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Western Dakota Energy Association gets new president

City Administrator Shawn Kessel

Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel will be taking on an additional title as president of the Western Dakota Energy Association, succeeding Daryl Dukart of Dunn County.

"I have big shoes to fill," Kessel said in a phone interview. "Daryl Dukart has done an admirable job over the past couple years being the president of the association. (During) his term he saw a change of name and focus for the organization, saw the retirement of a long-time executive director (Rep. Vicky Steiner) and the hiring of a new one, Geoff Simon."

Formerly known as the Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties, the Western Dakota Energy Association is a lobbying group for local subdivisions, with an emphasis on cities, counties, schools and townships in regards to energy development and the impacts of that development.

The association oversees the LoadPass Permit system for overweight vehicles to streamline their ability to transport their loads over long distances through any of the member counties and municipalities. The proceeds of the LoadPass permits are distributed to the respective individual entities that previously would have required their own permits before trucks could go through.

"Since these large pieces of equipment oftentimes went from one township to another to one county to another, maybe went through a city or multiple townships ... companies were looking for an easy way to transport without having to pay all these different fees ... to all these different entities," Kessel said. "The Western Dakota Energy Association found a way to organize it."

Kessel said that Dukart laid the foundation for the expansion of the association's permit system from a more limited scope to one that is potentially statewide in its reach. He's excited about the opportunities that will be present for the association over the next two years.

"What's exciting coming in is that we'll have the 2019 legislative session, we have the opportunity to lay the foundation for our legislative agenda," Kessel said. "We're hosting the energy development and transmission legislative committee at the end of the month ... we'll be able to present our thoughts on why a gross production tax and the oil hub cities concept is a good one."

Dukart expressed his own confidence in Kessel's ability.

"Shawn has the leadership (experience) and he's been administrator of Dickinson for quite some time," Dukart said. "What is interesting is that the leadership role of Western Dakota Energy stays in the 19 counties southwestern area, which is very great as far as I'm concerned."

Dukart had spearheaded the change of name and the expansion of the organization's focus, actions that remain a point of pride for him as he passes the torch.

"We moved from a type of organization that was still focused on just counties and over the past several years cities and schools have gotten involved along with coal conversion counties," Dukart said. "So it was time for a name change and a time for some executive change and that was an opportunity and a learning experience for me."

Kessel said that his specific role on the association had been to represent cities, with Dukart being a county representative and another serving as a representative for the needs of schools. There is a nine-year limit on how long someone can serve on the board, and Kessel, approaching his last years on the board, wants to see the future of the association left in good hands.

"This will be my last couple of years on the board, so I think it's really important that Dickinson continues to have representation," Kessel said. "I think to identify those people who are interested in running and representing cities and Dickinson is important."

The expanded scope of the association is more than just a pragmatic change, in Kessel's eyes. It helps to better encapsulate all of those who are impacted by the energy industry in the state.

"Before when you had just counties in the title it didn't represent ... we weren't just counties, we were also schools and cities and townships," Kessel said. "For me, that's an important change ... because I think it's also philosophical. We need to embrace the fact that our members are broader, that the issues we advocate for need to represent the membership. The other thing is that I really like the path we're going down, the potential of having our permit system go statewide. I think it can bring efficiencies to the state that we're experiencing in Western North Dakota. Other areas have reached out and want to replicate what we have."