60 years of oil, the celebration continues
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
It has been 60 years since the Risser well began producing oil in McKenzie County on Ben Homer Risser’s property.
His nephew, John Kirkland, was working for Risser at the time and still tells about how Amerada Oil, now Hess, brought in a rig from Louisiana by train and unloaded it in little pieces in the city of Arnegard, then hauled it using old semis to the well site.
“They spent all summer erecting it, and when it was completed, it stood 156 feet high,” states Kirkland.
He tells of how the Amerada Oil company started drilling in the fall of ’51 and how the winter of ’51 and ’52 was so rough that they had to keep water boiling to prevent the pipes from freezing.
“They burnt 1,200 tons of coal that winter, just keeping the well moving,” states Kirkland. “There was a ton of snow that winter and it was not uncommon for crews to work without relief because the next shift couldn’t get in.”
Kirkland states that no one expected the Amerada company to find oil, but in April of 1952, they did.
“It was the beginning of a new adventure for McKenzie County,” states Kirkland, in part because the people of McKenzie County had been hearing of oil in Texas and they knew it would bring money and industry to the area. And in part, because nothing like this had ever been seen before.
According to Kirkland, cars that came from miles around lined the street to see the new well go up. And when Amerada struck oil on Risser’s property, the county threw a barbecue.
“The celebration lasted a couple of days and hundreds of people came to join in the excitement,” states Kirkland.
From those humble beginnings in 1952, oil has become a big industry in McKenzie County.
“When I was a kid, my uncles and other adults in my family worked in the oil industry during the first oil boom,” states Gene Veeder. “And when I graduated from high school, I worked in the oil industry to put myself through college, along with some of my friends.”
Now Veeder is working in McKenzie County’s third oil boom, this time as its director of Economic Development.
“Today, money is much more spread throughout the county. The first boom mainly impacted the Keene and Charlson areas, and the second one stayed near Killdeer. This one is much more county-wide,” states Veeder.
So what does all this mean for the next 60 years of oil in McKenzie County? If what the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) is projecting is true, the answer is production, population growth and jobs.
In 1978, which is the heart of the second oil boom and the first year that the DMR began tracking oil production, McKenzie County produced over 6.6 million barrels of oil with 259 active wells. From January to August of 2012, McKenzie County produced over 34.5 million barrels with 1,521 active wells.
McKenzie, Williams and Mountrail counties are in the center of the Bakken formation and lead the state in oil production. And according to the DMR, McKenzie County, which falls third in population, is often first or second in production.
The DMR states that, moving forward, the rig count should continue to decrease as rigs become more efficient, until 2025, when the number of rigs in McKenzie County will fall to below 10. Conversely, the well count will continue to increase until 2025, when it is expected to plateau between 8,000 and 9,000.
“Right now, drilling and fracking jobs are abundant, but eventually production jobs will slowly increase, while the need for drilling and fracking slowly decreases,” states Alison Ritter, of the DMR. “In 2025, we expect that production jobs will outnumber drilling jobs 8,000 to 1,000.”
Additionally, according to Veeder, a recent housing study has forecasted McKenzie County’s population to be somewhere in the range of 15,000 to 25,000 people by 2025. In the 2010 census, it was around 6,500.
Today, according to Whiting Oil executive Blain Hoffmann, North Dakota leads the world in shale oil technology, and according to Kirkland, that technology has put North Dakota on the map.
Additionally, Ron Ness has stated that should North Dakota continue on its course, it will start producing over a million barrels of oil per day by the first quarter of 2013. However, if that does not happen, they are staying steady at 730,000 barrels and can maintain that production rate with minimal cost.
Though no one truly knows what the next 60 years will hold for McKenzie County and the oil industry, the last 60 years to present-day have laid the groundwork for whatever lies ahead.
To commemorate 60 years of oil in McKenzie County, the McKenzie County Pioneer Museum and Job Development Authority are hosting the Best of the Bakken Open House and Celebration on Thursday, Dec. 13 at the Pioneer Museum of McKenzie County.
Festivities will include an all-day Open House with refreshments, films and photographs of McKenzie County’s oil history as well as the dedication of the McKenzie County Oil Exhibit at 5:30 p.m.
The oil exhibit will feature a to-scale replica of a drilling rig and workover rig against a beautiful western North Dakota backdrop, as well as an interactive video component and two exact replicas of drilling bits used in North Dakota oil excavation.
Jan Dodge, the Pioneer Muesum director, states that this exhibit has been open for a few months and Thursday’s celebration is meant to honor its success and invite those who haven’t seen it to take a look.
“Thanks to the generous donations from individuals and businesses, we are able to have this unique and important display available to celebrate our 60th anniversary of oil,” states Jessie Scofield, Special Projects coordinator for McKenzie County. “With increased requests for drilling rig tours, this display is the perfect way to bring the industry to the public and help educate them on the industry that is bustling around us.”
Wine and Hors d’oeuvres will be served from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend.