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Touring the Bakken

Whether it's John Doe from Anywhere, North Dakota, a big shot investment banker from one of the coasts or a reporter from the New York Times, it seems everyone is interested in what's going on in the Bakken.

With the limited availability of lodging, safety concerns regarding heavy truck traffic and road condition challenges due to the harsh Northern Plains winters, it's not always easy to get a first-hand account of what is arguably America's most famous shale play.

Enter Dawa Solutions Group.

A professional services and communications firm based in Williston, Dawa began offering narrated tours of a sizable chunk of the Bakken last year. Available for anyone with $325, Bakken Field Tours are offered several times per year during warm weather months beginning in May and feature a chance to get an up close look at the operating areas of the northwest North Dakota Oil Patch.

Each tour begins with a three-hour briefing about, among other topics, the history of the Bakken. During colder months -- when travel on Oil Patch roads is unpredictable -- several longer versions of the briefings are offered in Williston beginning later this month.

"People want to know and understand what's going on out here," said Dawa President Jeff Zarling. "We cover everything from the discovering of oil in North Dakota to the development of the Bakken shale play. We get pretty in-depth."

Tours originate from Dickinson or Williston and last for roughly eight hours, including lunch at a Bakken crew camp. Zarling said a wide variety of people have taken advantage of the tours so far.

"We've had anything from tourists to landowners in the area to industry professionals, business developers or investors and different financial community people," said Zarling. "From Singapore to China to Germany, we've had people from all over the world. It really runs the gamut. The phone calls and the people are just crazy. People want to know what's going on here."

Zarling said the most asked question he gets is about how long the Bakken oil boom will last.

"What we try to do is to offer people a glimpse of what's going on so they can hopefully decide that for themselves," said Zarling. "We work with over 100 companies in this area so we have a comprehensive view of the different industries and perspectives here. We've had developers tell us that we saved them six months of research."

Although Zarling's briefings might be saving some research, in a way, they're a semester's worth of knowledge in themselves. Each participant is handed a 50-page report during the briefing (no word on if he administers a test afterward).

"Most of the time, when people walk away from a briefing or tour, they get it," said Zarling, a Minot native. "You hear a lot of stories and you don't exactly understand what's happening or why it's happening. You can walk away from this with confidence that you can understand what's going on in western North Dakota. At that point, you can decide for yourself what this is and how long this is going to last."

Zarling said he's gotten positive feedback from the oil industry, but that his company isn't directly promoting it. Zarling said over 100 people have taken the Bakken tour to date. In addition to the tours and briefings, Dawa will also put on the Bakken Investor Conference for the third consecutive year in April in Minot.

The next briefing offered is Feb. 27 at the Williston Airport International Inn. For more information, visit or

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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