MINOT AIR FORCE BASE - Col. Fred Stoss, commander of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, says oil-field people have been very courteous to his airmen who are driving vehicles to and from the missile field.
"In very large measure, your drivers recognize this so when they see an Air Force vehicle we see a lot of indications that the oil community slows down and pulls over," Stoss told Lynn Helms, Bismarck, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
Large transporter erectors and other vehicles from the Minot base share the roads in western North Dakota with heavy oil-field traffic and other traffic.
Stoss said the missile wing's special purpose vehicles cannot go off the center line of the gravel road and the oil community has been very respectful of the military drivers of these vehicles. "And I appreciate that," he said.
He asked that individual message be continued to be communicated "down to those individual truck drivers where they know when there's an Air Force special purpose vehicle that's going to be on the center line of the road and we cannot deviate from that center line. In fact, it's contributing to our national security which is why it's on the center line."
In fiscal year 2010, Stoss said the Department of Defense spent several million dollars on graveling roads and fixing bridges, culverts, etc., across the Minot missile complex.
Lt. Col. Matthew P. Jefson, commander of the base's 5th Civil Engineer Squadron, said in fiscal year 2010 that $3.9 million was spent on graveling roads in the missile field and $1.7 million was spent on fixing bridges, culverts, etc.
"This is a huge benefit for the missile wing," Stoss said. He said he feels it is also very good for the farmers, oil-field people and others who use the roads.
Helms said one of the tasks the N.D. Oil and Gas Division, a division of the Mineral Resources Department, faces when it permits oil wells is to look at the proximity to a military infrastructure.
"Are they, in our opinion, too close to a silo or a launch station or one of your cables?" he said the permitting team members will question. "Now it's not our job to tell them what's there or how close they can be? It's our job to tell them that we think they are close and to contact the Air Force and to work that out."
Helms spoke to members of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee at the base Sept. 2.
Helms said one of the reasons he was at the base that day was to make sure the system is working and his permitting team is doing a good job. He said if there are any problems he wants the military people to contact him and let him know if something isn't working.
In the past, Helms said he and previous commanders have met and settled on the number 1,200 feet for the space between the missile facilities and wells being drilled. "That's not a fixed number, that's not set in stone. It may be a different number than that and we want to work with you on what that number is."
Missile field and oil field overlap
He said the roads are probably the biggest overlap of the missile field and the oil field.
"You see those rigs up there," he said, indicating a map with numerous drilling rigs. "I want you to envision 800 to 1,000 heavy semi trucks traveling from Stanley to those rigs from Minot to those rigs over a time period of about 25 to 40 days. And these are big trucks. The average is 105,000 pounds."
"Now I realize you have big trucks too, so you understand what those mean. That is an average of one per hour over the time that well is drilling and the time that it's hydraulically fracturing," he said.
Helms said the Legislative leadership in North Dakota is coming to realize that more needs to be done from the state to take care of the wear and tear on these roads. He said that will be part of the equation as the Legislature moves forward in discussing funding in the next session which begins in January.
"But the second thing we have to think about is the intersection of military traffic and all this traffic going back and forth to these wells," Helms said.
On top of that, he said it doesn't end once the well goes on production. He said the typical Bakken well begins producing at about 1,000 barrels a day.
"That means there's going to be five semi loads of oil leaving that location every day for the first year and that will gradually drop off to about one a day two years later," Helms said. But he said the truck traffic continues and eventually drops to one a week. Overall, the activity at a well site will last for 35 to 40 years.
"So we're going to be in each other's backyards for a long time and what we need to figure out is how to route and manage this traffic so we're not intersecting with each other," Helms said.
He said he would like to see interaction with the counties who control speed limits and weight limits on roads "to where we could direct some of this traffic into corridors. By knowing where the oil traffic is, he said it could avoid the military traffic or work around it. He said the interaction between people and traffic is a huge issue.
Helms said each drilling rig generates 120 jobs. "So there are 120 people and their families that are looking for a place to live and groceries and cars to buy and other shopping that is associated with each one of those rigs."
"As this play is much farther east than they have been in the past, it's really impacted Minot which is a good thing. That's a problem we want to deal with," he said.
"We've got three really big issues that we have to wrestle with in North Dakota this year," Helms said. "We (N.D. Department of Mineral Resources and its N.D. Oil and Gas Division) deal with the permitting at our location. Infrastructure and housing are two of the big issues the Legislature has to deal with and that's the area we overlap."