North Dakota clean-up family tries to survive downturn

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Five years ago, the Mabeus family, drawing on decades of experience in the Alaskan oilfield, moved to Williston to start a business. From the start, after word got around about the system they’d developed for containing drilling fluids at rig sites, there was barely a break in the action.

At first the fledgling business, created in 2011, was servicing just two rigs. Within a year, though, Rig Dog Oilfield Services had contracts with six companies, and was working at about 40 rigs in the Dakotas, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

The company was created after Brad Mabeus sensed an opportunity to turn a profit by helping oil companies collect and remove harmful contaminants from drill sites, the Williston Herald ( ) reported.

Mabeus, 34, worked with his father for years near the small town of Soldotna, Alaska, where the two had extensive experience with the cleanup of drilling fluids such as diesel fuel, chemicals and other hydrocarbons used in the oil patch.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

When Mabeus was transferred to Williston as a drilling fluid specialist for a major oil company, he noticed right away that cleanup regulations in Alaska seemed to be stricter than in North Dakota. Recognizing a need, he and his father, Rodney Mabeus, developed a containment system for fluids that keep contaminants from touching the ground, and allow for collection and reuse by oil companies.

“This has been a major concern in Alaska since I was a young boy,” Rodney said, adding that when he first arrived in Williston, he witnessed spilled drilling fluids and improper disposal.

“People don’t realize what’s going on, you can’t just cover it up with dirt and the problem goes away.”

Now, business has dropped to five rigs, most of them in and near Williams County.

- Advertisement -

The slowdown meant, along with falling income, that much of the company’s equipment was not in use.

The commercial space that the family was renting became unaffordable, and attempts to find another spot for storage in a lower price range were unsuccessful.

“The real estate people that built for the boom were definitely not willing to work with us to stay,” Brad said.

The issue became a sore point this spring, immediately after the family finished moving large metal storage boxes onto Brad’s property in a subdivision north of Williston.

- Advertisement -

A neighbor showed up to complain, and within a week, there was a visit from the county’s compliance officer.

The issue went before the Williams County Commission, which last month voted down Brad’s request to keep the 17 boxes on the property for a year, and decided this week to deny permission for a neighbor whose property adjoins the subdivision to store the equipment.

The move pleased several nearby residents, some of whom spoke at the commission meeting.

“I think we’re opening up a can of worms here by allowing commercial to come right into residential,” one neighbor said. “He is in violation of the county ordinance, and in violation of the Little Muddy Estates Covenant.”

The quandary is likely to be solved soon, Brad said, although coming up with a solution required creative thinking and the help of friends.

Now, the focus is on surviving the downturn. “This means a lot to us as a family, we came down here from Alaska and put everything we’ve got into this,” Brad said.

For his father, staying afloat not only means supporting the family, it’s a means to help work toward minimizing environmental damage from the relentless extraction of fossil fuels in the Bakken.

“The oil industry isn’t going to care if you don’t make them,” Rodney said.