false information to Golden Valley County Sheriff’s offi- cials about the circumstances of Young’s shooting and eventual death as he described the events of the case during nearly an hour of testimony.

Helmer was brought into the case by the Golden Valley County Sheriff’s Office about two weeks after the shooting and about 10 days after Young’s death. From there, he said he began to piece together evidence — including findings supported by the state Medical Examiner’s Office — that showed Young’s death was not from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, as Castro and Miller initially told authorities.

An autopsy showed the trajectory of the bullet and its point of impact in Young’s head were not consistent with a self-inflicted wound, Helmer said. He also said there was evidence of bullet slugs and skull fragments in the home’s kitchen, where Young was allegedly standing when he was shot.

Helmer said, according to Castro’s confession and his interview with Miller, that the night started off innocently as Castro and Young drank whiskey and the three watched the movie “Deadpool.” He said the scene was described as “relaxed” and “joyous.”

But shortly after Castro and Miller arrived, Young began brandishing the .45-caliber pistol

— which he’d eventually be shot with — and began showing the couple “tricks” with the gun, including one where the gun user can “give the perception to someone that the gun is loaded but it’s not loaded.”

Castro allegedly said in his confession that he was attempting to perform that trick when he shot Young, but he also said Young coerced him into firing the pistol and that he was conflicted about pulling the trigger in that the moment. Castro’s confession stated he pulled the trigger and included details about seeing Young in the gun’s sights about three to five feet away from Young — information that was consistent with the state Medical Examiner’s Office findings.

While the minutes following Young’s shooting remain unclear, Helmer said, he said Miller stated in an affidavit that after shooting Young “Castro dropped the gun, grabbed a black T-shirt and attempted to wipe his prints off the gun. After he attempted to wipe his prints off the gun, he also attempted to collect the three drinking glasses that were present in further attempts to conceal the prints on the glasses.”

Castro and Miller then allegedly left Young’s residence, got in Miller’s vehicle that was parked on the street “and that’s all the further they got,” Helmer said.

Helmer said Miller eventually called 911, and law enforcement and first responders arrived. Helmer said authorities reported finding Castro attempting to “render aid” to Young, who was taken to a Bismarck hospital by medical helicopter.

Wenko argued that the charge should be murder because Castro “caused the death of another human being under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he shot Young. McCabe argued that Castro did care.

“There’s nothing extreme about this,” McCabe said. “They were two friends who were playing with a gun. This simply was an accident. It went off. He didn’t expect it to go off. He was purely hoping and praying that it didn’t go off. That’s not extreme indifference to the value of human life. That’s an accident.”

The next hearing in the case has not been scheduled.

First International Bank Takes Ownership of Hawks Point

Kelly Peterson assured residents of Hawks Point on Tuesday that “the cloud is off” the assisted living facility on Dickinson State University’s campus as First International Bank and Trust officially took ownership of the property.

Peterson, the bank’s president of the western North Dakota region, told around 50 residents and staff that its foreclosure on the property closed at midnight Tuesday, ending a 60-day redemption period without payment from past ownership group Dickinson Investments LLC.

“There’s no more foreclosure. There’s no more worries about judgements or liens. There’s no more worry about getting kicked out,” he said. “The bank is taking care of it and going to continue to take care of it.”

Peterson assured residents that rents will not increase and that most of Hawks Point’s management in staying in place — save for one person, Jim Ozbun, who’s stepping down as Hawks Point’s interim executive director.

The bank will take over executive management of the facility as it begins searching for a full-time executive director. Day-to-day operations will stay in the hands of current managers and directors.

“I hope to be able to step down as of the first of September and go back into retirement,” said Ozbun, who lives in one of Hawks Point’s cottages.

Ozbun, who was the interim president at DSU before taking over at Hawks Point, has been a key player at DSU as it continues to recover from its foundation being forced into receivership by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in October 2014.

Though Dickinson Investments owned and operated Hawks Point, all its loans were guaranteed by the DSU Foundation. In September 2015, Stenehjem called for the foundation to be dissolved, calling it insolvent.

First International holds nearly $5 million in debt on Hawks Point and secured its second mortgage position in late June during a sheriff’s sale of the facility. The bank submitted a winning bid of $4.5 million and was credited up to the amount it held in debt.

Dacotah Bank, the initial lender to the property, is the holder of the first mortgage position and is owed around $11 million. First International CEO Steve Stenehjem told The Press in June that the bank wants to sell Hawks Point “free and clear” of any liens, and said it didn’t have a timetable set for the acquisition of Dacotah Bank’s mortgage.

Peterson said Tuesday that First International has received no offers to buy Hawks Point but it’s going to listen to anyone who comes forward, as the bank has no long-term intentions of owning the facility.

“We have been contacted by a couple of groups, but at this point, I think they’re just being nosy and trying to figure out what’s going on,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the bank also wants DSU to continue its affiliation with Hawks Point by holding classes at the facility and having its students continue to work there.

Jenn Quigley, the environmental services director at Hawks Point, said the atmosphere at the assisted living facility was positive Tuesday and that there was a “sigh of relief” among residents “that this chapter of Hawks Point is over.”

“I’m personally pretty excited about it,” she said. “We’ve had some bigger meetings like this, where we’ve been able to address things.”

Grain Storage Bags Saving Farmers Time, Money This Harvest

Though they may look like snowdrifts that somehow survived into the summer, the humongous white plastic bags that are appear on the southwest North Dakota landscape during harvest are full of very valuable commodities.

The 300- to 500-foot grain storage devices, which can hold anywhere from 12,000 to 34,000 bushels of wheat, are being used more than ever by area farmers who want cheaper and easier methods of storing their product once it’s off the field.

