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Faces of the Boom: Geologist educates the layman on oilfield drilling technology

Geologist Kathy Neset, right, educates a group of teachers about the Bakken on June 11 near New Town.

TIOGA -- Kathy Neset may be the only oilfield geologist who uses a bendable drinking straw as a key tool for her job.

The Tioga woman uses the straw to educate people about horizontal drilling, one of the technologies that's unlocked the Bakken and made North Dakota the second-highest oil-producing state.

With the whole world interested in knowing more about what's happening in North Dakota, Neset is in high demand to inform visiting federal officials and local residents about the state's geology and the technology making the boom possible.

"I love sharing the story of this Bakken and then letting people make up their minds as to whether they think this is a good thing for North Dakota and for America," said Neset, president of Neset Consulting Service.

Neset, a New Jersey native and Brown University graduate, moved to North Dakota in 1979 to work as a wellsite geologist.

For decades, Neset and other geologists knew the Bakken shale contained oil, but it took horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies to extract it.

When Neset educates people about hydraulic fracturing, she not only speaks as a member of the oil industry, but also as a farmer. Neset has oil wells and a disposal well as close as 200 yards from her water well.

"I live right in it and I get my water right from very safe, protected water sources," Neset said.

In her presentations, Neset points out that North Dakota's water sources are less than 2,000 feet below ground and fracking occurs about 2 miles underground, with 9,000 feet of rock between the layers.

Neset and her late husband, Roy, a Tioga native and wellsite supervisor she met in the oilfield, formed the consulting service in 1980, right before North Dakota's bust years. They farmed through the slow years to get by, but at times the couple talked about leaving the state.

"When I came here, I fell in love. I fell love with Roy and I fell in love with the state, and I was the one who fought to stay here," Neset said. "We decided to stay and to farm, and we did survive."

As oil activity picked up again with the Bakken boom, Neset's business has not only survived, it's thriving.

Neset Consulting Service, which has geologists and mudloggers working on about 60 drilling rigs, now employs more than 150 people. The business recently moved to a new 28,000-square-foot facility, a huge step up from the doublewide trailer and garage the business occupied in Tioga.

"I just feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world to be here as a geologist in this oil industry at a very special, special time," Neset said.

Neset's favorite aspect of her new building is a child care center called Little Rocks that opened last week, catering to her employees as well as some essential community personnel.

"I want employee retention to keep our good workers," Neset said. "You do that by taking care of their children."

Neset, who also serves as a member of the State Board of Higher Education, is excited about the opportunities for young people in North Dakota. Her sons, RC and Randy, who grew up on rig sites, are also involved with the business, with RC expanding the gas analysis division and Randy building the engineering side.

Neset, with her 27 years of field experience, is called upon to educate visiting presidential candidates and federal officials. On Friday, after a presentation to Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the senator talked to her about speaking before the committee in Washington.

Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources, said Neset is excited and engaging when educating people about the Bakken.

"When you talk about this technology and you talk about the geology, it can get kind of complicated," Ritter said. "She does a really nice job of putting it in terms that the general public can understand."

Although Neset hasn't worked full time on a rig since 2006, she still gets out in the field as often as she can.

"I still go out to the rigs, and that's where I love to be," Neset said. "That's where it's happening, that's where the excitement is."

Dalrymple is a Forum News Service reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at or 701-580-6890.