About Sid Pranke

I moved to Dickinson in western North Dakota in late June 2012 from St. Paul, Minnesota. Though I was born & raised in North Dakota, I haven't lived here since high school. I am of German-Russian heritage, and my ancestors settled here in the late 1800s. With this blog, I hoped to rediscover my home state and document my time here during a historic oil boom.

The Ghost with Digestive Issues

Somehow, I’ve got a ghost on my hands, and a very strange one at that. I’ve never actually believed in ghosts before, but was still curious about them, going way back. As a kid, one of my favorite movies was “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” starring Don Knotts. The local movie theater in the very small town I grew up in would resurrect that film during the winter holidays, along with other family-friendly films such as the Tammy movies, starring Debbie Reynolds.

I don’t think there was an actual ghost in the Don Knotts movie, just some malcontent playing the fake-bloody organ and hiding behind the painting while peering through the open eye socket area. But people I know and trust earnestly tell me their own “ghost stories” and I tend to believe them. But once again, I never had a ghost encounter, never saw one, never heard one. Until now.

In my last post, I explained how I basically fled the Caribbean because I didn’t feel safe there. But those dangers were of the living. Now I am living temporarily with family back in the Twin Cities for now, a place where they’ve lived for many years. And I’m the only one who keeps having these weird encounters in the bathroom.

This has been going on for several months. Here’s what happens: unpredictably, when I need to use the bathroom and lift up the toilet seat, I hear a noise that sounds very human — like someone is passing gas loudly. Sometimes it happens when I’m already done and am just finishing washing my hands. Right away, I seriously thought it was because someone in the neighborhood was passing gas, and somehow it was being amplified through the pipes up to the bathroom I was using. But soon I gave up on that idea, thinking it impossible.

I ruled out that it was other people in the house, because they were no where near where the sound was coming from. Soon I began calling it “the ghost” and mentioned it to my family members. They just laughed and said it must be my imagination in some way. The sound started to happen more frequently, usually only after dark, and I began to get frustrated. I even googled “ghost farts” and a few entries actually showed up in the feed. One was from a inquiring mind on an online forum who wanted to know if it was possible that ghosts could fart. Haha. Too stupid, I know. One of the replies given was that if it was possible that ghosts even exist, then it was possible for them to pass gas audibly. That made sense to me, too.

Pretty soon, I became resigned to the fact that I was the only one in house that heard these sounds, but I still don’t know why, of course. I spoke to my friend, Jo, today, whose mother works as a nurse in England. Jo said her mother told heard that many people die while they are on the toilet, from heart attacks, for example. Hearing that information provided me with another clue: maybe “my ghost” died of a heart attack while he or she was using the toilet, and now they are stuck in this dimension for some reason.

Well, this is the strangest post ever, but it helps me to process the reality of this happening. If anyone in the world has any advice or suggestions, it would be greatly appreciated.

I finally told the ghost tonight that I don’t want them around anymore, that they should leave. We’ll see if it works — I’ll provide you with an update in a later post.

To Nevis & Back

By Sid Pranke

Good afternoon.

“You have to say ‘Good afternoon’ wherever you go. Even if you have to go to the hospital for an emergency or something like that. It’s expected,” my brother advised me via phone while I prepared and purged my belongings in advance of my trip to the Caribbean island of Nevis.

“Great,” I had said. “Good afternoon. I’m sick!” I replied, trying to conjure up the way I might feel at such a time. My brother just laughed. My friend, Elizabeth, said something similar is done in France. Bon jours flying all over the place. I would later discover that I admired this custom – there was both dignity and affirmation to it.

I accepted the job as Nevis bureau editor in early February 2014.  At the time I was in preproduction with Patrick Coyle on his film, The Public Domain, which was set to begin shooting in early March. It was decided that since I couldn’t stay long enough for the whole shoot, my duties would go to others.

I felt almost like I had found my new Happily Ever After. Living within a mile of both the ocean AND a mountain on an island known for its green energy and friendly people. I would have a good job, a nice house & a car to get around. A dream come true.

I had heard about the island of Nevis through my brother, who had been employed on the adjoining island, St. Kitts, as a dean of students at Ross Veterinary College. Ross has an excellent relocation program and its security for its students is considered good. After spotting a journalist opening on Nevis while surfing online, I applied and actually wasn’t that surprised when I got the call about an offer.

I discovered that my new company had no official relocation program, just a guy named Tony that I could email questions to.  I wasn’t overly concerned about that.

Also, I noticed when I emailed questions to the publisher, Mr. Williams, sometimes a name – Jorge Lamilia – popped up in my inbox. I just assumed that “Jorge” sometimes answered Mr. William’s email requests. (Later, I discovered quite by accident that Mr. William’s email account had been hacked & the unknown hacker, otherwise known as Jorge, sometimes answered my queries. Wow.) All this Jorge business was unbeknownst to me as I prepared for my Nevis move.

After accepting the job offer, I gave notice to my landlord, Peter, and methodically started to inform everyone I thought needed to know about my upcoming relocation. I went to many medical appointments – vaccines for Hepatitis A & B, typhoid, screenings for tuberculosis & gonorrhea/syphilis (required by the St. Kitts-Nevis government), eye exam, dental work. I made the most of the last month of my Minnesota health insurance.

For the work permit for the Federation of St. Kitts-Nevis, I had to jump through a few hoops. Some were easier to fulfill than others. When I first heard I would need a clearance letter from the local authorities, I didn’t foresee any problems.

The media group that hired me told me I would be getting a house and a car plus salary. I had gone to great lengths selling most of my larger possessions, including my car, which coincidentally was going to be fully paid off the exact month I was making the move.

Figure 1 — my house & car in Nevis

I sold my couch, love seat, vanity table, hutch, bicycle through Craigslist. I love Craigslist. When I next need to buy furniture again, I will start with Craigslist.

I sold my Subaru Forester for $7,000 back to the same dealer I had bought it from in 2008. The fellow who handled the sale was Landon, a sales agent for Luther Auto, whose recent claim to fame was his television appearance on The Voice a few years back. No star turned their chair for him, but they encouraged to keep working and come back.

To Hope Chest, a local company that helps fight breast cancer, I had donated my dining room table, chair, chandelier and miscellaneous items.

