On Thursday, March 22, 2012, the brainchild of Pacific Steel and Recycling’s Tina Nolevanko and Sun Times owner and publisher Darryl Flowers, A Night in the Oil Patch, drew more than 100 business owners, geologists, drilling consultants, manufacturers, and landowners out to discuss oil activity on the Eastern slope of the Rockies.
Meetings have been taking place in Eastern Montana’s Richland County regularly over the last year as oil business picks up and local officials seek solutions on how best to handle the increased need for teachers, law enforcement, and infrastructure.
Choteau and Great Falls have entertained numerous round tables and listening sessions within the last few months in an effort to get a head start on the predicted boom in the area, educating the public about the lease and drilling processes.
Last Thursday, employees , associates, and spokesmen from companies as diverse as Primary Petroleum, Halliburton, and Anschutz joined representatives from local companies like Cascade Machine in Great Falls and Lewistown’s Wickens Construction at the Hilton Garden Inn to speak about better-business relations at the onset of a new economic boom.
The meeting opened with a statement from Jeff Millhollin, President and CEO of Pacific Steel. Asked after the meeting for his thoughts on how the evening went, Millhollin said, “Pacific Steel & Recycling was very pleased to have this opportunity to work with Darryl Flowers of the Fairfield Sun Times and co-host this event. It was a great opportunity for us to find yet another way to provide better service for our customers by recognizing opportunities coming their direction. We hope they will be able to utilize the information presented to support their businesses in the near future.”
“I see friends and I see competitors, and that’s how it should be,” said Texas geologist for Lonesome Dove Resources, Jim Bass. “Competition’s great.” Bass explained that once the leasing process is complete, competitors “drop knives and come together” to accomplish a shared goal; to recover as much oil as possible.
Darryl Flowers grew up in the newspaper business in the 60’s and 70’s, and explained that, “they [newspapers] used to serve communities.” Flowers expressed that he maintains the obligation, as a paper owner, to publish a wide variety of news stories and community events. Darryl described the Sun Times’ Weekly Oil Report as one of the most popular articles as of late, now printed in the Great Falls Tribune as well.
“If you think things are picking up on the Front now, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Flowers.
When asked how big this is going to be, Bass answered, “The upside… a lot of acreage. We can probably see drilling here for 10 years, though many will complete most of their production within the first 5 to 6 years, and then activity will taper off. Then we’re looking at production for the next 20 years.”
Bass, who refers to himself as an environmentalist, tipped his hat to the technological progress the oil and gas industry have made. Bass, a third generation geologist, says that drilling nowadays is simply unrecognizable compared to the methods used by his grandfather.
“The best thing [about horizontal drilling] is we don’t have to drill in the backyard, in the middle of a pivot, a barn, or your farmland.” The process, instead, allows petroleum engineers to pinpoint a location from several hundred yards away, now capable of creating a bend in the pipe to reach highly pressurized zones without drilling directly above the site.
“We’re not here to run over ranchers. We don’t want to break any rules or regulations,” said Bass. “People have a right to negotiate everything.”
Many echoed the same sentiment throughout the night. Halliburton Field Sales and Service Representative Paul Bellamy, a native of Conrad, said “this is not a new frontier, this is a new technology.” Bellamy, a self-proclaimed drilling man for thirty years has worked in oil fields in Alaska, and assured listeners that the technology used nowadays is significantly cleaner than drilling methods of yesteryear.
“These oil companies are in here and they’re going to do it right,” said Bellamy.
Jim Bass provided a long list of items needed to accommodate the influx in oil exploration and activity in and around Teton County, siting homes to rent, hotels, office space, places to eat, and other job creating opportunities.
“We need GIS analysts, folks that understand the permitting process and the rules and regulations,” responded Bass when asked what kind of educated people companies would be looking to hire. Additionally, he mentioned land men, attorneys, petroleum engineers, well-site geologists, truck drivers, and other positions.
“What we’re dealing with is huge; young people are going to get hired. Your colleges, your technical schools, they need to gear up. Why give jobs away when we have young people here looking for employment,” said Bass.
Harold Yeager, of Montana Overthrust Management, believes it’s still early in the process, saying that Primary Petroleum has leased the land they want to examine, and will now begin the exploration process. He said he has been approached by vendors eager to start construction; one hotel, for example, but says his priority is to keep focus on the work at hand…the oil work, that is.
Yeager also acknowledged Flowers’ work in keeping the public educated on the whereabouts and progress of the many oil leases along the Rocky Mountain Front.
The Public Relations representative, Brent Temmer, of Anschutz Exploration stated, “We’re still in exploration mode,” but ensured vendors and job seekers at the event that Anschutz, a 75-year-old Colorado based company, will likely seek the services of numerous Montana businesses in the near future.
Jim Bass and other speakers addressed the need for oil companies, vendors, and the community to work together.
“We’re all in this together,” said Paul Bellamy of Halliburton.
As Bass put it, “the community must take the responsibility to have a social conscious.” He said area residents ought to help in the effort to build infrastructure that can keep up with the predicted development, but also that service stations, manufacturers, and other businesses should seek to become allies of oil companies and survey crews.
Shawn Boylan from Wickens Construction in Lewistown, “the kind of person that makes vendors like us [Pacific Steel] do our jobs better,” according to Tina Nolevanko, shared ideas on how to build healthy business relationships.
“The oil is coming,” said Boylan, “and I’ve seen the effects of businesses that didn’t want to ramp up. When I’m dealing with vendors, there’s not a sense of urgency a lot of times.”
Boylan described a “lackadaisical attitude” as a crutch to efficiency, and emphasized the importance of good service, saying that often vendors don’t know their customers, which makes it difficult to provide quality service.
A spokesman for L&H Industrial shared the company’s value system with the crowd, saying that it has been the key to the success of the family owned business. On a large screen at the front of the room read, We Value: Integrity, Fairness, Honesty, Loyalty, & Respect. Safety, Productivity, Innovation, & Accountability. Our employees and their families. Going the extra mile and giving people more than they expect.
The Wyoming-based company provides welding, machining, hard chrome plating, and a myriad of other drilling and mining related manufacturing services. From less than 20 employees, L&H has grown into a worldwide operation with facilities in Australia, South America, and India.
L&H has not been issued a single OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) citation in the last 14 years.
Tina Novelanko encouraged utilizing other businesses for additional resources, even across state lines in the case of L&H Industrial.
“We don’t have the equipment to do what we need to do. They do,” said Tina.
Aside from the obstacle of needing supplies and/or resources that may be hard to come by, especially water which Jim Bass says can run oil companies as much as $800,000.00 per well, the Eastern Slope of the Rockies provides other challenges for surveyors, geologists, and crew members.
“We’re dealing with some pretty challenging circumstances. We’ve learned that Porta potties do fly,” said Brent Temmer, “thanks to 80 mile an hour winds.”
In the spirit of social consciousness, attendees concluded the night with an auction to raise money for Lyndsey Tikalsky of Fairfield, who underwent brain surgery last December. Tikalsky and her young family are without health insurance, and the means to cover Lyndsey’s recent medical expenses.
Fairfield artist and business owner Diane Hausmann donated an oil painting depicting a drilling rig on Halverson Road in Teton County.
Waterjet Extreme Technologies also donated artwork for the auction; a bronze replica of an “old time” oil well and derrick. The oil rig, complete with a Bloodwood base to represent the blood, sweat, and tears of the workers, was cut with highly pressurized water mixed with powdered garnet. An American flag, reminiscent of tradition, completed the piece.