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ERF helps keep communication up for oil and gas industry

More and more energy companies stationed in the Bakken seem to have a cloud following them around lately.

No, it's not a dark cloud, but a computing cloud. After all, when you're in the oil and gas exploration business, you sometimes find yourself set up in some pretty remote areas.

Although western North Dakota is growing rapidly, there is still plenty of land mass in the Bakken where communicating with the outside world can be difficult. That's where ERF Wireless Inc. comes in.

Based in League City, Texas, which is near Houston, ERF is a growing communications company that has found a niche in the Bakken and elsewhere helping energy and energy field-related companies stay connected while in remote areas.

Using special logistically-friendly infrastructure such as its "cell-on-wheels" towers (mobile broadband towers), ERF provides reliable wireless access and other communication services to rig sites. In fact, ERF often follows rigs from site to site.

"We've been following some rigs for four years," said ERF President and CEO Dean Cubley. "We offer reliable cell service in some of these areas, but we also offer broadband services and voice over IP to the work site. We also have 911 emergency services because many of these sites don't have addresses, so it's much more difficult for emergency responders to find them in the case something would happen."

ERF's rural network for the oil and gas exploration industry is the biggest in North America -- bigger than large providers like AT&T and Verizon, Cubley said.

"I'll tell you what, the Bakken is just getting started," Cubley said. "There is a lot of area yet to be developed. We're expanding like a mushroom cloud in all directions in the Bakken. By the end of 2013, we will have network coverage capability for most of North Dakota with much of our activity centered now in the Ray and Williston areas."

Cubley said while the major national carriers tend to focus almost exclusively along interstate routes and cities, ERF focuses on what Cubley calls its "nomadic service" on outpost-type communication areas, which western North Dakota is full of.

"To explore and analyze these remote areas, you need to be able to communicate from them in order to drill efficiently," Cubley said. "We cater to what the oil and gas industry needs out in the field to make the job easier. We saw a growth rate of about 92 percent last year, so we're growing our business."

Although some industry analysts have speculated that increased activity in places like the Eagle Shale

play in Texas could take some production away from the Bakken, Cubley disagrees.

"I don't think people in and around the Bakken have to worry about that," he said. "There's plenty to go around. What we've seen lately is nothing but growth nationwide in the oil exploration industry. I don't think that's going to stop anytime soon."

Media relations representatives from Bakken energy giants Hess Corp. and Continental Resources did not reply to The Press in time for this story.

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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