The Search Began In 1933

Posted: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 12:53 pm

Editor’s note: This article, from 1963, details the search for oil in the Arabian Desert that led to the first discovery there, at the Dammam #7 well. We would like to thank Saudi Aramco World for providing the story and photos. Current and back issues of the magazine are available at

Thirty years ago the rugged Arabian Desert was a place of hardship and adventure for pioneering American oilmen.

A small monoplane flying thousands of feet above the sand massifs of the eastern Rub’ al-Khali is witness to a dramatic instance of man’s ability to package his environment and take it along. Far below the plane on a sun-baked flat, where survival can be a marginal proposition, a group of white cubes glisten in the fierce light.

Down in the midst of this remote desert bivouac a generator hums. It pumps electrical life into the mobile camp and powers its electronic voice. There trained men work efficiently in air-conditioned comfort carrying on the costly search for oil.

However, even before the exploration field parties of the Arabian American Oil Company had large office, laboratory, dining hall and dormitory trailers to support them, the deserts of Saudi Arabia were being forced to yield their geologic secrets.

Let’s go back 30 years and follow two bearded geologists in Bedouin dress into the desert in December 1933. They head across the sandy steppes in a Ford touring car, knowing that at any moment the washboard terrain may break a spring. They are accompanied by a pickup truck, but that is the limit of their automotive equipment.

The field party with the two geologists includes an interpreter, a cook, a cook’s helper, a houseboy, a mechanic, a mechanic’s helper, a driver, 30 escorts (a warrant of the King’s good will) and four camel drivers.

The transport includes 25 riding camels and a dozen baggage camels each capable of hauling about 400 pounds. The camels carry three large goat hair tents and a silk tent, grass floor matting, collapsible tables, chairs, cots, food, cooking utensils, gasoline stoves and lamps, and gasoline in five-gallon tins.

In the small mountain of baggage are a chronometer, a surveyor’s transit, a sketchboard, three Brunton compasses, drafting equipment, some one-gallon water cans, half a dozen large waterskins, tools, spare motor parts, spare tires and extra front springs.

The geologists carry no radio. Once over the horizon they will be out of contact with headquarters until they return.

Such was the equipment and mode of travel of an overburdened geological field party in the eastern Saudi Arabian desert late in 1933. It was Aramco’s first field season in the unmapped (or mis-mapped) reaches of its newly acquired 300,000-square-mile oil concession.

The first field season started almost the instant the first two American geologists came ashore at Jubail, Saudi Arabia on September 23, 1933. It ended June 7, 1934 when the summer heat made further field work impractical.

That pioneer season in the desert required an unusual group of men. Their responsibility was great, for their company was investing large sums of money against heavy odds. They had to work fast in an unknown terrain; the depression had crippled the major world economies and the United States had gone off the gold standard. Furthermore, they were halfway around the world from home base.

And yet, despite tough obstacles, the doughty exploration team that started with two men and grew to ten did a remarkable job. Guided by Bedouin trackers well-schooled in the desert traverses, the seven geologists on the team charted dunes, jebels (hills) and sand marshes, and by the end of the pioneer season had determined, and marked for drilling, an area where in less than four years the discovery of oil in commercial quantities would confirm their judgment.

Who were these men? And what led them to the shores of the Persian Gulf to search for oil? All but three of the pioneers were petroleum geologists, and they went to the Middle East because a geologist goes wherever the search for oil may take him. Another was an engineer who had already surveyed one nearby Persian Gulf oil field. One was a mechanic and one was a co-pilot-mechanic, both wanting to try what sounded like an interesting venture.

The roster for the first field season began with geologists Robert P. (Bert) Miller and Schuyler B. (Krug) Henry, who had both searched for oil in the jungles of Venezuela. Miller had arrived in the Middle East in April 1932. He had been sent by the Standard Oil Company of California (Socal) to observe the drilling of the company’s first well on Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. He was also assigned to determine the best site for the second well.

The Bahrain Petroleum Company, a Socal subsidiary, discovered oil on Bahrain in June 1932. Socal then extended its oil exploration in the Persian Gulf area. In May 1933, the company obtained a concession to search for oil, and develop production, in Saudi Arabia. In order to carry this work forward efficiently, Socal assigned the concession to a new subsidiary, the California Arabian Standard Oil Company, which in January 1944 was re-named the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco).

Miller had been working in Bahrain for about a year and a half when he drew the assignment to start the geological work on the new Saudi Arabian concession. He knew Arabic and had become skilled in the technical and diplomatic problems of geological exploration in foreign lands.

His partner on the new project, Henry, had been in Bahrain for about a year. Henry, like Miller, had picked up everyday Arabic. Both of them had grown beards and had decided to set foot on the Arabian mainland in desert dress: long shirt, lightweight robe and cloth headdress. The clothing was both functional and politic.

The day they landed, Miller and Henry went to work. Thus, the first field season opened without ceremony.

Four weeks later, J. W. Hoover, another Socal geologist, became the third member of the pioneer party. He came over from Bahrain and landed at al-’Uqair about 100 miles down the coast from Jubail where Miller and Henry had landed. Al-’Uqair was the port for the al-Hasa oasis and had a customs house. At that time about ten people lived there, but in 1922 al-’Uqair had been the scene of a historic meeting at which Great Britain recognized the right of King ‘Abd al-’Aziz to rule the eastern section of Saudi Arabia, an area he had already ruled efficiently for ten years.