My neighbors at the apartment complex bought my air conditioner, my bed, my house plants, some paintings, etc.

I gave away tons of clothes and household items to Goodwill, a few friends and neighbors.

There were some items I couldn’t bear to sell or give away. They included: a four-foot-tall bronzed wood Hindu goddess statue, a newer Casio keyboard with stands plus a huge tote of family photos and memorabilia – those I left with friends of my brother Keith, for him to retrieve on his first visit from Chicago. I’m getting those items back tomorrow (April 19).

Another eight totes were being kept by my daughter for some long unforeseeable time in the future, as I imagined it. At this moment, I cannot even remember but for a few items that are in those totes, except for all of my bedding (four pillows & two comforters), a few paintings and a few family portraits. What else? I have no idea what’s in those eight large totes.

After I sold my car on Feb. 25, I knew I would have to be taking the bus around the Twin Cities until I flew off to Nevis in mid-March. I enjoyed “roughing it” on public transportation; I used the time in transit saying goodbye to the local landscape, the dreary end-winter weather. I purchased my airline tickets in early March and was pleased with my itinerary:

Minneapolis to St. Maarten on Sun Country Airlines

Arriving in St. Maarten about 3:30 p.m.

Depart St. Maarten around 6 p.m. and arrive at Nevis airport around 7 p.m. via Windward Air.

I had whittled my life down to four suitcases and two carry-ons, but I knew it would still be a challenge to manage all that luggage for air travel and switching planes. I hoped that airport carts would be readily available when I desperately needed them.

I have since decided that after trying to manage so much luggage is something I never ever ever want to do again – so wherever I may travel by air in the future, I will be limiting myself to two carry-ons with wheels. My experience at U.S. customs in San Juan was enough in itself to never ever check luggage again. They were jerks.

It took me almost two months to plan and execute my move in March. In the last few days, I couldn’t have accomplished much without the help of my daughter, who brought over her car several times to load it up with totes for safekeeping, and then on the last day, she came over for one last hurrah in the Twin Cities – heading over to MOA for dinner & a manicure before I checked into an airport hotel with a shuttle to the airport at 5 a.m.

Sun Country Airlines used to be my favorite – not so much lately. Mechanical difficulties delayed my 9 a.m. flight for four hours, so I missed my St. Maarten connection, and had to navigate with six pieces of luggage in a country I’d never been to – and had to find a hotel to stay at near the airport at 8 p.m. at night. I was told there would be a Sun Country rep by baggage claim to answer any questions, but I could not find this person. I am still going to call them about my expenses for the hotel, maybe today (April 15).  (I did call them & they said because my delay was only for 3 hours & 18 minutes, not the required four hours, I would not be receiving either a travel voucher or any other compensation.)

Delayed in St. Maarten – so tired

I arrived in St. Maarten & of course had missed my connection. Luckily I had called ahead & at no cost WinAir changed my reservation for the next day. Nice. But I still had to find a place to stay for the night. A nice young fellow at the Thrifty Rent A Car found me a porter, called a hotel for me called Travel Inn, where I got a $119 a night room. The fellow gave me his card with his phone number – “in case I wanted to call” him later to have a few drinks. Surprising offer and nice sentiment, but I was way exhausted.

Arrival in Nevis via Winair – I met a nice lady from Toronto named Anne on the small plane from St. Maarten to Nevis. She was going to spend a month in Nevis at the Hermitage Plantation Inn. “If you’re in the area, give me a call and we’ll go out for breakfast. Just ask for Anne in the white house.” Anne had recently spent three months in Mexico, went home to Toronto “to do my laundry,” she said, laughing, and now on to Nevis.

Another fellow on the plane was named June (like the month). He wore his very long dreds all bundled up on top of his head. June was seated behind me in the plane. At one point, he tapped my shoulder and said I should be wearing my hair off my neck, like his. I asked why (I had my hair in a pony tail at the time). He said that the climate and humidity control on the small aircraft was partially determined by the body heat generated by everyone on the plane. And because it was rather hot and humid that day, I should be wearing my hair completely off my neck. I was SO tired, and the comment amused me, so I just played along, and thanked him for the information.

Later, on the ground, June carried my carry-on bags to immigration for me. He told me he lived at Hamilton Estate on Nevis – the same neighborhood I was told I would be living at. I had had to fill out paperwork prior to my flight for the St. Kitt-Nevis Federation government – one of the questions asked where I would be living in Nevis. Mr. Williams told me to answer “Hamilton Estate.” There are no house numbers or zip codes in Nevis, so this answer would suffice, I was told.

I later discovered my house was not in Hamilton Estate, it was in the Ramsbury Site neighborhood. I wondered why I was given the wrong information – my office was only about one-quarter mile away from the house, and the island is small, so obviously my boss must know the right name of my neighborhood? That is a question I never had time to pose, but I decided it was because there was serious political strife on the two islands, allegations of corruption, arson, neglect. Perhaps my publisher didn’t want to give the authorities my correct neighborhood address on purpose, for my safety?

It was already dark out when I arrived in Nevis. The workers at the airport were very nice – was there someone coming to pick me up? I answered yes, Julio was coming to pick me up – the general manager of where I would be working. Where will you be working? I answered “The Observer.” A curious, somewhat alarmed look passed briefly across the immigration lady’s face. I dismissed it and went to retrieve my luggage, now neatly placed on the footprint in front of the small airport.

Within a half hour, Julio had arrived to pick me up, along with his wife, his son, and Tony, the fellow assigned to answer my questions via email. It was nice. Julio stopped at a grocery store so I could pick up a few things & then we drove on to my new home. It was dark already so I couldn’t see much of the neighborhood. That would have to wait until the next day.

In the morning, I went outside to check out my new surroundings. I could see the Caribbean Sea behind my house and Mount Nevis from the front of my house.  A family of goats paraded on the road right outside my gate. I’d never seen a male goat that reminded me of “Billy Goat Gruff” but there he was, looking and acting exactly like that goat from the old children’s book. I’m in paradise, I thought.

I decided to walk down the foothills to downtown Charlestown, the main city in Nevis. I needed to set up cable and phone service. Also didn’t know the best route to get to the beach, so thought maybe I’d run into it eventually – it was an island.

