Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

N.D. oil region brimming with hope, hurdles

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In a presentation to a group of Winnipeg business people exploring opportunities in the booming North Dakota oil industry, a city official from Williston, N.D., was almost in tears describing the kind of challenges the region faces.

David Tuan, Williston's director of public works who grew up in Winnipeg, said Friday there are all sorts of exciting things going on in the region.

But with the dramatic increase in shale oil and gas drilling and a massive increase in population, it is stretching the town's ability to provide services longtime residents have come to expect.

"It is tough to explain how difficult it can be sometimes," said Tuan, who went to high school in Winnipeg and studied at the U of M before taking a master's program in engineering at the University of North Dakota. "It's not just the fast pace. It's the lack of support. We feel a little left out... "

He's talking about the lack of adequate levels of federal and state funding to deal with infrastructure needs for a population that has grown from 15,000 in 2011 to what many estimate to be about 50,000 people today.

Still, the town, 646 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, which bills itself as the Heart of the Bakken, has hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure work underway in addition to the billions being spent on oil extraction in the state.

World Trade Centre Winnipeg is targeting the Bakken region's potential for economic opportunities for Manitoba businesses.

It is leading a delegation of about 30 people to the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D., later this month, a convention that is expected to draw about 4,000 people.

Although the oil rush in the region has been going on for more than three years, recent industry reports suggest the expectation is oil and gas extraction could continue for about 25 years.

Derek Earl, the WTC's director of international trade, said there are plenty of opportunities for Manitoba companies to supply various elements of industrial and service demands in the region.

"But you have to think that in 10 or 15 years, the supply chains in the region will be locked up," Earl said. "Now is the time."

But there are challenges in breaking into any new market. While Tuan got a little emotional in expressing his appreciation there were so many companies in Manitoba interested in bringing their expertise to a region that is very short on specialized expertise, there is a whole range of challenges for Canadian companies crossing the border looking for work.

Reynold Martens, executive vice-president of custom brokers GHY International and a member of the board of directors of WTC Winnipeg, said there are logistical considerations that have to be taken into account. And there is work to do to translate interest into actual opportunity.

"What you give is what you get," he said. "One thing leads to another."

But in terms of economic activity, he said it is one of the busiest areas on the continent.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2014 B11

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