No one knows what effect increased energy development eventually will bring to Havre and the surrounding region. Work in the Bakken formation and the Shelby area west of Havre already is bringing some changes to the area, and local political, business and economic leaders met Friday to start putting some preparations on paper.
National focus has been on oil production in the Bakken. New extraction technology has led to increased production in portions of the geologic formation in western North Dakota, eastern Montana and south-central and western Saskatchewan.
Technology does not yet exist to prospect for oil that may be buried deep underground in the Havre area; however as a ripple effect from the Bakken expands, leaders want to watch for local impacts.
“There’s a lot of conversation going on right now about what impact, if any, the development of the Bakken is going to have on our region here in north-central Montana, ” Paul Tuss of Bear Paw Development Corp., which hosted the Friday meeting, said in an interview.
Tuss said the meeting was held to start a conversation about what could happen, and what could be done to prepare.
“I think it’s a conversation we shouldn’t shy away from, ” he added. “I think it’s a conversation we need to be pretty deeply involved in. ”
New techniques, expanded drilling
New techniques, part of which are controversial in themselves, have led to increased production and increased interest in exploring new or existing fields and reviving oil production in areas that had been abandoned.
In the process, wells are driven deep — often more than a mile — and then drilled horizontally along oil-bearing formations.
Water and special sand then is forced through the horizontal wells in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, breaking up the oil-bearing rock and releasing the oil and natural gas, which then is pumped to the surface.
While fracking has faced opposition by groups around the country, the process has dramatically expanded oil exploration and production, including the Bakken formation.
Impacts on the east and the west
The explosion of oil development in the Bakken formation, primarily in western North Dakota, eastern Montana and southwestern Saskatchewan, has caught the attention of the nation — both the news media and people looking for work.
The city of Williston, N.D., reports it has grown from about 12,500 in 2000 to possibly more than 50,000 people in the region today — and with it a reported 260 percent increase in calls for law enforcement between 2009 and 2011.
The increased activity in the oil field has led to:
• Housing shortages and tripling of rental prices;
• A shortage of workers in businesses and industries not related to oil as many leave for higher-paying jobs in the oil fields;
• More businesses springing up in answer to new opportunities for business in the area and in other regions, including Havre, to supply the needs of the area;
• A tremendous stress on services and infrastructure.
The crime issue was highlighted when a Sidney schoolteacher, Sherry Arnold, disappeared in January when she went for a morning run. Her body finally was found in North Dakota in March. Two men who came to the area looking to work in the oil fields face charges of kidnapping and murder.
A smaller expansion is happening to the west of Havre, with both oil and gas exploration picking up in the Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole county area, along with wind farm development bringing an economic boom there.
Shelby mayor Larry Bonderud said that region is ready — it has been prepared over the years and welcomes the expansion.
He said that planning and preparation is key.
“The main thing is having an active, functioning planning board, having capital improvement plans that address the needs of your current citizens, because it’s just the expansion of those that let you address an impact, ” Bonderud said.
Impacts and action under way
The impacts already are being seen across the region, including in Havre, and some steps already have been taken.
Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh said at an economic summit in Havre in March that he talked with representatives of the state Office of Economic Development about Havre’s university working with the colleges in Miles City and Dawson to provide training for people working in the Bakken.
Friday, he said the state university system was putting together the same kind of plan, with Northern and Miles Community College leading a collaborative effort of higher education campuses in the state, and that U. S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had told him that morning that Northern and Miles Community College would spearhead Baucus’ Eastern Montana Workforce Development Initiative.
Baucus has been pushing for months to find ways to facilitate the energy development and to help communities deal with the impacts, including the creation of a one-stop clearinghouse of what federal programs are available. Havre native and Northern’s Director of University Outreach and Economic Development Tony Preite is coordinator of that effort, part of Baucus’ “Call for Action in the Bakken. ”
“Jobs across Montana rely on a thoughtful, urgent and targeted response to the Bakken oil and gas boom, ” Baucus said Tuesday. “The ripple effects, especially related to housing, are being felt in counties like Hill that neighbor the most energy-impacted communities in Montana.
“I’m working at every level to make sure that we are laser-focusing on every appropriate resource to not only absorb the impacts of the energy boom, but to plan ahead so Montana can steer the way toward our nation’s energy independence and the good-paying jobs that come with it, ” he added.
Local law enforcement and justice officials attended a forum in Glasgow last month to talk about law enforcement issues related to the Bakken-area population expansion. Hill County Sheriff Don Brostrom and Havre Police Chief Kirk Fitch both said in interviews the discussions included much more than law enforcement, including problems with housing shortages and damage to or insufficiency of infrastructure.
A consensus from that meeting is that agencies — city, county, state and federal, from different communities and counties in Montana and North Dakota — need a collaborative, cooperative effort.
“The biggest thing that came out of this is we all need to work together, ” Brostrom said in an interview.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., also has taken action, including language in a House appropriations bill instructing the Department of Justice to report to the Appropriations Committee what steps it is taking to address the challenges law enforcement are facing in areas of high, rapid population growth, as well as how effective the current state and local law enforcement assistance grants are in helping those who are working to address the increased crime.
“With the tremendous economic opportunities surrounding the Bakken in northeast Montana, the local communities up there are also facing major challenges, ” Rehberg said “The entire country stands to benefit from the jobs and lower energy prices that result, so it’s only fair that some federal assistance be offered to address these challenges. ”
Looking to the future
While some activity and expansion already has been seen in Havre, how much more will hit is unknown.
The group that met Friday said a key will be to look at what could happen, make plans and set a rapid-response and information system to deal with challenges.
Havre Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debbie Vandeberg said she wants the region to be ready to take advantage of opportunities.
“I don’t know if I have concerns, other than being on the front end of what we can see coming, being prepared, ” she said.
Tuss made similar comments.
“We all hear about some of the difficulties the communities in the Williston Basin and northeastern Montana are having with regards to crumbling infrastructure, crime rates, awful housing situations, ” he said. “I’m hopeful that we forgo some of the more negative consequences of a booming oil industry, and, frankly, are able to capture some of the more positive attributes of that expansion. ”