Almost as soon as “Soak” Hoover stepped ashore at the customs house Miller took him to a group of limestone hills that Miller and Henry had named the Dammam Dome.

Less than three weeks later the fourth and fifth geologists—Art Brown and Tom Koch—landed at al-’Uqair. Thus, the pioneer group had grown to half its ultimate size by November 10th. In another 11 days Hugh Burchfiel arrived to round out the geological team for 1933.

The seventh man ashore was an engineer, Allen White, another Socal foreign veteran. He too had worked in Venezuela and had surveyed the entire Bahrain concession for Socal. White arrived early in December and took charge of the branch office that Miller had set up in Hofuf, the principal village of the al-Hasa oasis. During the early days of oil exploration, White was the Arabic scholar among the Americans. Before he had been on the scene many weeks the roster of pioneers went up to eight: Felix Dreyfus, a mechanic, came over from Bahrain where he had been nursing a burned hand after arriving from the States with Burchfiel.

The handful of geologists bumping around on hardpan, skirting dunes and digging out of the sand had learned one thing by the year’s end: they couldn’t possibly investigate much of the concession, which covered an area larger than the entire state of Texas, without the help of an airplane.

Early in March 1934, the plane arrived. Aboard were geologist-pilot-aerial photographer Richard Kerr and copilot-mechanic Charley Rocheville. The ten-man team was finally complete with less than three months left to go in the first field season. The plane would soon speed up the desert exploration considerably, but some impressive work had already been done.

During their months of service in Bahrain, Miller and Henry had often seen a group of limestone hills across the water on the Arabian mainland. They were anxious to get a close-up look at them. Within a week of their landing in Saudi Arabia, they had already worked their way inland to al-Hinnah and returned to their temporary headquarters at Jubail. They then reconnoitered about 120 miles of coastal desert southward past Tarut Island and the Qatif oasis and on into the tantalizing limestone outcroppings. On September 28th, five days after landing, they were chipping samples from Jebel Dhahran, the most prominent of the hills they had seen from Bahrain.

Two days later Miller and Henry were in Hofuf examining a house that the Gosabis, the merchant family who acted as agents for the oil company, had suggested be used for exploration headquarters. Miller decided to maintain headquarters at Jubail and use the house in Hofuf as a branch office. The geologists moved on quickly and a few days later were back once again at al-Hinnah. They thus closed their first set of traverses.

When “Soak” Hoover arrived at al-’Uqair on October 22nd, he was accompanied by three Ford touring cars. Miller met him and took him immediately to a new camp at Dam-mam Dome. There Hoover and Henry set to work detailing this important structure. Miller left them two of the Fords.

The automotive inventory grew a week later when Art Brown and Tom Koch arrived at al-’Uqair. Two three-quarter-ton trucks came with them, but they soon proved impractical in the desert.

When Burchfiel came ashore on November 22nd, his first assignment was north of Jubail. He set to work to map the country west of the American headquarters. Before the month was out he was joined by Henry and Hoover, who stopped their detail work down at the Dammam Dome and left their survey stakes in place.

By the end of January 1934, they had mapped as far west as al-Lihaba. Work proceeded simultaneously to the south where Koch and Brown were mapping the desert west and north of Hofuf. White had arrived early in December to take charge at Hofuf, and he was busy transferring data from the field parties to the base maps of the reconnaissance.

After Christmas the services of a good mechanic were available with the arrival of Dreyfus. During January and February the field parties made long desert traverses. They suffered their difficulties with few complaints, but they knew for all their effort they were making little headway in their tremendous task. Brown and Koch had set up a camp northwest of Hofuf at ‘Uray’irah, and to the north Henry, Hoover and Burchfiel continued to move west from Jubail deeper into the desert.

When Kerr and Rocheville arrived with the plane in early March, several weeks passed before the Saudi Arab government permitted them to use it for aerial reconnaissance. On March 30th they made their first aerial traverse. Throughout April and May they were able to get in three or four good flying days a week with two geologists aboard to observe and sketch terrain features. In late April they were permitted to start flights into the interior and to use their radio.

At the end of April the plane set Henry and Hoover down in a new base camp 150 miles west of Jubail, the deepest ground penetration yet into the desert. But early in May, Henry and Hoover were called in from the desert and sent back down to the Dammam Dome to finish their detail work. On returning to their old camp they found that the survey stakes had been destroyed, probably by passing Bedouin.

By the end of May it was getting hotter by the day, and the time had come to pull in all the geologists from the desert camps. Time was needed to study results and replenish the pioneer team, some of whom were ill. Charley Rocheville needed hospital care—he was the first “casualty” among the explorer vanguard.

On June 6th Dick Kerr came down from Jubail to the camp at the Dammam Dome to take pictures. The same day, Henry and Hoover completed their detail work on the structure. The next day the branch office at Hofuf closed, and Allen White went up to Jubail. The wings of the plane were folded back, and it was wheeled away for the summer.