I loved the walk downtown. It would rain for a minute, then stop for 10 minutes and then rain again. I noticed a woman halfway down the hill had a umbrella handy for every time it rained. Her umbrella didn’t look like the kind available in the U.S., except maybe at vintage shops — I wanted one.

The shops downtown were something I imagined in an 1800s seaside village, except there were places to buy cell phones, to ship packages overnight and to hail a taxi. The streets were narrow, lots of cobblestone, perches for every storefront, everything seemed mysterious and wonderful.

When I walked into the LIME store to see about getting phone service, I saw the female security guard and said, “Good afternoon.” She returned the greeting.

Turns out I needed a code from AT&T in the States in order to swap out the chip in my cell phone for Caribbean use. I later called AT&T and they informed me that my final bill would not be available until mid-April. I needed phone service before then so I went back to LIME again to order phone service. It would not be available until the following week. I had to pay $500 Eastern Caribbean Dollars as a deposit.

Figure 2 Downtown Charlestown, Nevis, West Indies

Walk to the office the next day

I worked at a large pink warehouse-looking building that doubled as a print shop, serving clients across the Caribbean. Julio called it “the printshee (sp?)” I assumed that was the Caribbean way to say it, but I don’t know for sure. The building was only about one-quarter mile from my house, up the hillside, on Pump Road, which eventually led to the Caribbean Sea & Pinnay’s Beach about mile and one half away.

My office had Magic Jack to call the U.S. and equally important, air conditioning. Before I started work, I would often come to the office just to check my email and enjoy respite from the 85+ degree temperatures. (That’s Fahrenheit, I don’t know what that is in Celsius). I tried to explain to Tony & Julio how cold it had been in Minnesota. “What is minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius?” They had looked at me like that temperature was not even possible on this earth.

My Landlord, Mr. Dore

Mr. Dore was a very nice man, about 75 years old, who had spent most of his career in the UK, he had told me. His old artwork was displayed throughout the house I stayed in. One was of a young Muhammad Ali, another was of a French coat of arms that displayed the Dore family name.

My first trip to the beach was a little disappointing. I had no idea that the surf on the Caribbean Sea side was much milder than the Atlantic. I decided I prefer oceans over seas, and thought that it was a good thing to know about myself, for future reference. I did meet some interesting people: one fellow named Ganzi worked at the beach, checking out beach chairs and large motorized beach toys (that’s as technical as I get regarding what those machines are called).

I forgot to mention how blissfully I slept my first night in my new house. I was so tired, I opened up my bedroom windows and let the Caribbean breezes flow in. There were metal grates solidly secured over the windows, but the screens behind the grates let the wind through. Much later, though, I imagined that the grates might stop someone from physically entering the windows, but it wouldn’t prevent anyone from cutting the screens open and navigating tools (or weapons) through the window – directly at me asleep in my bed adjacent to the window. I didn’t get so paranoid until a few days after my third night in the house.

The third night, at about 2:30 in the morning, my windows were open and I heard the jiggling of the lock of the door to my bedroom. (There were four doors leading into the house – the front door, the back door, the side door and my bedroom door.)

For some strange reason, I wasn’t scared, just alarmed – and pissed off. I jumped out of bed and ran to the door and pounded loudly on it. Whoever it was, I seemed to scare them away. To be sure, I went to look out the bathroom window, and could see that there was no one at my bedroom door any longer. Amazingly, I just went back to sleep and I wasn’t all that scared. I think I thought it was a fluke.

The next morning, I went outside and discovered a cement block and a large stick right by my bedroom door, under the little window at the top of the door. Evidence… I decided to walk around the whole house and look for other evidence, as well as the periphery of the property itself.

I saw much evidence of multiple break-in attempts, slashed window screens, sometimes right at the position of the screen door lock, large branches perched on the metal fence adjacent to the vacant lot for sale north of my house. I threw over all the branches I could find, thinking that this would help deter anyone from using those branches to jump over the fence, and, if I found any those same branches perched again, I would know someone had been there.

Did I mention I had no local phone? Service was not going to be available until the following week & I also read a report in the publication of my new employer, The St. Kitts-Nevis Observer, that there were only two squad cars for the whole island, the other officers had to use bicycles. And I’m pretty sure that somehow the criminal element in Nevis knew that by now too.

So though I thought I had bounced back very quickly from the attempted break-in, my mind was slowly pulling in pieces of info from everywhere that started to build and put me more and more on edge as days went by. And there is great political turmoil between St. Kitts and Nevis. Nevisians want its prime minister, Denzil Douglas, to step down, on charges of corruption, neglect. One recent scandal involved an Iranian man who used his St. Kitts-Nevis passport to try to enter Canada. He was denied entry and then the man became very frustrated, saying he had paid the St. Kitts-Nevis government $1 million for his passport.

The Venezuelan embassy in St. Kitts had been burned down recently, as well as the Nevisian Treasury building, both suspected arson cases. And Nevis had the highest murder rate in the Caribbean, according to 2011 stats. Many of the people who lived on my neighborhood, Ramsbury Site, were ex-pats, and I knew ex-pats were often targeted. So when a mysterious sedan pulled up and stopped on the road in front of my house on Sunday evening, five days after the break-in attempt, that was the clincher that took my psyche over the edge.

I was sitting on my porch, taking in the landscape and fresh air just before sunset and then this guy in a sedan drives in front of my house, sees me sitting outside and quickly brakes. He looked at me like a cartoonish villain, all menacingly and exaggerated. I had shades on, so he didn’t see the alarm in my eyes. Then he played this little game: pulled forward five feet, then back 10 feet, forward 15 feet, took my photo with a camera phone, pulled back about 30 feet behind some brush, and then another car came by and he took off. I decided to go inside.

I went to go to bed as normal a few hours later, not really worrying about anything. But I couldn’t sleep. At all. About 2 a.m., still not asleep, and imagining every little noise was an intruder, I decided to get out of bed and pack my six pieces of luggage until the sun came up. So I did. It took my mind off of being terrified. I knew I could not spend another night in that house.

