Teresa Perkins, general director of Petroleum Products for BNSF, recalled when Houston-based EOG Resources had a vision and went forward several years ago to build the first crude unit train facility.
BNSF, serving that facility, hauled its first unit train out of Stanley in 2009.
Since that time, a number of unit train facilities that BNSF serves have been built in North Dakota.
A BNSF train waits at a staging area in northeast Minot. The city is home to a major BNSF rail yard in the North Dakota.
Perkins, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is responsible for finding and developing new customers and markets for BNSF. She has worked for the railroad for 25 years. Originally from Minnesota, she has worked in North Dakota and been involved since the beginning of the Bakken development in 2008.
Perkins spoke to a Minot Area Chamber of Commerce combined Infrastructure and Energy committees meeting Nov. 14 at the Grand Hotel in Minot. Kelly Beard, of Fort Worth, senior analyst with BNSF Industrial Products, Chris Varela, Bismarck, regional sales manager with BNSF Industrial Products, and Amy McBeth, Minneapolis, regional public relations director for BNSF, also were at the meeting.
BNSF operates 1,700 miles in North Dakota. A large number of those miles are in the 19 oil counties in the state, Perkins said.
McBeth later told The Minot Daily News the 11 transload facilities that BNSF serves are located at Stanley, Manitou, Republic near Zap, Tioga, Eland, Fryburg, Dore, Trenton, Epping, Berthold and Gascoyne. "Stanley was the location of the first crude unit train facility we served," she said.
"Currently, BNSF is moving 600,000 bpd (barrels per day) on our network, not just in North Dakota," McBeth said. She said BNSF serves many origin facilities across various western shale plays.
The railway has more than 1,500 employees in the state and about 460 employees in Minot, Perkins said. In the past two years, BNSF has hired more than 190 employees in Minot.
Perkins said BNSF is growing across the state, including at its major yards, naming those including Minot, Dickinson, Williston and Grand Forks. "But (there's) significant growth here in Minot," she added.
McBeth said Minot is a major rail yard in North Dakota. "Freight of all kinds is hauled in and through Minot, including grain and crude oil," she said.
On the ag side, Perkins said BNSF is the largest hauler of grain in the United States. "Of course, a lot of that happens in North Dakota," she said.
"In terms of importance here, ag is very important to us, and it's growing not just oil," she said.
In regard to the oil, Perkins said what is happening in North Dakota is impacting the overall trade in the world," she said. She said she recently read that the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in October the U.S. produced more oil than it imported.
That report said crude oil production averaged 7.7 million barrels per day and imports averaged 7.6 million barrels per day. It was the first time since February 1995 when U.S. oil production exceeded imports, while total petroleum net imports were the lowest since February 1991, the Energy Information Administration said.
"The whole market and everything is changing, again one of those reasons why rail is such a good option for oil because we can get you to all those markets you want to get to and get you there when you want to go there," Perkins said. With rail, she said shippers also can change where they send the crude.
"Pipelines are important but rail brings something that is unique to this business and it's actually changed how the business is done," Perkins added.
She said about two years ago people were saying the oil development was just going to be here awhile. "Nobody is saying that now," she said.
Perkins said it takes up to 40 rail cars of drilling materials for every well that is drilled.
To handle all the growth that is happening in North Dakota, she said, "We're spending a lot of money."
Overall, BNSF has a record 2013 capital investment plan of $4.3 billion. This, Perkins said, is the largest number that BNSF has ever had and the largest number for any railroad in terms of an annual capital expense.
This year, BNSF is spending about $220 million on improving and expanding rail capacity in North Dakota, Perkins said. She said money spent on the railroad also helps oil, agriculture and other businesses.
The work includes constructing new sidings between Minot and Williston and raising track over Devils Lake so it is above rising water. The railway also has been replacing ties between Minot and Williston and around 1,900 miles of track surfacing and undercutting work.
"A lot of work is happening now. If you drive around, you'll see the crews out there," she said.
"Among the various projects we have undertaken in the region this year, at what we call the 'Old Yard,' just west of Gavin Yard, we have constructed new yard tracks and redesigned existing tracks there for staging empty crude trains that have been inspected at Gavin Yard and are waiting to depart," McBeth said.
"Next year we plan to continue investing aggressively to support growth for all traffic on our Northern Corridor," McBeth said.
Perkins and McBeth said between Minot and Williston, BNSF is doing prep work to add a total of about 45 miles of double track.
"Dirt work is occurring this year, and next year we will begin laying the track at various locations west to Williston that are not already double track," McBeth said. She said this is example of one of the expansion projects under way in the state, and will help expand BNSF's capacity and benefit all customers in the state.