When “Krug” Henry and “Soak” Hoover finished their last day’s work at the Dammam Dome, they built a cairn of rocks where they thought it would be best to drill the first oil well in Saudi Arabia.

The visitor who today flies over the air-conditioned trailers of an Aramco field party might well be amazed if he were swept back in time and saw the black tents and touring cars and the tired, bearded men in desert dress who raised the historic rock cairn among the limestone outcroppings.

Ten men had changed the map of Saudi Arabia during the first field season in the desert. None of them could know how great the changes really were.

This article appeared on pages 17-19 of the February 1963 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Back To Basics: Why Conventional Drilling Makes Sense in 2015

By James Stafford | Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2015 1:17 pm

This New Year, an old trend may become a new trend as conventional drilling in North America is once again in the spotlight at a time when oil prices continue their slump and the unconventional becomes increasingly uneconomical.

Advanced horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking for extraction is much more expensive than conventional drilling. While these high-cost methods are the technology that ushered in the North American shale boom, in times of oil price troubles, plenty are moving back to the basics. Unexplored conventional plays are set for a mini-boom of their own.

The surge in high-tech exploration and production has been led by small to mid-sized independent companies who could foot the bill for expensive drilling and extraction as long as oil prices were high and the risk-to-reward ratio favorable. This was a great plan when oil prices were over $100 a barrel.

Most independent drillers hit a break-even point around $80-$85 per barrel for shale drilling.

Beyond this, shale wells deplete much faster and during peak production, they are “highly leveraged to the prevailing energy price”. So when you sink millions into a shale well for quick reward when oil is at $100 a barrel and it suddenly plummets to $60 per barrel—you’re out a lot of cash and it is no longer feasible to produce.

One way for investors to hedge their bets is to look away from the shale cash cows and towards underexplored conventional plays that don’t require expensive horizontal drilling or fracking for extraction.

Going vertical is the safer bet, and there are two key areas that stand out: The all-time favorite Permian Basin in West Texas, and the prolific and still underexplored Saskatchewan province in Canada.

In the US, nearly 95% of new oil production between 2011 and 2013 was from seven key regions where horizontal drilling and fracking rule the day, led by North Dakota’s Bakken, South Texas’ Eagle Ford, and the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico.

But what you may not know is that the Permian Basin isn’t all horizontal. In fact, just before the oil price slump, it was just getting to the point where horizontal drilling was starting to outpace vertical drilling.

The decline rates for these key regions speak volumes. The Eagle Ford region has an approximately 62% decline rate, the Bakken region 54%, and the Permian—where vertical plays a key role—has only a 33% decline rate.

In September, Encana Corp. (NYSE:ECA) agreed to acquire Athlon Energy’s (NASDAQ:ATHL) Permian basin assets for $7.1 billion. While horizontal wells are the longer-term plan, current production is almost entirely from vertical wells and Athlon had 1,121 vertical wells versus 17 producing horizontal wells on its acreage.

At the other end of North America, all eyes are on Canada’s Saskatchewan province, where Suncor Energy (SU) and Cenovus Energy (CVE)—two of the biggest oil sands producers in Canada—maintain significant profit margins despite all.

More narrowly, market attention is latching on to the Williston Basin, which is already producing 1 million barrels of light crude oil per day and is on track to double this with new wells coming online. Yet there remains a great deal of exploration to do here, and this basin is expected to come up with another major sweet spot.

Within this prospective sweet spot lies the Little Swan, whose name belies its potential to be the next major discovery with an extremely attractive risk-to-reward ratio. This is, after all, the single-largest oil permit in Saskatchewan.

Recently acquired in part by a small, fiery independent company called Bayhorse Silver Inc. (TSX Ventue:BHS), Little Swan, in the prolific Williston Basin is a 253,000-acre oil and gas prospect that is an extension of oil bearing formations of North Dakota and Montana, according to geological reports that indicate high potential for a new discovery.

What makes this area particularly attractive to prospective investors who are shell-shocked by the oil price slump is that drilling will be cheap. Bayhorse estimates that a 1,200ft-well would cost only $500,000 because there is no need for horizontal drilling or fracking.

Overall, Canada–the world’s fifth-largest oil producer and a country with more proven crude oil reserves than anywhere outside of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela—is shaping up to become a better bet for anyone who recognizes that the frackers are now a gamble, and even more of a gamble than expensive oil sands, which take a lot of upfront investment but don’t decline like shale.


Mining & Forests… Case No. 1: Then and Now

By Jim Peterson | Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 1:00 pm

In the summer of 1874 – not quite 11 years after he won the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Battle of Gettysburg and less than two years before he was killed in the Battle of Little Big Horn – Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer led an expeditionary force of 1,200 on a 1,200 mile trek through the Black Hills.

Apart from confirmation of the presence of gold in the Black Hills, the expedition’s most enduring historical contribution was an extensive set of photographs taken by pioneer photographer William H. Illingworth. Seventy-three of his glass negatives survive today, and provide contemporary forest observers with a startling record of the difference between Black Hills forests then and now. Most apparent is the fact that there are far more trees in Black Hill’s forests today than there were in 1874. The photographs, taken before logging began, also bear witness to a long history of fire, though none show grassy savannas punctuated by groves of large ponderosa pines, a setting often associated with fire-dependent ecosystems.