So I made some frantic phone calls from the office the next morning, and soon was getting a ride from Julio to the Nesbitt Plantation resort near the airport. I gave away “presents” to Julio – things that didn’t fit in my bags: Nike shoes, a fan,  a few books, a clock radio. On the ride over, Julio mentioned that some people just didn’t have good luck in Nevis – he mentioned U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who was robbed at machete point on Nevis not that long ago. Here’s the news blurb from Feb. 14, 2012 on CNN.com:

Washington (CNN) — Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed last week by an intruder armed with a machete while Breyer was vacationing on the Caribbean island of Nevis, court officials said Monday.

Julio went on to say that a justice from the high court probably had a good security team, yet this had happened. He mentioned that his own family had suffered three break-ins, and yet the police had done nothing to capture who did it. He said he told them, ”Next time I’ll take care of them myself.” He said the police told him he should not do that, that he should call them instead. “But you don’t do anything,” he answered.

I felt I had made a friend in Julio – he wished me well and said to give him a call from time to time. A good man.

While at Nesbitt resort, I took in the beautiful ocean front view and wonderful amenities and tried to decompress. I hadn’t slept for two days, and I still had to make plane reservations. I found a flight from Nevis to San Juan the next day, and San Juan to Orlando after that, where I would stay with my sister and her husband for a while.

Arriving in Orlando, I was really glad to be back on U.S. soil. I’ve been back a few weeks now, and have to start over again finding a new job.

Here’s the link to my online portfolio, in case you’re hiring or know someone who is.

I already miss the warm clime of Nevis, and the wild donkeys, monkeys and goats. I’ll tell you more about some of the great people I met while there in a later post.

Figure 3 Sign on island of Nevis

No end in sight to rent gouging

After Lori Patrick’s letter to the editor appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Dickinson Press, it appeared that she and her husband were being forced out for good from western North Dakota because they could no longer afford their rent payment of $1,700 a month. Here’s an excerpt of her letter:

“This is just a word of advice to people who are potentially thinking of coming to Dickinson; don’t do it unless you are in the oil field or supporting the oil field jobs.

For the simple folks who work at the schools, restaurants, stores and such, it’s just not worth it.

Both myself and husband have decent jobs but we simply cannot make it here due to the greedy local landlords trying to capitalize on this boom.

I work two jobs and my spouse works one, although it is fair money with good benefits we can’t make it here anymore. After one year of struggling here, we have to give them up and go home to an impoverished area with no employment whatsoever. I find this to be ridiculous and heart-wrenching.

Shame on the gougers of this area, taking every penny one makes just to have a place to live. We are so much further in debt than when we came out here….

So in closing, all I can say is beware, this is a very hostile, money hungry, disrespectful, no rights-for-tenants town.

How disappointing this area has become. I am sure at one time this was a wonderful community that one could make a living at and be proud to be a member of this town that cared about their people. After speaking to several senior citizens, I find it terrible that they fear for their own housing and are also being forced to leave their own homes after being here their whole life. Shame on the greed. Thank you for listening to my story.”  – Lori Patrick

I contacted Lori recently to get an update on their situation – I was both curious and concerned. She took a courageous step by sharing her story with many readers in the same situation she was in, and I wanted to find out how she was faring.

(Photo by Sid Pranke)

When I spoke with her in early December, Lori had just returned to North Dakota after a 14-hour drive from Michigan, where she and her husband still own a home with $320 a month payments. She had to take of some financial matters while in Michigan, but she had returned back to the Dickinson area because they found an answer to their problem.

Someone they had previously contacted about rental housing had seen Lori’s letter to the editor, and called to say he had a trailer they could rent from him for $1,100 a month.

“Two months before I even wrote that letter (to the editor) we had looked at this place (the trailer) and it was hopeless. It needed plumbing and electric and all that stuff. So I gave up on that and two months went by until I wrote that letter,” she said. “He called and said he was getting the trailer all ready so we should come out and see it and talk, so that’s what we did and we negotiated a workable price. It’s still high, but it’s not like it was.”

Lori wants to hang on to her home back in Michigan as her backup plan, plus she said home sales are sluggish there. “If I can’t make it here, I need a place to go to retreat,” she said. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen down the road.”

Before they found the trailer option, Lori and her husband lived in the top of a house, with noisy neighbors living below them. “We’re in the country now – all we have to worry about is cow,” she said, laughing.

I asked Patrick to describe her former landlord – she said she strongly believes he was motivated by pure greed. She said she begged him to lower their rent to $1,200.

“He wouldn’t budge. He said, ‘you knew how much it was when you moved in here.’ We’re not oilers, but they’re gouging the oilers, too, it’s not just us. It might not hurt them as much because they get company housing,” Lori said. “But for people like me and my husband and friends I know, you can barely make it here. Like I said to my husband, look at the price we have to pay just to be two productive, working human beings.”

Lori and her husband lived in the Gillette, Wyo. for part of the oil boom there, and they both agree that rent gouging is much worse in the Bakken. “There (Wyoming) $1,000 a month was considered gouging,” Patrick said. “Here, they’re just crazy.”

The Bakken area is providing many jobs to those who can’t find them elsewhere. But the housing situation has been way out of hand for several years now. Rents have doubled and tripled almost everywhere in western North Dakota. I doubt one article (or 1,000) articles will shame many landlords into lowering the rent on apartments, mobile homes and houses. And N.D. state law prohibits rent control on private property. The North Dakota Housing Finance Agency does what it can to help provide affordable housing, but it’s not enough.

What’s the answer? If you have ideas on this topic or, please add a comment.

2nd update on December liquid diet progress

Well, I’ll cut to the chase — I’ve lost 10 inches as of last night, including two inches off my waist since Dec. 2. I have five days left on this all-liquid diet, including today, and I vacillate about whether I want to stop it on Saturday night instead of Sunday night to make it a full 14 days.

The logic behind this Almased-based diet is this: if people see quick results right away, they are much more likely to stay motivated to reach their goals. That has certainly been true for me so far. Instead of grabbing a big handful of potato chips when I get home from work (my big weakness), I now grab a tape measure instead.

Almased is a non-GMO powder made of fermented soy protein, probiotic yogurt and honey. In the morning, I have been adding an organic banana to my breakfast shake, plus a dash of vanilla, half a packet of zero-calorie sweetener Stevia (available at many stores) and a teaspoon or two of flax oil (you can also add olive or canola oil instead to make sure you get your good fats and Omegas 3s every day).

