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Chemical distributor opens; will employ 20 in Dickinson

Press Photo by Mike Hricik Univar materials handler Jesse Greene, left, speaks with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., at the official opening of a chemicals distribution center in Dickinson on Monday.

Companies with internationally recognizable names like ConocoPhillips and Halliburton aren’t the only ones rushing to the Bakken oil boom. Industrial sites around Dickinson are changing accordingly, drawing the attention of international energy giants.

A former truck maintenance depot in east Dickinson is now a major chemicals distribution center for oil and gas companies.

Operated by industrial chemicals distributor Univar, the $6.2 million facility officially opened on Monday morning with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., attending as a guest speaker.

Heitkamp said one of her legislative goals is to make North America the leading exporter of oil and gas products. That includes making southwest North Dakota desirable to businesses that complement drilling and promote competition.

“To produce oil not only for this county, but for the world, we need suppliers,” Heitkamp said.

The warehouses and chemical tank storage areas currently employ seven, but will balloon to more than 20 as hiring continues, said Brian Banerdt, vice president of global operations at Univar Oil, Gas and Mining.

Workers will handle “large quantities of dangerous chemicals” to aid in all steps of fossil fuel production, Banerdt said.

But, he said sensors have been installed throughout warehouses to detect smoke and heat if an emergency occurs.

A large sprinkler system will trigger in case of chemical spills or fires.

Crews worked on improvements to warehouses for about a year, ensuring compliance with federal and state safety regulations.

“No amount of money is worth risking any lives,” Banerdt said.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, City Commissioner Carson Steiner said Univar’s upfront commitment to safety was a draw for Dickinson. The company also operates a distribution center in Williston.

During her talk, Heitkamp touched on one of the unexpected problems of the oil boom: 27,000 open jobs statewide. She said she implores people to come, work and — most importantly — stay in North Dakota while traveling.

Banerdt said finding skilled workers for the Dickinson Univar center has been difficult, but he is hopeful that full staffing will be met by early 2015.

In the future, workers will also utilize the state’s rail system to transport chemicals, he said, though the state’s rail regulations are still being worked out.

Univar Oil, Gas and Mining President Chris Oversby said his company only formed a division devoted to chemicals for fossil fuels 18 months ago. He said expanding to the Bakken and Texas were essential steps to edge into the U.S. energy scene.

The Dickinson opening comes after last Friday’s announcement that Univar plans to become a public company, according to Reuters.

Following the ceremony, Heitkamp spoke with workers about their housing situations.

Jesse Greene previously lived in Minnesota, but moved to Dickinson to work at the Univar facility as a materials handler. He said he is glad to have found a steady job and is enjoying his switch to a new city.

“It’s an adventure for me,” Greene said.