Between 1874—when gold was discovered near Custer City—and 1898, the year before Case No. 1 was sold to the Homestake Mining Company, miners and town builders harvested 1.5 billion board feet of timber from the Black Hills. They paid nothing for what they took. In fact, in 1878 a Congress anxious to aid the mining industry—which it viewed as a key player in western economic development—passed the Free Timber Act allowing miners to take from public land whatever timber they needed for their mining operations. The only restrictions: trees less than eight inches in diameter could not be cut and tree tops had to be disposed of to prevent forest fires. While these restrictions suggest the federal government had a passing interest in forest conservation, unregulated logging continued until February 1897 when President Grover Cleveland created the nearly one million acre Black Hills Forest Reserve, outlawing logging and, in effect, mining, which could not continue without timber.

President Cleveland created this reserve—and 12 others—at the urging of the National Forestry Commission, a group appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, which had been asked by the government to prepare a “rational forest policy” for the United States. Several commission members visited the Black Hills and concluded that minus quick action its forests would soon disappear altogether to the detriment of government hopes for settling the West. In fact, as early as 1892, one Department of Agriculture field agent predicted that “it will be no wonder if in a short time the dark pine forest is gone and the name ‘Black Hills’ has become meaningless.”

Predictably, President Cleveland’s action outraged miners and townspeople alike. In its February 27, 1897 issue, the Custer Weekly Chronicle declared, “The executive order…may be safely regarded as one of the most vital blows at civilization, so far as the Black Hills is concerned, that has ever been perpetrated by the ruler of any nation in the history of modern or ancient times.”

Not all of the commission members agreed with Cleveland’s order. Most notably, Gifford Pinchot, one of the era’s leading conservationists and an early advocate for science-based forestry, had misgivings about the philosophical underpinnings of forest preservation. He favored adoption of management principles developed in Europe at least a century earlier: efficiency, rational planning, scientific management and continuous production based on removal of old timber in order to encourage growth in the most desired tree species.

In June 1897, barely four months after Cleveland created the no-harvest reserves Congress bowed to western economic interests, ratifying the Organic Administration Act. Most significantly, the Act declared that the reserves existed “…to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States.” It also gave the Secretary of the Interior the power to make regulations under which mining, lumbering and grazing interests could use public forests.

That fall, Pinchot toured the Black Hills, and in a history making November 3 meeting, convinced Homestake Mining Company officials they should side with him in his quest to bring science-based management to the reserves. Mindful of how quickly its economic fortunes had been changed by Cleveland’s order, company officials agreed to submit a formal request to the Secretary to purchase timber under terms spelled out in the Organic Act. It was a huge victory for the opportunistic Pinchot, who a year later was named Chief of Interior’s Bureau of Forestry.

Three months later, in February 1898, Homestake Mining filed its formal written request to purchase timber from the federal government, but it would be another year and a half before the application was approved, the sale volume estimated and the deal sealed. Nevertheless, Pinchot’s timing had been perfect. Here was a brutalized forest in desperate need of scientific management, and here was a company that needed a long-term timber source in order to maintain its immensely profitable mining operation. It could ill-afford to further anger a conservation-minded citizenry that feared the nation might soon run out of timber.

“There is no other forest in the United States in which practical forestry is more urgently needed, or in which results of such importance may be more easily achieved,” Pinchot wrote in a later report. “Upon its preservation depends the timber to supply a great and rapidly growing mining industry.”

Logging on Case No. 1—the first ever government-regulated timber sale—began just before Christmas 1899. Homestake paid $14,967.32 for about 15 million board feet of live and dead timber. Even then, it was an inconsequential sum for one of America’s largest mining companies, but getting the wood proved to be quite another matter. It took an army of horse loggers about eight years to complete eight separate contracts, one for each section from which timber was harvested. In all, about 2,000 acres scattered across 5,100 acres were logged.

About 5000 board feet of timber was removed from each acre—in trees up to 30 inches in diameter. Initially, the government allowed loggers to remove all trees larger than eight inches in diameter, but required that two larger trees be left on each acre as a seed source. But midway through the first year of harvest, the minimum diameter for trees harvested was increased to 14 inches which—counting seed trees— meant that about 500 board feet of standing timber were left on each acre. Clearly, the government’s forest officers—those charged with enforcing the logging contract—saw themselves as managers of a forest they believed could produce timber in perpetuity. A 1924 Forest Service survey suggests their instincts were correct. It revealed per acre volume had already increased 441 percent, to 2,600 board feet per acre.

In the years since, portions of Case No. 1 have been separately harvested five times: a CCC thinning in the 1930s, a post and pole thinning in the 1960s and actual timber sales in 1977, 1989 and 1990. In a 1968 ceremony, the Forest Service commemorated the two billionth board foot removed from the Black Hills National Forest by harvesting a 203 yearold ponderosa pine from the Case No. 1 site near Nemo. The occasion marked the fourth time the Nemo site had been thinned since Case No. 1 crews left the tree behind in 1899. Reporters who attended the ceremony seemed to grasp its significance—and the role Pinchot had played in insisting that a well-regulated forestry program could serve the nation’s economic interests while conserving its forest reserves.

