Enlightening others on the rich resources of North Dakota

Alison Ritter tells about the state’s mineral resources

Eloise Ogden/MDN Alison Ritter is the public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources. Photo by Shianne Friese.

Alison Ritter provides information about the state’s rich mineral resources.

She’s the public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, a department including the N.D. Oil and Gas Division and the N.D. Geological Survey.

Originally from Iowa, Ritter and her husband, Bryce, who is from South Dakota, call North Dakota home now with their two sons, ages 5 and 4.

Ritter, a 2006 graduate of South Dakota State University where she majored in communications, previously worked in television at KFYR-TV in Bismarck. While there she was a two-time winner of the Northwest Broadcast News Association’s Eric Sevareid award.

She joined the Department of Mineral Resources in 2011 as the public information specialist.

“As oil production was on the way up, everybody wanted to know what was going on in North Dakota, what the secret in North Dakota was. They needed somebody to handle the media requests,” she said.

In her free time, she said, “I love playing softball, golf and catching bigger walleye than my husband does.”

Ritter gives talks about oil and gas activity in North Dakota as part of her work with the Department of Mineral Resources. She spoke recently to the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Committee.

The Mineral Resources Department is overseen by the North Dakota Industrial Commission comprised of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. The commission oversees a variety of agencies including the state-owned mill and state-owned bank.

The Mineral Resources Department includes the N.D. Oil and Gas Division which regulates oil activity in the state and the N.D. Geological Survey, “our eyes and ears on the ground,” said Ritter.

The Geological Survey provides information on what resources North Dakota has when industry wants to come in to develop those resources.

“On top of that, they’re doing some really interesting work right now in terms of land site mapping in the state,” Ritter said. She said the N.D. Geological Survey has a certified drone pilot.

She said the N.D. Geological Survey has also done some interesting work in terms of rare earth recovery. She said the research has found there are many rare earth deposits in the tops of coal seams in North Dakota and are looking into that baseline research of what kind of rare earth potential North Dakota has.

The Palentology program also is part of the Geological Survey. The program manages the N.D. state fossil collection at the N.D. Heritage Center in Bismarck, conducts public digs and other activities to educate people about the importance of the state’s fossil resources and identifies significant fossil sites and specimens in N.D.

“They’ve (N.D. Geological Survey) done everything from rare earth to landslides, potash, shallow gas, uranium. North Dakota is really, really blessed when it comes to our natural resources,” she said.

In regard to oil and gas activity in North Dakota, Ritter said wells are continuing to be added in the Bakken Formation. The Bakken is the lucrative formation producing oil in the state.

When the price of oil declined, she said people thought oil and gas production would decline in the state, dropping below one million barrels of oil a day and be at 900,000 barrels a day for the biennium. But she said that hasn’t happened. “We stayed above that million barrels a day mark,” she said.

She said they are starting to see rigs move out of the core-type area around Fort Berthold Reservation, Dunn County and eastern McKenzie County, and starting to branch slightly.

As of Friday, 53 rigs were actively drilling in North Dakota, according to the N.D. Oil and Gas Division.

At a recent conference she attended, she said oil companies said their plans are going to mimic 2017. “They’re also thinking the oil price isn’t going to improve much in 2018,” she said.

She said the number of wells waiting on completion hasn’t had any significant change since 2016. “We’re still hovering around that 800, mid-800 mark,” she said. At one point in 2016, she said the number of wells waiting on completion jumped up to 1,000.

She said the fracking number has not been adequate to keep up with drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground.

She said they are seeing crews drilling wells but frack crews are just barely keeping up the pace with that rig count. “In order for us to really make a dent on wells waiting on completion, our frack crews will have to increase and there’s some limitations on that,” she said.

Somewhere close to 2,000 wells have been permitted and are just waiting to be drilled by rigs. “We also still have around 13,000 unpermitted wells in the hopper,” she said.

Companies can go through the hearing process and provide geologic and engineering specifics for a well but request a permit at a later date.

“It’s still a good healthy inventory with an estimated 55,000 to 65,000 wells ultimately to be drilled in the Bakken Formation,” she said.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to msasser