“There’s no way in the world I could farm that many acres without doing the bagging,” said Craig Fisher, who farms around 17,000 acres near Richardton and sells grain bagging machines through his business, Antelope Farm Supply.

Fisher started using grain bags in 2010 and jokes that a couple years later he was roped into selling them for Loftness, a Hector, Minn.-based company that builds the grain bagging machines.

Fisher said his sales doubled from 2014 to 2015 and have gone up another 25 percent this year.

He said many farmers are now using the bags in fields they’re harvesting, which cut down on truck transport.

“There’s always that lull when farmers quit hauling and they’ve got to keep grinding,” Fisher said. “Those bags really give you that flexibility, if you can manage the labor to do it.”

Keith Witte, who farms throughout central Hettinger County, has been using grain bags instead of adding extra bin space for the past three years. The Regent farmer said he has been impressed with the bags’ durability and the amount of money he has saved.

He has filled eight 12,000-bushel bags so far this summer and plans to fill three to four more.

“It does save me more, short-term,” Witte said. “Bins are long term and would be wonderful to have. But at the price, it’s not as feasible as this.”

Fisher said he sells three different bags, a 12-by-500-foot bag that holds 34,000 bushels of grain, a 10-by-500-footer that holds 22,000 bushels, and a 10-by-300-footer that hold 13,000 bushels. The smallest bag is the most common, he said.

Ben Hetzel, manager of Southwest Grain in Lemmon, S.D., said his elevator has been using the bags the past four years to help manage the volume of grain it takes in during harvest.

Because Lemmon is not on a major rail line and only has around 1 million bushels of storage capacity in bins, it was often faced with turning producers away during harvest after its bins filled up.

Since the elevator started using grain bags, however, Hetzel said it has been able to add about another 1 million bushels in storage capacity through their use of the 500-foot bags.

“Not having a lot of big space to hold grain for a few months, we’ve relied heavily on that to get us through harvest,” he said.

This year, the elevator has put around 700,000 bushels of grain in bags, and has used them as transitional storage beginning with winter wheat in early harvest. Hetzel said once bin storage space is cleared, they transfer the grain out of the bags. Once that happens, more grain will come in. That product is then put in bags and the process starts over.

“In order to do what we’ve done, we’d have really needed about a million bushels of space (in bins),” he said. “Even if you go cheap, that’s a $3 million-plus project. We might have total right now of 10 percent of that invested in this, and over 50 percent of that is something you can recoup your investment out of it.”

Hetzel said while using the bags has been profitable for his cooperative, the tool has been divisive among producers.

“The guys who hate them had a bad experience and won’t go there again,” he said.

Fisher and Hetzel said some farmers were scared off the bags because they aren’t impervious to large hail. Thunderstorms that ripped through the Mott and Regent area this summer brought large jagged hail and poked hundreds of holes in grain bags owned by farmer Alan Honeyman.

Hetzel said that also happened in Lemmon and “created a little nightmare,” though the bags still served their purpose.

Witte said the only issues he has had is the bags can attract wildlife if holes are poked in them.

“You have to do a great job of cleaning up any spills or anything around the bag. Don’t let the wildlife find it as a food source, or you’re out of luck. They’ll eat it,” he said with a laugh. “If a pheasant starts to poke on it, they’ll come back.”

Fisher said the bags are not supposed to be a long-term storage solution like grain bins. He suggests keeping grain in the bags for, at most, two years.

“We’ve had luck with them, but we empty them out in a timely fashion,” he said.

‘Critical’ Witness in DSU Foundation Case to Plead Fifth Amendment

A key witness in the state’s case against the Dickinson State University Foundation is invoking his Fifth Amendment right by refusing to testify. Parrell Grossman, attorney with the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office told Southwest District Judge William Herauf.

Grossman, representing the state Thursday during a request for summary judgement hearing, said the “very critical” witness “has a lot of key information” and could incriminate himself through testimony. However, he did not name him.

The announcement caught Judge Herauf off guard, and he expressed surprise at the news.

“He knows more about anything that went on here than anyone else,” Grossman added. “He’s certainly entitled to do that to the extent that what he might say could result in criminal charges.”

Grossman added there are other witnesses beyond the man invoking the Fifth Amendment who have also given the state “some resistance” in request for testimony.

The announcement came after Herauf denied a motion for summary judgement requested by First International Bank and Trust of Watford City, an intervener in the case, regarding the validity and priority of debts owed to it by the DSU Foundation.

Herauf’s denial pushed all further arguments in the case to a scheduled two-day hearing Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, though Jon Brakke — the attorney for First International Bank and Trust — expressed concern. Grossman agreed that it wouldn’t be enough time for Herauf to sufficiently hear the entire case and that it could require more than a week.

The judge agreed and said the hearings will stretch out as long as they need to.

Herauf said he has found the case against the DSU Foundation to be entirely unique in North Dakota case law, as there are no true precedents.

“I’ve spent some sleepless nights on this and I’ve spent many hours reading the statutes,” Herauf said.

Herauf said while he wants the case to have an amicable conclusion in which both the defendants, plaintiffs and intervening parties can all reach reasonable outcomes, he’s doubtful that’ll happen.

“One side or the other is not going to be happy with how this comes out. That’s a concern I have,” he said.

He also expressed concern for the DSU Foundation donors, many of whose money cannot be accounted for by either the state-appointed receiver or Brady Martz accountants, saying they trusted their money to the foundation without any real ability to protect themselves.

“Then the DSU Foundation did a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t work out … and now we have this problem.”