Almased isn’t cheap, but you can get it cheaper online, and with shipping costs it’s about $30 for 4-5 days of shakes. I only have one tin left to make it through the rest of my diet, so I’m hoping the local health food store is restocking it since I bought the last two tins over the weekend.

I “cheat” on the diet every day with a mug of Ghiradelli hot cocoa mixed with milk, not water. It is so good and I have something to look forward to at the end of the day. As I mentioned in a previous post, I also have had an occasional “beer juice.”

My energy levels have mostly been absolutely great — and on those few occasions I feel myself start to lag, I grab a cup of organic black tea or herbal lemon/ginger tea, which also is considered a detoxer.

I hope to see at least a drop of about seven more inches overall before the end of the all liquid diet — I’m not sure if that is unrealistic. After that, you’re supposed to substitute one or two meals per day with an Almased shake — I’ll see if I end up doing that. At this point, I’m not sure about that. But it sure does feel GREAT to have started my New Year’s Resolution BEFORE the New Year starts — no holiday cookies for me, because I swear if I have one, I’ll have 10 of them. So instead of having to feel guilty about that, I feel energized by the possibilities for getting in great shape again.

Be ready for anything: Winter Driving in the Bakken

By Sid Pranke

Bakken-area drivers already got an early taste of possible things to come this winter – in mid-November, icy roads led to travel advisories, numerous accidents and tragically, several deadly crashes.

North Dakota got a break last winter, with little snow and unseasonably warm temperatures.

Though the elements often defy prediction, near normal levels of snowfall are expected this winter for North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service’s climate outlook for the December to February winter season. And the online version of Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts North Dakota’s snowiest periods will be mid-December, early February and early March. We’ll see how that goes.

During that first big winter storm of the season, Sgt. Darcy Aberle of the N.D. Highway Patrol’s Northwest region in Williston, said area troopers out in the field noticed some avoidable problems.

There was no travel advised, but Aberle said troopers were still seeing oilfield companies sending their workers out to work.

“Companies were acting as if it was a regular work day,” Aberle said. “When we see no travel advised, we’re basically saying ‘stay off the roads’ unless it’s an emergency to get to a hospital or something like that.”

Aberle said he hopes the word gets out about travel advisory warnings. “We did stop and talk to a lot of the truck drivers that were stuck” and told them they shouldn’t have been on the roads at all with the poor road conditions, he said.

Trucks with heavier loads have better traction, but Aberle said that’s a double-edged sword.

“You have more pressure down on the roadway to get moving and go faster, but with that weight it’s tougher to stop,” Aberle said.

A lot of the trucks troopers see aren’t carrying tire chains to use when they’re needed, according to Aberle.

“In North Dakota and the Badlands especially, it can be a nice day but there might be a hill they have to go down and without chains they might not get out of that location,” Aberle said.

If drivers hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL), it’s more likely they’ve received training in winter truck driving that included instruction about the use of tire chains for winter driving. But what drivers learn in hands-on training can depend partly on what time of year it is when they take a CDL course, said TrainND’s CEO Deanette Piesik. TrainND offers year-round CDL training.

“People in the CDL class now are getting instruction on winter driving,” Piesik said. “In the summer, they (students) get instruction on heat and how that affects the trucks as well.”

Piesik said they use full-size semi-trucks with trailers for their CDL classes.

“Because that’s what they (students) have to test in, in order to get their CDL,” she said.

TrainND’s CDL-preparation course is three weeks long and covers speed, space management, chaining up and chain removal, and ice buildup issues on trucks, Piesik said.

“If the ice builds up, it can knock off air lines and electrical lines on the truck and trailer hookups,” she said.

A variety of students enroll in TrainND’s CDL classes, Piesik said. “We work with some companies who send their new hires – people who don’t have their CDLs, and then we have people who come in off the street who’ve got the money to get the class,” she said.

And for all drivers, having tire chains in your vehicle isn’t enough; you have to know how to use them.  “That’s the big thing. If you do have tire chains, practice putting them on and taking them off,” Sgt. Aberle said. “What we see lots of times with new people that are up in North Dakota, is they go out and buy tire chains, but they’ve never taken them out of the bag.”

Aberle said the Highway Patrol used to carry tire chains in their vehicles, but not anymore. “We have enough 4-wheel drives so we just run with those,” he said.

If you’re moderately adept with using tire chains, it will take about 10 minutes per tire to put on chains properly, and if your vehicle has 4-wheel drive and you still want to use tire chains, you can get away with just using two of them, Aberle said.

North Dakota’s highway conditions and maintenance

Aberle praised the way the North Dakota Department of Transportation takes care of highways during winter. He cited his own recent road trip as an example. He traveled to Colorado the day after the Nov. 10 storm.

“I drove on solid ice all the way through Montana and never saw a plow,” Aberle said. “Solid white ice the whole way through Montana, and North Dakota’s road were clean.”

Aberle said he just took his time and adjusted his driving to the conditions. “That might be 20 miles per hour on a 65- or 75-mile-per-hour road, but if that’s all it allows, that’s the speed you have to go,” he said.

Aberle recommends drivers more than double the normal traveling distance behind other vehicles. “You don’t know exactly how icy it is at times. Double might suffice for making a quick stop and not hurting somebody, but you might as well play it safe and stay back even further,” he said. “That also gives you a little more reaction time.”

Due to the predicted icy conditions, highway maintenance crews were pretreating highways before the Nov. 10 winter storm, said Larry Gangl, Dickinson district engineer of NDDOT.

“Pretreating works well but it doesn’t work in all cases. Mother Nature in certain storms will win – it’s going to stick no matter what you do, but you try to minimize that,” Gangl said. “If it sticks, it may not stick as hard and come off easier the next day.” Gangl said NDDOT tries to stay as aggressive as possible to prevent poor road conditions due to snow and ice. “But there are times when they’re going to be that way, no matter what you do,” he said.

NDDOT follows a protocol of treating roads in the winter, Gangl said. If snow is predicted, crews report to work earlier than usual. If the normal start time is 6 a.m., crews come in early at 4 or 5 a.m. Maintenance trucks, such as those used for anti-icing, have set routes.

