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Alaska company brings workers to Dickinson; Cruz Energy employees enjoy the people, have housing issues

A Cruz Energy Services employee unchains part of a pump for an oil rig at a site a few miles southwest of Killdeer Friday afternoon.

North Dakota State University graduate John Carlson didn't know what to expect when he returned to the Peace Garden State over the summer after working in Alaska.

Living in Dickinson and working as a consultant for Cruz Energy Services, Carlson has been impressed with North Dakota's Western Edge.

"I've been working here for about four months and I can honestly say that it's better than I expected here," Carlson said. "Housing is definitely tough to come by, and that's a problem, but the locals seem to be getting along really well with all the new people working up here in the oil field."

Cruz, an Alaska-based company which specializes in moving oil rigs, recently made a significant investment in the Dickinson area.

Partnering on contracts with oil and gas giants like Occidental Petroleum and Continental Resources, Cruz's specialty is packing up oil rigs and moving them much like a mobile home might be moved.

Also with a location in Ray, Cruz set up shop just outside Dickinson last October, bringing about 40 employees with it to the Dickinson area.

"This is a long-term play here in the Bakken," said Cruz Vice President Jeff Miller. "You don't put this type of investment into infrastructure if you're going to shut down operations in two years. All the signs we're seeing, if you read any of the investment reviews out there, you see that these companies are putting long term appropriations in place."

Cruz's main Dickinson office is a few miles north of the city limits on a 20-acre piece of land, which will soon be home to a new complex.

"We employ about 250 people company-wide right now and we're looking at doing more hiring in Dickinson in the next year," Miller said. "I can't say enough good things about the people here -- they're amazing people. There's so much change right now and North Dakotans have been incredibly patient. After doing business in other places, we also really appreciate the state government here in North Dakota. It's a very pro-business climate."

When looking at the big picture of the petroleum business, Cruz's investment in Dickinson serves as a microcosm of American drilling as North Dakota overtook Alaska in oil production this year to rank behind only Texas.

"We've seen a little bit of a drop in business lately, it's actually kind of a welcome thing," said Cruz Operations Manager Kodi Long. "For a while, it was really crazy trying to keep up. There are some outcomes that I think some of the companies are waiting for, but, if you look around the Dickinson area, there are investments being made for the future."

Long said one of Cruz's main clients, Occidental, is down to four operating rigs in North Dakota -- after having as many as 14 recently -- but he doesn't expect business to drop very far.

"Occidental is already talking about adding four more rigs," Long said. "Even if things drop off from where they were, it's still going to be busy up here."

There are 190 rigs actively drilling in North Dakota, according to the Department of Mineral Resources.

"It's not always going to be 200 rigs," Miller said. "But there is going to be plenty of work for years. One thing that would really help us is more affordable housing. We're here for as long as this field is here and we see the same issues with housing as everyone else. The high cost of living isn't fair to the people who have been living here for years."

Not unlike other companies with a presence in the Bakken, Cruz employs many younger workers. Long, an Oregon native, is just a few years out of college and Shane Norman, from Big Lake, Alaska, is a veteran crane rigger with the company despite being just 21 years old.

"There are a lot of great opportunities for young people like myself to work in the oil field," Norman said. "It can be dangerous out there because you're moving a 150,000-pound piece of equipment with a crane, but you just need to keep a level head and you'll be fine."

Cruz recently moved a rig from North Dakota to Seattle, a job Long called "very interesting," and will move one from Houston up to the Bakken later this month. Cruz also specializes in crane work and rig support services.

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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