MISSOULA — Kalispell native Mike White’s construction business is booming.
That’s because White, the president of Nelcon Inc., took the majority of his operation to the Bakken oil fields three years ago to offer his services to communities there overflowing with workers.
Last year, Nelcon supplied more than 10 million tons of “aggregate reserves” like sand and gravel for construction jobs in the area.
“That fuels our business,” White said, noting Nelcon has done a host of construction jobs, including highway projects, housing developments and just finished building a new airport in Sidney.
“I provided $5 million to payroll last year” to mostly Kalispell-based employees, he said.
White’s taken advantage of the Bakken boom, but still decided join nearly 100 attendees at the “Opportunities in North Dakota: The Bakken and Montana Expansion Summit” Monday at Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn.
Summit speakers broke down the status of the oil there, how technology could help further the boom and touched on some of the almost unlimited number of business opportunities coming out of the area.
For White, the information shared reassured him the challenges of working 700 miles from home were worth the sacrifice.
“It’s good to have affirmation. When you’re in the middle of a large economic play, sometimes it’s best to get 10,000 feet above and take a look at it from other individuals’ outlooks and spend some time doing market research,” he said. “I think it’s great information. I think probably the biggest thing I got out of this today is it is a very long-term play.”
Tom Rolfstad, executive director of Williston (N.D.) Economic Development Corp., told summit attendees that modest estimates show drilling could last another 25 years. Once drilled, wells in the Bakken have had an “extraordinary” success rate of nearly 100 percent.
“It’s an industry, not a boom,” Rolfstad said.
Now the “Bakken halo effect” is spreading across the country due to a severe need in the Bakken for everything from 50,000 rail cars to help haul oil to ports to skilled workers to build dozens of transformer stations across the area to bedding for the so-called “man camps.”
“We need help, we need manpower and we need intelligence,” Rolfstad said.
The importance of oil as one of the most sought-after commodities in the world isn’t going away, said Alfred Teran, president of Breitling Royalties.
According to Teran’s statistics, of all the energy consumed in the U.S. in 2012, 37 percent was oil. But 98 percent of all movement by people and products was fueled by oil.
Breitling is working to secure mineral royalties around the Bakken.
Teran said oil royalties have fewer liabilities and often offer better payoffs than working interests in the drilling or production end of the process.
“We have tremendous opportunities to get involved in oil, gas and royalties,” he said.
Attendees at Monday’s summit came from as far away as Dallas, Texas, to see how the boom could be a boon for their business, said Erik Peterson, of Bakken Consulting and one of the summit’s organizers.
Almost one-third were real estate agents taking advantage of the summit’s offering of eight hours of real estate continuing education credit.
Wendy Bush, of Prudential Real Estate in Missoula, was getting a first look at what the Bakken is all about.
“It’s going to affect us,” she said. “I have so many clients whose husbands work there part time. I just lost a dear friend who moved there. I want to know why.”
Realtor Jimmie Sue Reneau came from Polson to see if she should take the leap herself and move to the Bakken to find different work.
“There’s a lot of things I’m here to learn, particularly about the structure of the Bakken formation,” Reneau said. “I want to hear what the companies have to say because I’m looking for career opportunities.”
Another boom could come if the Keystone XL pipeline project wins federal approval.
U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., was the summit’s keynote speaker.
He told attendees he didn’t know if or when President Barack Obama would approve the project, but said it should be a high priority for a country that desperately needs energy independence.
For Montana, the pipeline project could bring construction jobs and lower power rates for residents in the region, Daines said. “The ability to have low-cost energy is key.”
White told Daines that delays in project approvals by Montana state agencies are holding up economic opportunities on the Montana side of the Bakken.
For example, an asphalt project that takes seven days for approval in North Dakota can take up to three years in Montana, he said.
Despite the challenges presented by working in less-than-ideal conditions so far from home, though, White thinks other western Montana business people can benefit from the Bakken.
“I think a lot of people are thinking about it. The 700 miles of challenges is the challenge,” he said. “We’ve been able to circumvent those items with a lot of good planning.”