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Man keeps tabs on North Dakota’s oil archives

BISMARCK - If you need to research an oil well from 1951, Kevin Bean can help. Bean manages a warehouse in Bismarck, where rows of file cabinets and boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling contain North Dakota oil production records. The North Dakota...

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Kevin Bean, pictured Friday, May 27, 2016, manages a Department of Mineral Resources warehouse in Bismarck where thousands of oil and gas documents are stored. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

BISMARCK – If you need to research an oil well from 1951, Kevin Bean can help.

Bean manages a warehouse in Bismarck, where rows of file cabinets and boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling contain North Dakota oil production records.

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources requires that many records – such as files on individual oil wells and saltwater disposal reports – be kept permanently.

Although many of the oil and gas documents have been digitized, Director Lynn Helms said the department maintains both the paper and digital files.

“We looked into different technologies to permanently archive electronic records,” Helms said. “But in the electronic world, nothing’s permanent.”

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Maintaining all of those paper files creates a bit of a housekeeping challenge.

A locked room at the Oil and Gas Division office contains file cabinets with well files from No. 14,000 and above, or wells from the late 1990s through today.

The warehouse contains thousands of additional documents, such as files on older oil and gas wells, gas production reports, notes from field inspectors and boxes of reports from oil transporters and purchasers.

“Everything is kept. We keep it here in safe fashion,” Bean said. “Every door is locked and locked at all times.”

Bean can quickly locate the file on the Clarence Iverson well, North Dakota’s first productive oil well, in one of the drawers at the warehouse.

“That’s the one that put North Dakota on top,” Bean said.

Some of the documents date back even further than the 1951 discovery of oil to include early North Dakota oil exploration activities. Some documents are transferred to the State Archives after they’re no longer needed in the Oil and Gas Division.

Bean gets requests for documents, such as when a company wants to convert an old well to a saltwater disposal or a member of the public requests information. The requested files are transported to staff at the main office and then Bean refiles them when they return.

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“I guard these files with my life,” he said.

Bean, who also owns a construction and home remodeling business, began working for the Department of Mineral Resources more than four years ago. His wife, Jeanette, also works for the department as human resources director, though she doesn’t supervise her husband to avoid a conflict of interest.

Bean, a native of Alabama, has long been interested in the oil industry and used to visit friends who worked on offshore drilling rigs. Now he enjoys learning more about oil extraction by talking to the geologists and other staff.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with Oil and Gas and the Geological Survey and learn the different things that I have learned in a short period of time,” he said.

Bean works 20 hours a week for the department in the mornings and spends his afternoons – and sometimes his vacations – remodeling kitchens, painting houses and other projects through his construction business.

“I want to bring that same dedication that I have for my own business into another workplace,” Bean said.

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