NEW TOWN - When Rick Hotaling went to work at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Dickinson office in February, the office had about 450 standing permit applications for drilling wells in the Bakken, the lucrative oil formation in western North Dakota.
Hotaling, district manager for the BLM Western Montana District, currently is on a special detail assignment to the North Dakota Field Office to provide managerial support to that office until a new field manager is assigned. Part of his detail assignment includes performing as the field manager for the N.D. Field Office.
Out of the 450 APDs (applications for permit to drill) at the Dickinson office, he said about 238 were for drilling wells on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Eloise Ogden/MDN • Plenty of oilfield traffic goes through Main Street in New Town each day. This photo was taken May 8, one of the two days of the MHA Nation’s Annual Bakken Oil & Gas Expo being held west of the city at the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge.
"They were still pending and had not been approved. We realized that every day we were seeing more and more APDs and we did not have the capability in our office in Dickinson to efficiently process these APDs," Hotaling told participants at the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation's Annual Bakken Oil & Gas Expo.
The May 8-9 expo was held at the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge, west of New Town, with about 300 people attending.
Hotaling said the Dickinson office has had a fairly high rate of staff turnover and those who have been hired are just learning their jobs.
He said the Montana-Dakotas BLM set up a "strike team" to have the APDs processed. The team set up in Miles City, Mont., where lodging and office space was available, and began processing the APDs.
"We brought people in from all over the United States to work for the BLM," he said. "We have people from California, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado and even our Montana-Dakotas organization on the team."
As of about a month or so ago, the team had processed about 165 APDs that were pending, he said. "Of that number, 159 of those were on the Fort Berthold Reservation."
He said the team was rapidly reducing the backlog of pending APDs.
As of early May, he said that first team would remain for another week.
Other teams were brought in to finish the process.
"At the same time, we're training the people we have in place to try and get them up to speed to continue processing the APDs so we don't have that backlog of pending APDs. We hope to be able to get to a point where we receive an APD and can go ahead and process that APD in a timely manner right there in our office in Dickinson," Hotaling said.
Currently, he said the engineer portion drilling plan and other associated documents - of the APDs that came in from Fort Berthold was being sent to the BLM office in Great Falls, Mont., for review because the Dickinson office doesn't have a petroleum engineer.
He also said all the communitization agreements coming in to the Dickinson office were being sent to BLMs' Billings, Mont., office.
Communitization or drilling agreements communitize or pool a federal oil and gas lease, or any portion with other lands, whether or not owned by the United States, when separate tracts under such federal lease cannot be independently developed and operated in conformity with an established well-spacing program for the field or area and such communitization or pooling is determined to be in the public interest.
"The Bureau of Indian Affairs has provided us tremendous support in getting some of their computer programs installed in our Billings office just so the people in Billings can process these communitization agreements," Hotaling said.
BLM and Bureau of Indian Affairs are among several federal agencies that must approve oil and gas leases on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Hotaling said the BLM also is working with the North Dakota Petroleum Council on a hosted worker program.
"The Petroleum Council is providing support to our office in the form of personnel to help with some of the clerical functions of handling the paperwork of all those permits and activities. We will have that in place here really soon," he said at the expo in early May.