“Generally, we start with our highest-priority roads, which are the roads with the most traffic,” Gangl said. “The interstate system is the highest priority, then we work on our U.S. highways, which are highways 12 and 85, then we go down to our state highways like Highway 22.”

For roads with snow and ice on them, NDDOT generally plows first, Gangl said, “because the salt/sand mixture we’re using won’t work unless you get the snow off first.”

NDDOT puts down either a sand/salt mixture or straight salt, depending on conditions. “How much you put down is based on what’s on the roadways, as far as ice cover, ice thickness, that type of thing,” Gangl said.

Road safety issues

High traffic on Bakken roads and highways has been well-documented, but Highway Patrol officers trying to enforce the laws face similar dangers that all drivers do. When asked if icy  road conditions and a lack of approaches or wide shoulders on Bakken highways prevent him from doing his job the way he’d like to do it, Aberle (who patrols in the Williston area) said it does.

“That’s one of the issues we have with a few of our roads – we have no shoulders on them. If the vehicle doesn’t stop at an approach or if we aren’t near an approach … if I don’t have an approach where I think I can make a safe stop, I’m probably not even going to stop the vehicle,” Aberle said.

Highway 85 closer to Williston has added passing lanes and has wide shoulders, but from Belfield to Watford City there are no passing lanes and few approaches. Plans are in the works for improvements on that stretch of Highway 85, but officials say the plans could take several more years to implement.

Aberle said the Highway Patrol has started training with approaches on the passenger side of vehicles, “so we’re actually in the ditch,” he said.

In addition, NDDOT’s Gangl said his department works with the highway patrol to coordinate on areas to develop for pulling trucks over.

If drivers feel unsafe on area highways (such as if they see a big truck barreling down behind them in the distance), consider pulling off the side of the road to let the truck pass.

“If they (drivers) feel it’s their safest bet to pull over and allow the traffic to go by, we’re all for that,” Aberle said. “I’m not going to tell people they have to pull over, because it’s not state law to do it.”

First update on my liquid diet progress

It seems a little strange to be blogging about hard news one day and my diet progress the next. But as promised, I am providing an update every few days on my diet. The first few days were psychologically difficult; I kept thinking about potato chips (my biggest weakness). I knew I couldn’t have any — plus, I thought if I did have even a few, I would end devouring a whole 10-ounce bag of them.

This is what I am “eating” every day for 14 days (now on day 5):

Breakfast — 1 10-ounce Almased shake (I add an organic banana, vanilla and a teaspoon of flax oil to the blender as well and maybe a sprinkle of Stevia). Almased is a powder made of fermented soy protein, probiotic yogurt and honey); big cup of organic black tea.

Lunch — 1 10-ounce Almased shake (without the banana); mug of clear vegetable broth (low-sodium)

Dinner — cup of low-sodium V-8, mug of delectable hot cocoa with milk (my version of cheating — but I need my daily chocolate somehow, plus it gives me something to look forward every day).

Two hours before bedtime I have another Almased shake. I feel really good on this diet; I don’t feel sluggish during the day and I have lots of energy, even in the early morning. Sometimes my stomach grumbles, so I have to eat lunch right at 11 a.m. and dinner right about 5 p.m.

I don’t weigh myself; instead I use a tape measure and record all my measurements by date and then see how I’m doing. I have lost 1 1/2 inches off my waist since Sunday night, plus more inches everywhere for a total of about 5 inches in 5 days. My tightest jeans fit much better (it’s casual Friday so I’m wearing jeans today).

One of my colleagues & I were discussing how we’re both the type of people who have a hard time making a batch of cookies or brownies, because we want to eat them all by ourselves pretty quickly. I don’t like this about myself, but I have to accept it and avoid making baking goodies at all costs.

Nine days to go with my all-liquid diet — as a reward for completing it, I’m flying to a Florida beach on Dec. 18 — woo hoo!

Bakken freaks take note: Continental Resources drills to third bench of Three Forks

As I did my usual scour for all things oil and gas on Dec. 4, I came across this item, a new drilling milestone for the Bakken. If you keep track of Bakken developments like some people are sports fanatics, the press release below from Continental Resources’ website was made for people like you. Dec. 6 update: I interviewed the DMR’s Lynn Helms this morning and asked him about the development below. His response was “I can’t tell you much, because the well’s on confidential status. But yes, I knew that we had done a case which would allow them to test that expanded Three Forks pool and had permitted a well for that, as far as any results I can’t speak to them. They can tell you anything they want.” — Fresh Mojo’s Sid Pranke

OKLAHOMA CITY, Dec. 3, 2012 — Continental Resources, Inc. (NYSE: CLR) announced today it successfully completed the Charlotte 3-22H (91% WI), the first horizontal well to test the third bench (TF3) of the Three Forks zone in the Bakken field of North Dakota and Montana.

The Charlotte 3-22H flowed 953 barrels of oil equivalent per day (Boepd) at 1700 psi on a 28/64 choke in its initial one-day test period. Located in McKenzie County, North Dakota, it was drilled to a total depth of 21,324 feet, including a 9,701-foot lateral section, and was completed with Continental’s standard 30-stage fracture stimulation design.

“We’re very pleased with the initial performance of the Charlotte 3-22H,” said Harold Hamm, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “The well has been producing for 15 days and its performance compares favorably with other first bench (TF1) and second bench (TF2) producing Three Forks wells.”

Continental has been a pioneer in the discovery and development of the Three Forks reservoir in the Bakken field.  The Company was the first to demonstrate incremental reserves from the TF1 in 2008 and the first to establish commercial production from the TF2 in 2011. Establishing production from the TF3 is yet another significant milestone in the growth of the Company’s assets in the world-class Bakken oil field. If the Charlotte 3-22H continues to perform in line with the second bench Charlotte 2-22H, it will be the first well to establish commercial production in the third bench.

“This could be a real game-changer,” Mr. Hamm said. “The Charlotte 3-22H is the first well in a 14-well program that we plan to complete by year-end 2013 to test productivity of the second, third and fourth benches of the Three Forks over a broad area of the play.”

The 1280-acre Charlotte unit is the first unit in the Bakken field to have wells producing from three separate horizons – the Middle Bakken, TF2 and TF3 zones.