“With harvest of the two billionth board foot, the Black Hills will have produced as much or more wood than there was estimated to have been standing when logging started here,” the Rapid City Journal noted in its June 23, 1968 edition. “Case No. 1 is more than history. The old sale area has been a proving ground for forest management. Here the basic precepts of careful logging were first laid out.”

Apart from representing a vast improvement over the hell bent free timber era, Case No. 1 became the economic cornerstone for dozens of still prosperous communities in rural South Dakota and Wyoming. Though it would be another 90 years before economic and ecological sustainability were seen as interdependent, Pinchot and his colleagues believed that if they managed the forest—making certain a new forest replaced the one that was harvested—they could also sustain the communities that purchased and milled federal timber.

Today, dozens of major federal laws and thousands of regulations—the Case No. 1 legacy—govern when, where and how logging occurs or if it can occur at all. In fact, many foresters now believe the regulatory process has become so cumbersome that it is counterproductive. Even more worrisome are the numerous proposals now before Congress that, if adopted, would outlaw timber management in National Forests. Before trading a century of success in forestry for a set of environmental unknowns, Congress ought to revisit the principles embodied in Case No. 1:

• The nation’s timber supply is not inexhaustible.

• A well-regulated forestry program can serve the nation’s economic interests while conserving its forest reserves.

• For conservation to succeed it must first be turned into an economic asset.

Based on what we saw in the Black Hills, these principles are as valid today as they were when Pinchot and the Homestake Mining Company came to terms with each other a century ago.

Jim Petersen is a co-founder of the non-profit Evergreen Foundation, and publisher of Evergreen, the Foundation’s periodic journal. Evergreen Foundation was established in Medford, Oregon in 1986 to help advance public understanding and support for science based forestry and forest policy. The organization’s original sponsors were all members of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association. This article can be found at

Vecta Permits Two Amsden Wells In Musselshell County

By Darryl L. Flowers | Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 12:49 pm

1/5/2015 To 1/9/2015

New Locations

In Musselshell County, Vecta Oil & Gas, Ltd. was approved to drill two Amsden Formation wells. The Inflow Jet 43-2 is located at NE SE 2-7N-30E (1805 FSL/709 FEL) and a proposed depth of 6,856 feet; the Cold Pool 31-34 is located at W2 NE 34-8N-31E (1320 FNL/1945 FEL) and has a proposed depth of 6,717 feet.


In Fallon County’s East Lookout Butte Field Denbury Onshore, LLC reported the completion of two Red River Formation wells.

The ELOB 761 24-19SH has a surface hole location (SHL) at SE SW 19-7N-61E (500 FSL/1560 FWL) and a bottom hole location (BHL) of 17,752 feet at NW NW 36-7N-60E (680 FNL/553 FWL). The well recorded an initial production of 203 barrels of oil per day (BOPD), 47 thousand cubic feet of gas per day (MCFPD) and 352 barrels of water per day (BWPD).

The ELOB 33-04NH 760 has an SHL at NW SE 4-7N-60E (2085 FSL/2195 FEL) and a BHL of 16,890 feet at SW NE 35-8N-60E (1982 FNL/2060 FEL). The initial production was 2,400 BWPD.

Abandoned Wells

In Daniels County, final abandonment procedures were approved for the Wescoe 34-7H-B, located at SE NE 34-36N-47E (2300 FNL/210 FEL). The operator of record is Apache Western Exploration LLC.

Converted to Injection

Two wells operated by Denbury Onshore, LLC were approved for conversion to injection: in Fallon County’s East Lookout Butte Field Unit, the ELOB 14-25NH located at SW SW 25-7N-60E (400 FSL/500 FWL); in Wibaux County’s Pine Field, the Unit 21-11AH located at NE NW 11-11N-57E (500 FNL/2400 FWL).

Darryl L. Flowers is the publisher of the Sun Times in Fairfield, Montana,, and can be reached at

“This Industry Is A Godsend”

By Jessica Sena | Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 4:39 pm

One of the most exciting things to take place in this country over the last few years has been the resurgence in American oil from American soil. The conversation about energy has changed from one about scarcity to one of abundance.

Along with the tremendous uptick in drilling and production, has come the demand for thousands of jobs. The demand for workers couldn’t have come at a more opportune time either, as much of the country saw unemployment numbers skyrocket during the recent economic recession of 2008. Today, energy producing states like North Dakota and Texas are experiencing the lowest unemployment numbers in the United States, and still have openings for job seekers. This poses huge opportunities for not only oil prolific areas, but for neighboring states as well. Montana is a prime example of a state that’s seen an economic boom in light of a nearby oil boom.

Not all who’ve entered the oilfield had previous experience working in oil and gas. In fact, many have gone to work in the oil patch due to declining wages or work shortages in other industries. Take Kurt Kukowski, for example, now with Northern Oilfield Services in Plentywood, MT.

Originally from Minnesota, Kurt taught and coached for 11 years in Wisconsin before deciding that he would move to Plentywood to take a job in the Bakken, so that he could provide more for his family. That was two years ago. Now, Kurt’s wife Becky and their two children, Henry (6) and Vera (3), have also made Montana home. Becky teaches and coaches in the Plentywood School system.

