Allison Ritter, Public Information Officer at the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources

The Public Information Officer at the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Allison Ritter tells us about the numerous international inquiries her offices receives for information on the Bakken, new info on the three forks formation and much more on today’s Hegg Bakken Report!

Hegg Bakken Report: All right. Today on the program we get back in touch with long friend of the program. She is the Public Information Officer at the Department of Mineral Resources, Allison Ritter, welcome to the show.

Allison Ritter: Hey, thanks for having me Bill.

Hegg Bakken Report: How have things been in the office of The Department of Mineral Resources. Last time we talked, things were pretty crazy. Is the level still pretty intense?

Allison Ritter: We are still very, very busy. As a matter of fact the last time I checked we have hired about eight new staff members. So we are very busy getting those staff members trained in and learning the ropes here and we still have additional staff to hire for Western North Dakota for inspectors. So we are busy and that’s the way it should be, updating our staff and making sure we are keeping up with everything that’s going on.

Hegg Bakken Report: And there is a lot going on, yes there is. I have noticed that the number of act of drilling rigs in North Dakota has somewhat stabilized over the last couple of months. Can you account for that or is it just my imagination or what’s going on with the number of the rigs that we have.

Allison Ritter: You’re right, it has actually stabilized. We’ve been hanging out that 186, 187 mark and that’s been that way for a while. As a matter of fact, if you look back to May, we were at 187, June was 187 and July was 186 and when the last directors came out, we were at 186 and the reason for that is operators are able to do a little bit more with a little bit less.

So they are bringing in these more efficient rigs. They don’t need as many to do what they did once before when we were up around 218 rigs. So it has actually stabilized and we could see that numbers still go up a little bit, but the rig count is always a moving number, it’s always a moving factor, but it is something that we keep our key on. But you’re right; it has stabilized around the 186 mark.

Hegg Bakken Report: When we spoke last, you were getting inundated with a request from media around the United States. Now you know there is a lot of emphasis on North Dakota being part of the global energy movement. Are you getting anything as far as things from overseas and other people taking a look at what we are doing here?

Allison Ritter: Have you been a fly in my office lately? Because I was just explaining to our directory and a few other people in our office that the last two days in particular have been the busiest days that I can remember for media requests coming into this office. I don’t know if it’s because people know I going to go on maternity leave here soon and they are trying to just get as much information as they can, but I’ve been so inundated.

The last two days has been crazy and actually I received a request from Brazil. That was one of the countries that have contacted me. We’d actually just hosted some folks. They weren’t media related, but we’ve hosted some folks from Austria since we last talked. We had some delegates from the Czech Republic come in and they all want to know what is going on in North Dakota and can we do it in our own respective countries.

Hegg Bakken Report: So you feel that we are competing on a global level, and we are making a impact not just in the state, not just in the country, but the entire world.

Allison Ritter: I don’t know if competing is the right word. I think maybe leading the way or being an example of how oil and gag development should and can work, how regulations can work, how state and industry can work together, but how we can also work with the communities, how we can also work to make sure that we are using best practices to protect the environment, to protect the surface, to protect ground water sources. So I don’t know if competing is the right word, as much so as it is people wanting to know how are we doing things and how is North Dakota being so successful.

Hegg Bakken Report: Just last week, kind of the resources on the front page of a lot of papers in the state, you know a big story was the finding of more oil in the Three Forks. I think 900 billion barrels right in that neighborhood was being tossed around. What does your office know about that?

Allison Ritter: Well, we like the results the Continental is seeing from these additional well. We still think that there is some additional research that needs to be done, obviously. There haven’t been a lot of wells that have been drilled to additional benches in the Three Forks, but it really is exciting for the department. It’s exciting for our geologist, because they are the ones that look at these core samples and analyze this rock and are trying to get a good idea of how much oil is really in place. So the results that Continental had are pretty exciting.

What really Continental and other operators are our doing at this point, we’ve kind of established how big if you look at the Bakken as a cake. We kind of established how round, how wide this cake is going to be. Now these companies are going in and they are trying to determine how many layers is this cake really going to be, really going to have and how productive are those layers going to be and that still needs to play out a little bit.

But as far as these Continental well, when we look back on the grand scheme of things, of the development of the Bakken and the Three Forks, we have historically wells over time that have been kind of big standouts. Just that, okay, this is really a game changer and are these Continental wells going to be that, going to be another bullet point in that time like and we think so.

Hegg Bakken Report: Does your office have much to do with, you know there is a lot of concern about the transportation of crude oil to refineries all over the United States and with the train derailment and with the Keystone pipeline project, a big question mark. What role does the Department of Mineral Resources play in assisting oil companies in moving their products?

