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Kenmare native reinvents himself for current oil boom

Having grown up near Kenmare, Wayne Lagorin has always been a North Dakotan by heart.

From drilling oil wells as a young man to later becoming the president of one of the leading oil and gas industry engineering firms in the western U.S., Lagorin has watched the transformation of his home state into an energy powerhouse with keen interest.

"I've been following the Bakken for a long time," Lagorin said. "I read Leigh Price's paper detailing how many recoverable barrels he thought were there before anyone was really talking about the Bakken. I've been talking about and watching the Bakken for a long, long time."

A geochemist, Price's research paper in the late 1990s estimated the total amount of oil locked in the Bakken shale formation to be in the hundreds of billions. Although Price passed away over a decade ago, Lagorin and industry leaders in the oil and gas world took notice.

"The biggest problem that North Dakota had in getting things going was that the infrastructure was just not there," Lagorin said. "Anybody trying to drill a well up there, they had a lot of cost associated with hauling and the reinjection of water and flaring the gas. Now you have all these big companies that have invested in North Dakota by building gas plants, pipelines and gathering systems."

Lagorin would know about energy infrastructure projects -- that's one of his company's specialties and his company is doing very well.

One of several native North Dakotans in leadership positions, Lagorin is one of the faces of Tulsa-based Spartan Engineering, which recently received recognition as the Rocky Mountain region's Engineering Company of the Year for 2012 at the Oil & Gas Awards. Among many other projects, Lagorin said Spartan was the lead engineering firm for the near $500 million Bakken NGL Pipeline, which transports natural gas liquids from the Sidney, Mont., to Colorado.

Spartan is also working in partnership with energy giant ONEOK on a pipeline that will stretch from Oklahoma to Texas, Lagorin said.

"That's all to handle those North Dakota NGL barrels," Lagorin said. "We also have projects in North Dakota helping companies with gas plants, enhanced oil recovery, and other undertakings. We do a lot of work in the states, but we also did a project in Russia and we're looking pretty heavy in the Middle East, mostly in Iraq."

After high school, Lagorin went to college for a year, but scrapped a collegiate lifestyle for a more lucrative existence working in the oil field. Taking advantage of a lesser North Dakota oil boom back then, Lagorin worked in the oil field winters and during the summer and helped out on his family's farm during the planting and harvesting seasons.

"I was able to make a pretty good living for being young," he said. "I drilled oil wells all over in the Dickinson area and, really, all over the western part of the state in the late 1970s and early '80s. The way we looked at it back then, we were making more money than our dads and the professors in college. It was too good to pass up."

It was good, that is, until the boom that began in the 1970s turned to a bust during the Reagan Administration.

"In 1982 and 1983, the oil field was really dying down," Lagorin said. "People were leaving the state not only because of that, but farming was also slowing way down. At that point, I was wondering what to do. I stuck it out until 1989 working in the oil field and farming, but decided to pack it up and go back to school."

In his late 20s by then, Lagorin went to North Dakota State University and studied up for a career switch within the petroleum industry, learning under Donald Schwert, who is now the chair of NDSU's Department of Geoscienes.

"All the old-timers were always telling me that the oil field goes in 20-year cycles," Lagorin said. "You end up with a boom every 20 years. I figured, during the down cycle, I'd just make sure to better myself and get back in. It turned out that I couldn't get a job with my petroleum engineering degree, so I got into infrastructure-type surface facilities engineering projects."

Under Lagorin's leadership, Spartain was established in 2009 and, in just a few short years, has taken off. Enjoying the successes of the company he oversees from his home base in Tulsa, Lagorin can't help but also admire what his home state has become.

"North Dakota does a great job with regard to regulation," he said. "It's a very business-friendly environment. Way back when, I can't say that I could have predicted what has taken place and is taking place in the Bakken. It's pretty remarkable."

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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