Kurt is a lease operator, also known as a pumper, and has one of the more routine positions in the oilfield. He gauges tanks daily for fluid levels, recording the numbers first, then calling them into the office by two-way radio. Pumpers also ensure the units and fluid lines are working properly, and act as the eyes and ears on the ground.

“Towels, a wrench, and a tank gauge are the most important tools for a pumper,” Kurt said, who is meticulous about keeping locations clean.

Many pumpers start out as roustabouts, giving them the opportunity to troubleshoot and problem solve by gaining on-the-job experience of how everything works and is built on a well location. This makes it easier to identify any irregularities on regular pumping routes.

When asked if a person could make a long-term career out of an oilfield job, Kurt replied, “Of course! I’m trying to.”

The life span of a well can be as long as 40 years. Kurt checks 24 wells a day (between Montana and North Dakota) and is one of eight pumpers at Northern.

Brandon Cunningham is another pumper at Northern, and has a B.S. in Computer Science, though he was working as a journeyman butcher in Washington before moving to Montana. He says that when the recession hit, union members with fewer years were hit especially hard, and he was barely getting by.

He’d heard that many were finding high-paying jobs in the Bakken, and left Washington to find out for himself. Though it took time for Brandon to find housing, he now makes a comfortable living, and is even able to send money home to relatives.

Like Brandon, many arrive in the oilfield with post-secondary degrees they simply cannot put to work. One such short service employee at Northern, Dustin, has four associate degrees which he says he couldn’t use in northern California, where he moved from just a few months ago.

Some oilfield workers bring experience from other natural resource industries, like Joe Klessig. Joe moved out to Montana, also from Wisconsin, with a background in logging. He brought with him a Commercial Driver’s License and experience driving heavy equipment, including logging trucks, which has proven valuable in his position with Northern Oilfield Services.

Joe and his wife Lauren (both in their twenties) live in Plentywood, and Lauren works locally as a caregiver.

The faces of Northern, a small company which has been operating for 22 years in the Williston Basin from Plentywood, show the diversity of those who’ve sought out opportunity that prosperous and developing industries like oil and gas have attracted. What’s more, is that the shale oil phenomenon is an equal opportunity employer, affording people from all walks of life a stable income, and the means to be a part of something that is contributing to America’s energy security and economic stability.

Among the ranks at the small-town oilfield service company are just over 30 employees, including Ross Marsh, Roustabout Foreman and Plentywood local.

Roustabouts build tank batteries. They set the tanks, build catwalks, and put the plumbing in place.

Roustabouts are also called upon for many of the maintenance and repairs needed at well locations after production has started, which might include anything from a downed AJAX or Arrow engine, to a problem with the polishing rod on a pumping unit. No two days are the same in the oil patch, especially for the roustabouts of the field.

Ross has been in the industry since the eighties, and has a background in agriculture. He continues to farm to this day, though now leases much of the acreage he and his wife own. Marsh is also a former bull rider, and a real roughstock rider-tough kind of guy.

Then there’s JR Maldonado, the 27 year old Truck Foreman who is grateful for the oil development in the Bakken.

“This industry is a godsend,” he said.

JR grew up just down the road from Plentywood in the town of Scobey, and graduated from the country’s smallest school (now closed) in Peerless, Montana with a brother and three other students.

JR grew up as one of five children in a family that struggled to get by on only one income of $20,000 a year.

“We ate spaghetti almost every night,” said JR, who doesn’t think much of the meal now.

After graduating from high school, he took to the road where he hitchhiked for more than a year, traveling to all but four of the United States. During this time, Maldonado says he never pan-handled, but instead, worked odd jobs to make what he needed to eat and move on, describing a night he slept in the cold beneath a bridge. But it wasn’t all bad. JR gained invaluable work and life experience on the road, and was hired to do heli surveying before meeting the love of his life, Lyndsey, in Pennsylvania.

The two were married in JR’s hometown, and will welcome their second daughter next month. They now own two houses, and host free outdoor movie nights for the community.

Matt Prince, a 4th generation Montanan from Plentywood, comes from a long line of Air Force servicemen and oilfield truck drivers like himself. Prince is married with three daughters and a son, and like JR, praises the oilfield for the opportunities it’s long provided him and his family. Prince represents just one of many other Northern employees who are generational oilfield workers, following in the steps of family members before them.

Truman Hackmann from Flaxville, Montana is the Director of Field Operations and Consulting, and has been in the industry for decades. He adds a wealth of knowledge and experience to a company with many crew members in their twenties. In addition to supervising field activities, Truman provides well site supervision and oilfield consulting to business partners Northern works with.

Hackmann was with the company before the current owner, Bart Horner, bought Northern six years ago after a career in management with Yellow Transportation, and has since moved up within the company.

Since Horner took over at Northern, the company has expanded significantly, adding trucking services for heavy hauling, and building a large new shop outside of town. Roustabout services and contract pumping still remain a large part of the company’s operations.

In addition to the shop, Northern also has a main street location which Horner describes as a part of his vision for the company to be an active member within the community. The company has donated to countless local causes and organizations, including the Montana High School Rodeo Association. For years, Bart was a Director and later President in the rodeo association when son Caleb competed in team roping, calf roping and steer wrestling.