Continental estimated in late 2010 that the Bakken field would eventually yield 24 billion barrels of oil equivalent (Boe), based on technology available at that time. This estimate included 20 billion barrels of oil and 4 billion Boe of natural gas, and assumed 577 billion barrels of original oil in place in the Bakken and TF1. With the addition of oil found in the lower Three Forks benches, which includes the TF2, TF3 and TF4, the Company now estimates the field has 903 billion barrels of original oil in place, a 57 percent increase.

“The successful completion of the Charlotte 3-22H is another step in our efforts to assess the productivity and reserve potential of the lower benches of the Three Forks which is one of the goals of our 2013 drilling program” said Jack Stark, Senior Vice President of Exploration.  “The results are very encouraging and indicate there may be upside to our estimate of 24 billion Boe of recoverable reserves for the Bakken field.”


Starting a diet today to beat the New Year’s Resolution rush

About five years ago, my metabolism betrayed me. I don’t eat any more than I used to, but it’s a frustratingly slow process for me to lose weight. I usually eat about 500 calories for breakfast, 600 calories for lunch, 600 calories for supper and 300 calories in snacks. So when I exercise regularly, I tend to lose about .005 pounds a week. No wonder I can’t stay focused on my diet very long — I need more tangible, rapid results than that. Keeping it safe and meeting nutritional needs is also a factor.

In 2000, I dropped 25 pounds in two weeks by going on an all-juice diet — I even had an occasional beer “juice.” It seemed the all-juice diet reset my metabolism, because I did not gain the weight until 2003, when a complicated appendectomy left me bedridden for several months.

Ever since then, I haven’t been able to drop the extra weight. I’m going to a Florida beach for the upcoming holidays so I decided to beat the New Year’s Resolution rush by starting my diet today. It’s called the Almased diet, where all you get to eat for two weeks is liquid. You get an Almased shake three times a day and you may snack on vegetable broth. I may still have a beer and hot cocoa, I haven’t decided yet. Almased is a soy & honey fermented protein powder available at health food stores or online. It’s supposed to bring you fast results and also reset your metabolism — both things I really need.

I will keep you updated on my results every few days — hopefully it will bring me motivation if I have to be accountable for sticking to the diet. If there’s anyone out there who has tried Almased to lose weight, let me know.

On another note, Areavoices sponsors this blog and also recruits bloggers. We want more people to follow us on Facebook, so if you’re so inclined, go to https://www.facebook.com/areavoices and “Like” us. If you’d like to start a blog, let me know that too.

Natural gas generation to skyrocket in state

The chart shows projected natural gas growth in North Dakota, based on low, base and high estimates of how much will be produced – depending on drilling activity levels. Bcf/day stands for billion cubic feet per day. (Source: Bentek Energy – Natural Gas Study of Williston Basin)

Energy Shifts & North Dakota’s future


Recent headlines in North Dakota can send mixed messages when it comes to predicting the direction of North Dakota’s energy future – “Demand for electricity in Oil Patch projected to triple;” “North Dakota lags at bottom in energy efficiency study;” “Warm winter forecast, low natural gas prices expected to help keep heating costs down.”  And all those headlines happened only in the past two months.

Much of the increased demand for electricity in the Bakken will be from industrial usage – high estimates are for 40,000 oil wells in the Oil Patch by 2032. According to Dale Haugen, general manager of the Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative in Williston, every oil well requires the same electricity as three farmsteads.

Where is the oilfield electricity used?

The mechanisms that “get oil and gas out of the ground and then transport it to where it needs to go” will create the larger electrical needs in the Oil Patch, said Mike Wamboldt, director of energy services for KLJ in Bismarck.

Wamboldt was project manager of the recently-released study “Williston Basin Oil and Gas Related Electrical Load Growth Forecast” and KLJ participated at a recent energy conference that focused in part on the jobs and industry that natural gas is expected to create here, and the efforts to keep those resources in the state.

Well pumps, pipelines, oil booster pumps, compressor stations, heaters, transfer pumps all run on electricity, Wamboldt said. “Generally, they (oil producers) try to hook up well pumps to the electrical grid as soon as they can. Quite often, once they get the well in the ground they’re operating off of diesel generators until the electrical utility can get out there and get them hooked into the grid.”

Electrical production now

According to a North Dakota State University Central Grasslands Research Extension Center energy report, coal-fired plants now produce the bulk of electricity used in North Dakota.

That holds true for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which serves 2.8 million electric customers in nine states, including western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

Basin Electric’s most recent statistics for the source of energy generation capacity break down as follows:

• 60.2 percent comes from coal – either from plants the cooperative owns and operates or bought from other plants

• 14.7 percent comes from renewables (including wind power)

• 9.1 percent from natural gas-fired stations

• 6.1 percent hydro generation

• 1.5 percent nuclear

Shift to Natural Gas

Industry forecasters predict a shift away from coal and toward natural gas, and oil companies seem to have a jump on the trend.

As Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder and scientist Amory B. Lovins writes in the 2011 book “Reinventing Fire:” “Many oil companies seem ahead of their counterparts in the older and more traditional coal industry, which is already losing to natural gas for electricity generation and could be entirely replaced by renewables and gas in the U.S. by 2050.”

KLJ’s Wamboldt said it’s a big issue right now. “The electrical utilities are currently in the process of putting together plans to deal with the increased demands. From what I’m seeing in the industry, we’re seeing more and more regulatory scrutiny on the coal and an increased supply of natural gas from these shale plays,” he said. “We’re starting to see a huge resource in natural gas, so right now it appears there’s a tendency to move toward natural gas-generated power.”

In preparing for the increased demand in western North Dakota, along with increased natural gas usage, the future is right now.

Basic Electric spokesman Daryl Hills said the group has two natural gas stations under construction, one west of Watford City and one northwest of Williston. Both facilities will be used to produce electricity, he said.

“There is a growing demand for electricity in western North Dakota and eastern Montana and it’s growing at a fairly quick rate. One of the quickest ways to meet that demand is to build gas-fired generation stations, like we’re doing,” Hill said.

Construction began last June and the facilities will be up and running by mid-2013, he said.

The gas used at Basin Electric’s new western North Dakota plants will be piped in on existing pipelines, Hill said.