Allison Ritter: Actually that falls within the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. Justin really tracks the movement by pipeline and by rail. Our department, what our biggest message is, I guess when it comes to transportation is that pipelines are definitely the ultimate goal, because it has been show over time that pipelines are the safest, most efficient way to transport oil and natural gas. But due to market constrains and due to market situations, rail has been the trend and so will that change over time, we just have to see. But really the pipeline infrastructure is what our office would like to see put into place, because that’s the ultimate goal, that’s the safest, cleanest way to transport these fluids.

Hegg Bakken Report: I would assume that you are consulted often by different entities on pipeline issues and things are you not?

Allison Ritter: To a point. Really, our office, up till now hasn’t had a lot of. We haven’t had anything to do with pipelines really. It’s either been, they are either sighted by the public service commission or they are – the growth is facilitated by the Pipeline Authority.

Currently we are in a rule making process and because of how House Bill 1333 being enacted, there are some changes we are going to have to make to our rules regarding pipelines. What we are working on now is possibly a GIS database of pipelines, so if the surface owner wants to come back and maybe they’ve bought the land or they are going to be doing some work on the land, we are now, because of this rule change, we are working on putting in GIS systems at where some of these old pipelines are and how they can best, you know if somebody is going to do some digging, so that way they know where these old pipelines are on their land; there wasn’t that before.

We are also working on implementing some pipeline construction standards, as well as some reclamation standards. So we hadn’t really been in the realm of pipelines before, but we are going to start to dip our toe in it and those rules when they become final, are expected to become final around April 1, 2014. So there’s some changes that could happen to those at this point, but we are doing to start dipping our toes in some pipeline areas.

Hegg Bakken Report: This is the Department of Mineral Resources Public Information Officer, Allison Ritter, our guest today on the program, and lot of new permits every week around the various County’s in North Dakota, some more so than others like McKenzie and Dunn versus Billings and Stark. What can you tell me about the process and the decisions that are made as far as approving permits for certain – for wells in Western North Dakota Counties?

Allison Ritter: Well, we have a pretty lengthy permitting process. We have an internal review process; we have about eight people that process permits at this point. They get reviewed by different individuals and some things multiple times like environmental impacts and various other sightings that get reviewed multiple times.

It typically takes about 25 days for us to issue a permit, but we have a lot of people that work really had on making sure that these permits are put in proper areas and that if there are some environmental concerns that we have the proper stipulations in place, proper diking requirements, proper spill control management. It really is the most important part or one of the most important parts to oil and gas development, is making sure we are putting these permits in a place that is going to impact the environment the least and we can do it in the best way.

Hegg Bakken Report: Do you get a lot of enquiries from various environmental groups?

Allison Ritter: As far as permitting?

Hegg Bakken Report: As far as oil exploration in North Dakota in general. Do environmentalist groups step up and express their concerns and ask a lot of questions?

Allison Ritter: I would say we do hear concerns from environmental groups. There are some tours that the Industrial Commission is doing right now to look at maybe some environmentally sensitive areas. It’s important for us that we really look at a place before we permit it and look at all the environmental aspects before we actually do issue a permit and approve one.

Hegg Bakken Report: Okay. Allison Ritter, the Public Information Officer. I do know you on a level that I know that you’ve been involved in the media a lot in your career. You have been with the Department of Mineral Resources for how long now?

Allison Ritter: Actually two years and two days. I figured that out. It’s been pretty crazy and I’ve had – I’ll have two babies in two years too. So there is a short period of time that I was on maternity leave. But yes, it’s been two years and there’s been a lot to learn and a lot that’s going on.

Hegg Bakken Report: Are you having fun Allie?

Allison Ritter: You know it is, it’s a really, really fun job. I told you earlier that I received the most media requests probably I can remember in the last two years and there really is not a day that I don’t shut down my computer and sometimes there are days I want to pull my hair out and say, wow, that was a really crazy day, but it was really, really fun and that’s the best part. It’s really exciting, it’s really a great opportunity to learn about a great industry and it’s a really exciting time to have children and raise your children in North Dakota, because there are so many opportunities that are here.

Hegg Bakken Report: Having said all that, do you feel like you are a part of a history marking process here, because that’s exactly how lot of the world is looking at this?

Allison Ritter: Absolutely, especially during the legislative session, to be able to sit in on some of the things and provide information through our Director. Two legislators who are making those decisions, I mean absolutely is being a part of history and it’s not only state history, but it is nationwide history and so it’s really, really fun to be a part of.

They come with those challenges obviously, but when you look back at it, I think the state’s going to be better off as a whole. It’s just going to take us a while to get there, but it’s a really, really fun and exciting time to have children and raise children in North Dakota, because I think the opportunities for my sons are going to be endless.

Hegg Bakken Report: Wonderful, wonderful sentiments from the Public Information Officer at the Department of Mineral Resources, Allison Ritter. Allie, thanks for joining us one the program and best of luck with your child that’s on the way and enjoy your leisure time off with your new baby and your other son too.

Allison Ritter: All right, thanks very much Bill, thanks for having me.