Like Truman, Plentywood local, Jill Tommerup was also with Northern before the ownership change. Since Bart took over, Jill explains, her responsibilities have increased greatly, along with the size and activity of the company. The uptick in drilling in the Williston Basin has provided huge opportunities for small companies like Northern, says Jill, who is now the Director of Finance and Strategic Management.

Jill says her position has afforded her the right amount of flexibility too, including the ability to bring her three young children into the office if and when she needs to. Jill touts the company’s uniqueness, saying that the local, non-rotational employees set Northern apart from other oilfield companies.

“We all live here,” said Jill. “No one is going home every couple of weeks to another state, and company men appreciate that, along with the ability to get ahold of the owner directly if they need to.”

Jill described Bart as a very active owner, committed to providing competitive wages and benefits to employees, and inspiring loyalty within the company.

Bart often quotes J.P. Owen’s Code of The West at company meetings, citing the Ten Principles to Live By, like “Ride for the Brand,” and “Take pride in your work.” Horner keeps a framed copy of the Principles in his office.

The sense of pride at Northern Oilfield Services couldn’t be more apparent, not only in the company, but in the oil industry as a whole.

And the stories of opportunity and prosperity aren’t unique to Northern Oilfield Services, but are ubiquitous in the oil patch, Bakken and beyond. Each and every employee has a story to tell, and they couldn’t be more indicative of everything which makes the resurgence in American oil production exceptional. This is what the American Dream looks like!

For more on Northern Oilfield Services, follow them on Facebook or visit

Jessica Sena, who used to write for the Sun Times, now serves as communications director for the Montana Petroleum Association.

“What’s That Sound?”: Rethinking National Forest Policy In The West

By Jim Peterson Evergreen Foundation | Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 1:12 pm

“There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

Young people speaking their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind

I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down”

For What It’s Worth

Buffalo Springfield, 1967

Stephen Stills, lyrics

I was 23 when Buffalo Springfield recorded “For What It’s Worth.” The year was 1967, Vietnam was raging, and the whole damned country was in turmoil. The war shredded the generational fabric of our society in ways that have thus far made its mending impossible.

Although we are the best fed, best housed and most affluent nation in history, we are even more restless, directionless and unhappy than we were then. As Buffalo Springfield guitarist, Stephen Stills wrote 46 years ago, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

It still isn’t clear – at least not to me. But there is unquestionably something “going down.” What began as a student protest against a long forgotten war without purpose has infected every square inch of our society. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is real. Nothing lasts. The glue that held our nation together has dried and cracked, and our society is coming apart at the seams. Each seam has become an open wound and each wound oozes the puss of aggrieved citizens who believe their problems are of someone else’s making. We have become a nation of victims. It is painful to watch.

Our 24/7 news cycle feeds a kind of hopelessness and despair unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It fuels a frantic sense that only the federal government can dress the wounds of our disintegrating lives. Yet, it is the government that inflicted many of our most serious injuries. This is know for sure because I have lived in the West all of my life and have watched the federal government first embrace us when it needed us, and then toss us over a cliff when it no longer did.

It is along the bloody tear of this new wound that a new battle line – not unlike the one Stephen Stills wrote about in 1967 – is being drawn. Congress needs to start paying attention to the angry sounds that are reverberating along this rural western fault line because all hell is about to break loose. The kind of ethnic cleansing that has gone on in the West for the last 20 years cannot long endure in a free society.

Begin with the fact that more than half of all land in the western United States is owned and controlled by the federal government. Many legal scholars argue that federal land ownership is unconstitutional. Whether it is or isn’t doesn’t matter because the same constitution forbids states from levying property taxes on federal lands within their borders.

In Oregon, where I live, 53 percent of all land is federally owned and thus not taxable. This means that the burdens associated with funding schools, local governments and police and fire departments are borne by the 47 percent of our land base that is taxable. To understand this inequity – and its’ crippling impacts – imagine for a moment that the federal government also owns 53 percent of Manhattan Island. What might be the impact on New York City’s public sector services?

The western federal lands story is long, with many twists and turns, but for nearly 200 years members of Congress understood that full development of the roughly two-thirds of the nation’s economic potential required that the government find ways to encourage private capital and initiative to venture west. The railroad land grant acts, the Homestead Act and many early mining and timber acts were all designed to encourage industrialists and settlers alike to head west. Millions did.

As recently as the post-World War II Truman years, Congress and its federal forest management agencies were fully and very publicly engaged in western economic development – a result of the Roosevelt Administration’s conclusion that western federal forests were the missing economic engine the nation needed to fuel its transition from wartime to peacetime footing.

FDR’s great fear was that minus a robust peacetime economy, the country would soon lapse back into depression – a political disaster for Democrats. The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, ratified by Congress in June of 1944 – and commonly known as the GI Bill – promised every returning veteran a free college education and a government-backed home mortgage. By then, deep thinkers in Roosevelt’s cabinet had figured out that the West’s vast federal forests were both a source of employment and wood needed to power the housing boom that followed the war. For the next 40 years, federal forests provided about 15 percent of the nation’s timber supply – and more than half of all the domestic timber used in home construction in the 11 western states.