Unlike the relative speed of natural gas startups, the decision to use coal would take longer. “It’s different if you’re going to build a coal plant, because it just takes longer to do the permitting. It takes longer to do the construction,” Hill said.

Efficiency initiatives

As the Bakken market moves toward cleaner, plentiful and less costly natural gas, the state could be seen as dragging its feet on energy efficiency initiatives.

That’s especially noticeable reviewing the results of the 2012 energy efficiency nationwide report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). North Dakota came in at the bottom of the study’s ranking, ahead of only Mississippi.

North Dakota’s highest-ranked neighboring state was Minnesota ranked at No. 10 overall.

The report ranks states on energy efficiency policy and program efforts; it documents best practices; and provides ways for states to improve its overall energy efficiency.

The report stated that while North Dakota (along with Kansas and Wyoming) was not among the most-improved states since last year’s report, it did improve its score “significantly on a percentage basis.”

The ACEEE report recommends ways for states to improve its overall ranking:

• Put in place and adequately fund an energy efficiency standard or similar savings target.

• Adopt updated building energy codes and enable the involvement of utility program administrators in building code compliance (since buildings consume more than 40 percent of total energy).

• Adopt stringent tailpipe emissions for cars and trucks.

• Put in place sustainable funding for state government-led energy efficiency incentive programs; invest in energy efficiency-related research, development and demonstration centers.

Twenty-four states have adopted and adequately funded an “energy efficiency resource standard,” which sets long-term energy savings targets and drives investments in utility sector energy efficiency programs, ACEEE states in its report.

To see the online report, visit aceee.org/research-report/e12c.

State agencies clash over review of proposed 1280-acre well unit near Killdeer

By Sid Pranke

Killdeer, ND area map

When it comes to historical preservation concerns over proposed drilling at a 1,280-acre Little Knife leasing unit near the Killdeer Mountains, oil development trumps cultural and archaeological interests, because the state follows an 1988 Attorney General precedent.

Issued on Oct. 3, 1988, by North Dakota Attorney General Nicholas J. Spaeth, the precedent known as “Attorney General’s Opinion 88-23” can be viewed online at ag.state.nd.us/Opinions/1988/Formal/88-23.pdf.

The opinion was given at the request of James E. Sperry, who was then superintendent of the N.D. State Historical Society.

An excerpt of the opinion reads: “It is my further opinion that the Board of University and School Lands may deal with historical, archeological, paleontological artifacts and sites without supervision of the State Historical Board, when such supervision would conflict with the Land Board’s fiduciary responsibilities to trust property.”

A more commonly-used name for the “Board of University of School Lands” used today is the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands.

The opinion ends with the following statement: “This opinion … governs the actions of public officials until such time as the question presented is decided by the courts.”

Rancher Loren Jepson, who opposes drilling near his property, as well as lease operator Hess Corp., have both hired attorneys to represent their interests in the matter, but it’s too soon to tell if the precedent will be tested in court over this case.

A recommendation by the state is expected at a Industrial Commission meeting in Bismarck sometime in December.

Attorney Chuck Peterson of Mackoff Kellogg Law Firm in Dickinson, who represents Jepson, said the protection of cultural interests in the area are a concern, since many Native American artifacts have been found in the area.

At the initial Oct. 24 IC Oil and Gas Division hearing, Hess Corp. legal counsel John Morrison of Crowley Fleck objected to Jepson’s claims of artifacts in the area, saying Jepson wasn’t an archaeologist or paleontologist.

In a Nov. 6 interview, North Dakota Director of Archaeology and Historic Preservation Fern Swenson said a thorough review of the 1,280-acre site has not been done, and that it would take her department at least a month to do that, given current staffing levels at the agency.

In addition, Swenson said in the past, the state has used federal grant money from the National Park Service to fund a survey of state fands such as the Killdeer area land. To receive the grant money, her department “would come up with a scope of work. We would identify some areas that needed to be surveyed,” Swenson said.

According to North Dakota State Land Commissioner at the N.D. Department of Trust Lands Lance Gaebe, neither what Swenson describes as a “thorough review” or a federally-funded survey of the land are remotely likely to take place.

When asked to comment on the information Swenson provided during an interview, Gaebe stated that it appears that he and Swenson are not on the same page.

“I guess that there’s a whole new threshold they’d (the State Historical Society) like to put in place is something that I have to evaluate,” Gaebe said. “I guess I believe that we (his department) have made those allowances based on the correspondence and the recommendations we’ve already gotten (from the Historical Society).”

Gaebe said if the State Historical Society were to make a formal request that the department needs more time to look at the Killdeer-area site, “I would say we would sure try to facilitate that review. We do site inspections and they can sure join us in those reviews. I don’t have the luxury of time in a lot of cases.”

Given the rapid pace of drilling in the state, Gaebe said he has “pressure every day from (oil) operators that want this done yesterday. Because they’ve leased these things on time frames and if they don’t have drilling activity by the end of leases, the leases go away.”

Though he dismisses the possibility of a more lengthy or federally-funded review for the Little Knife leasing unit, Gaebe defends what his department has recommended.

“We’re away from the known battlefield as far as we’re able to be and still be on the spacing unit. We’re as far away from those sites that the Historical Society identified and we’re on some of the flattest ground on that particular spacing unit,” he said. “Not to say there couldn’t be a week’s long inspection, but my point is we’ve taken great pains to avoid all the areas that we are aware of.”

Jepson’s attorney, Chuck Peterson, said his client is asking Hess Corp. to move its planned wells to a different location that is less disruptive and safer, citing traffic and dust concerns along with historical and cultural ones. Peterson said Hess Corp. needs to “address more factors than ‘this is just the easiest place’ to drill their wells. They need to consider the impact their plans have on all the people that live in the area, as well as the public who use these last remaining public lands in this area.”

Hess Corp. officials provided a comment regarding the proposed well controversy, but then retracted its statement after learning The Drill’s policy of providing specific attribution to comments. Hess Corp. wanted to attribute its comments to a “company spokesperson.”

New York-based Hess reported estimated third quarter profits of $557 million, up 87 percent from $298 million during the same period in 2011. The increase was credited to resumed operations in Libya and growing production from the Bakken. Production from the Bakken oil shale play in North Dakota increased to 62,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from 32,000 in the third quarter of 2011.