Calling in the techies. We need you at the front.
Yesterday afternoon on September 21, leaders in the North Dakota oil and tech industry gathered at the Fargo Theatre to discuss how both industries can improve each other. A win-win for the techies, and the …oilies.
However, the oil industry may just be the “reacher” in this relationship; reason being that the need for tech in the oil patch is hitting a crucial level.
The event, coined “Digital Bits and Digital Bytes”, was aimed at showing local business owners how local companies have experienced a boost of success from the oil industry. Border States Electric, for example, recently brought in $1B and is slotted to hit $2B by 2017, according to CEO Tammy Miller, and they are heavily involved in providing electrical supplies to the oil fields.
Miller was the emcee for the event, and shared that not only has the oil boom created jobs in western North Dakota, it has also created many jobs here in Fargo.
However, the event was also aimed at the burgeoning tech scene here in Fargo (and beyond). Now that the Bakken is well underway, the industry is hitting a turning point. It’s experiencing some self-reflection, the speakers said, and those who are out there are realizing – there’s a better way to do this.
We can do better.
Glenn Mitzel, a systems engineer at JDP Automation in Moorhead, called this the “phase 2” of the Bakken. He said he was first clued in to how bad it was after a few phone calls from his wife, who noticed lots of flaring by the highway among other things. There’s a lack of optimization, Mitzel said.
“Why am I sending a guy out every day in a truck with a clipboard?” Mitzel asked. “Why, when there is a problem, are we just logging it without communicating that problem to the people who need to know about it?”
The well-recognized gap in the system, is that data from the oil fields needs to be collected and distributed in a more efficient manner. This is where the tech industry is desperately needed.
The companies that presented at the event have already begun to take strides to solve this problem. Altavian, a Florida drone company now based in North Dakota, is currently very active in the oil fields with projects like pipeline inspections, and gathering data-rich images. One photo, taken of an oil field outside of North Dakota, revealed a bubbling up of sand which resulted in an immediate $100K remediage project, according to Thomas Rambo, Altavian co-founder.
Myriad Mobile, a Fargo-based mobile development company, and OpWorks, a facility management software, are both working to create user-friendly platforms that can get massive amounts of data into the right hands, and in an easy to understand format.
This is a crucial part of the process, Mitzel said.
“The challenge is getting the data to be usable,” Mitzel said. “If you can turn two trips into one trip, especially when that trip is 80 miles, that’s a big deal.”
The companies varied from automation, to electrical mechanics, to data management, but all served one purpose: to optimize the oil industry.
“It’s cool to see that all of our companies need each other to create a whole solution,” Joraanstad said.
“Fargo, I need you.” – the Bakken.
One audience member asked, “Why aren’t more Fargo companies doing work like this in the oil industry?”
“Workforce,” Tammy Miller said, citing the well known struggle to find workforce in a state that is growing too fast to keep up with.
But it’s also a mentality, Joraanstad added.
“Many people think they’ll have to leave or go somewhere else to get involved, but I think that’s wrong. In fact, it’s an advantage to be based locally,” he said.
The event concluded with presentations from Kathy Neset, president of Neset Consulting Services; Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources; and Gene Veeder, executive director of the McKenzie Co. Job Development Authority. In a Bakken 101 style panel, they gave an in depth look at how drilling through shale really looks, and how the oil industry has brought an influx of recreational activity to places like Watford City.
Regardless of the growth, however, the lack of data distribution continues to limit the efficiency of the industry, Mitzel said.
“What we do have on our side is technology,” Mitzel said. “We need to get the data where we need it to be.”