The post-war federal timber sale program also fueled economic development in hundreds of small rural communities that had never before enjoyed such prosperity. Sawmills, plywood manufacturers, logging companies and their equipment suppliers created thousands of family-wage jobs that, in turn, created atimber-based tax revenue stream unlike anything the federal government had ever seen from western states. The Roosevelt and Truman administrations had solved two of the country’s most vexing post-war problems: jobs for returning veterans and wood to fuel the much anticipated homebuilding boom.The Vietnam-era rise of environmental activism changed everything. The federal government’s wildly successful timber sale program became an easy target for an assortment of left leaning groups hell-bent on reshaping the nation’s values and priorities. For years they made no headway, but as the makeup of Congress changed – a reflection of the country’s shifting social values – new House and Senate members began to chip away at the nation-building work their predecessors had done. Forty years hence, federal imber harvesting has fallen by 90 percent, to its lowest level since the end of the Great Depression. The economic impact in the rural West has left many communities in the same condition they were in when the U.S. entered World War II, effectively ending the Depression.

From my ringside seat, which I have occupied since 1986, I have watched disbelief become heartache; heartache become fear; fear become anger, and anger become a ticking time bomb. Disbelief because those who put down roots in the rural West after World War II still have a hard time believing that their own government would betray them as it has; heartache because countless thousands lost everything through no fault of their own; fear because no amount of pleading or politicking has made a difference; anger because their way of life has been taken away for no reason other than the fact that there aren’t enough votes in the rural West to affect positive change in Washington, D.C.; and a ticking time bomb because playing by the rules has not worked.

I have no idea how much money the federal government has spent “studying” this problem of its own creation, but it runs into the billions of dollars. Billions more have been lost in wages and tax revenues. Still more billions have been lost in the value of federal timber killed by insects, diseases and wildfires that could have been minimized had the post-war sustained yield, multiple use ethic still been honored on federal lands. But it disappeared soon after Vice President Al Gore ordered its last practitioners fired from the Forest Service’s Washington, D.C. office in 1992.

You can be forgiven for not understanding why Congress would allow such a marvelous federal program to be dismantled by environmental activists whose main goal is the “re-wilding” of the rural west. To do this, all economic activity must cease, so that “nature” can “heal” all of the “devastation” that “greed” has inflicted on the West since white settlement began following the Civil War.

I prefer not to go down this road because I long ago gave up tilting at windmills. I thus accept an explanation given to me almost 20 years ago by Leonard Netzorg, a brilliant lawyer and friend who worked in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, and represented the western lumber industry in some of its biggest battles against the federal government.“Unfortunately, few urban voters have any hands-on experience with nature. They thus do not realize there is no ‘web of life’ that exists in some mystical steady state.”

When I asked Leonard why he thought the federal timber sale program was going down in flames he said, “Because society’s felt necessities are changing.” It is as good an explanation as any I have heard. Today’s voters – especially urban voters who hold defacto control over the federal forest policy making apparatus – are only concerned about the environment as they see it.

Nor do they seem to realize that there is no “reverse” button in “nature.” Civilization can only go forward from where it is today having already accepted the fact that our global environment and the world’s economies are equal and indivisible parts of a larger whole.

Although there isn’t much bipartisanship in Congress today, there are clear signs that mainstream conservation groups have quietly concluded that “letting nature take its course” in the West’s federal forests is a prescription for environmental disaster. This is a star-crossed moment and a good reason for someone to start a conversation about moving the nation’s forest management policies back toward the center. It is likely to be a time consuming process because there are a lot of rotten apples in this barrel, mainly lawyers who represent the “re-wilding” crowd and are being paid handsomely by taxpayers who are on the hook for their legal fees. The sooner they are tossed in the nearest compost pile, the better.

“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.”

Jim Petersen is a co-founder of the non-profit Evergreen Foundation, and publisher of Evergreen, the Foundation’s periodic journal. Evergreen Foundation was established in Medford, Oregon in 1986 to help advance public understanding and support for science based forestry and forest policy. The organization’s original sponsors were all members of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association. This article can be found at

Billings Firm Fined $5,000 By Board of Oil and Gas For Fracking Toole County Wells

By Darryl L. Flowers | Posted: Monday, December 15, 2014 3:52 pm

• Failed to notify Board prior to fracking

American Midwest Oil & Gas Corporation of Billings, Montana has been fined $5,000 by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) for failing to notify the agency before undertaking fracturing of two wildcat wells in Toole County.

The company fracked the Koenig  12-33, which has a surface hole location, or SHL, at SW NW 33-35N-1E (2250 FNL/400 FWL) and the Koenig 32-32, which has an SHL at SW NE 32-35N-1E (2250 FNL/2150 FEL).

Both wells are verticals that were permitted to the Duperow Formation one year ago. The wells had a permitted depth of 3,200 feet. The wells are listed as oil wells. Their current status is “spud.”

American Midwest was fined $2,500 for each well.

The company operates four wells in Montana, according to the BOGC database, including the two Koenig wells. The other two wells, the Johannsen 1-19 and the Stewart  10-18, are gassers located in Toole County’s East Kevin Gas Field.