Bakken Backers bringing issues to the front of discussion for the oil and gas industry in North Dakota.
Rob Lindberg likes to joke that the majority of his job is just sitting down and having a cup of coffee or a cold beer with people.
Lindberg enjoys face-to-face interaction and getting to know about someone’s business and why they support the Bakken Shale. Lindberg himself is a big proponent of North Dakota’s most valuable natural resource. He is the director of Bakken Backers, which is composed of 5,000 businesses, leaders, workers and citizens who support the shale and its benefit to North
Dakota. The coalition was formed in January 2013 to give the perspective that the industry really matters across North Dakota.
“At that time, it was thought of as largely driving western North Dakota only,” Lindberg says. “When you look at the data, it’s really impacted every city. Even cities like Fargo have 1 percent of their employment directly in oil and gas. That’s not even counting all the engineering and manufacturing jobs that come from it as well.”
HELPING THE INDUSTRY
Bakken Backers, which Lindberg runs largely on his own with the assistance of an intern out of an office in Bismarck, works closely with the likes of engineering companies, construction companies and manufacturing firms. “They care about the industry, but have a little bit different viewpoint than a producer or a major service company,” Lindberg says.
Randy Pruett — who is the spokesman for Target Logistics, which is the largest provider of turnkey housing solutions in the United States — loves the work the coalition has done. “They have a broad reach across all the players in the Bakken and they have insight into the issues,” Pruett says. “They really have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the area.”
The coalition, which usually only gets involved in statewide issues, is primarily focused on two missions.
“One is giving a positive perception of western North Dakota, and another part of that single mission is promoting funding for western North Dakota,” Lindberg says. “We’ve worked really hard on things like the surge bill and oil tax sharing with local entities.”
The second mission is making sure state and local governments have policies that are friendly to a good business climate for oil and gas. “That means lower tax rates and smart but not crippling regulations,” Lindberg says.
FIGHTING THE ISSUES
The surge bill came in early 2015 and called for North Dakota to put $1.1 billion into highways and communities affected by the state’s exploding growth due to oil development. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed off on the bill after approval from the North Dakota Senate.
“We really fight after top-line issues,” Lindberg says. “You can imagine what fighting for the surge bill did for engineering or construction companies that might be located in Grand Forks and work out in the Bakken. It provides a pretty big impact for them.”
The biggest issue the Bakken Backers has ever dealt with to date relates to the City of Williston trying to eliminate crew camps. In November 2015, the Williston City Commission voted 3-2 in favor of getting rid of camps in its city. However, a compromise was offered for discussion by the commission for Ordinance 1038.
The Williston City Commission met again on March 8 of this year to discuss the measure. Just one week earlier, the 1038 Housing Compromise Alliance was established and coordinated by Lindberg. The alliance unified industry support for crew camps and encouraged the commission to adopt long-term policies that benefit the city, industry, temporary workers and local residents. The 1038 Housing Compromise Alliance brought together 13 oil producers, 14 service supply companies and four associations and community groups.
“Rob did a magnificent job of pulling together the biggest and the best players in the Bakken,” Pruett says.
Despite all the hard work by the alliance, the Williston City Commission again voted 3-2 to eliminate crew camps.
“We weren’t victorious, but we sure made a splash,” Lindberg says.
COMING UP NEXT
After leaving its mark on the crew camps issue, it’s not been as hectic for Lindberg and the Bakken Backers. The coalition’s next major push is to continue to protect the perception of western North Dakota and make sure there are good policies in place for gas and oil throughout the election cycle.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of issues around that,” Lindberg says. “And making sure that people remember that it’s either the second or the top employment base in the state, and it matters a lot.”
With the Bakken Backers not dealing with a major issue, Lindberg has been able to put together the tools to make the coalition even better. “We work on our online infrastructure and put a lot of time on our Facebook page and try to build that up or our email list and those sorts of things,” Lindberg says. “Just sitting down face to face and having coffee with people. There really isn’t a slow time as long as you’re preparing for the next big issue.”
Lindberg is very optimistic another oil boom will make its way back to the Bakken. It might just take a little time.
“I’d bet everything on it,” Lindberg says. “I think 2016 is going to be pretty difficult. But if you look at the fundamentals of decline rates in the United States and across the world, I’m very comfortable with the prospect of oil coming back this year. I think it’s going to happen faster. I almost look at the lag time between fundamentals and the perception of markets moving and we didn’t think it was going to be as bad until it got so bad. I think now we’re kind of having the negative hangover rather than the positive hangover.”
Trying to look positively at the oil industry, Lindberg has manageable goals for Bakken Backers as it heads into the future.
“Just to continue our two missions is really it,” Lindberg says. “We’ve steadily grown our base from zero three years ago to 5,000 contacts. We’re better able to mobilize on issues quickly than we’ve ever been able to do.”