“Energizing the Grassroots” is the theme of the Montana Farm Bureau Summer Conference being held in Sidney, June 9-11. Farm Bureau members traveled to the northeastern part of the state to attend advisory committee meetings, learn more about the energy industry and tour local agricultural businesses. The Summer Conference is a time when advisory committees meet to discuss current agricultural issues and concerns and surface ideas for policy development.
Keynote speaker Rayola Dougher, American Petroleum Institute , provided an overall picture of the energy industry both in Montana, nationwide and globally. “There are so many factors affecting the prices of oil and gas, but it really just comes down to supply and demand,” Dougher told the group. “Geopolitical risk has been the greatest factor of oil prices on the world market. However, because the U.S. has increased its oil products, we’re making up for the loss. The United States has gone from being 60 percent dependent on foreign oil to 28 percent.”
Dougher indicated that the U.S. could even be more successful with its oil production if the government would allow more offshore drilling. She added that improvements in technology have allowed the U.S. to increase its shale oil production. The API spokesperson noted that the petroleum industry supports renewable fuel. “In fact, $1 out of every $6 the oil industry makes goes to renewable fuel research and production.”
“I believe we will continue to grow on the world market,” she said “The U.S. petroleum industry has proven they are there for the long haul. As long as there is demand, we have the supply and technology to provide—and even export—energy for a long time.”
Attendees had the opportunity to hear from two farmers/ranchers, a county commissioner and a business person regarding changes in the area since the oil boom started.
Commissioner Shane Gorder explained that finding infrastructure financing continues to be challenging. “Although there has been a bit of slowdown in production, there continues to be a need to keep the roads in good shape,” he said, explaining that since the boom some improvements to the community with money from the industry included a new health center, a new fire hall, a new water treatment plant, improvement to the fairgrounds including an events center and law and justice building. “Certainly our city and county attorneys have been very busy,” Gorder noted.
Greg Breuer, who manages Crop Production Services in Fairview, said his agriculture customers keep him busy; however, deliveries that used to take 45 minutes can take twice as long, and wages have doubled if one wants to keep their help from heading to the oilfield. One plus: sales of water tanks went from 100 per year to 700.
Farmer and former Montana legislator Don Steinbeisser, Sr., said the oil industry is important to the area. “I’ve seen three oil booms, and in general that industry has helped farmers be able to afford new equipment, send the kids to college and in some cases allow them to expand their operations,” Steinbeisser said. “He added that split estates—where the surface owner is not the mineral owner, can be a problem, and in that case, it’s especially important to negotiate on a site settlement.”
He added that although the industry’s high-paying jobs lure some workers away from the farm, the Steinbeissers have had success with keeping employees because they furnish housing—a hot commodity in the area.
Pat Hackley, a Culbertson rancher, agreed there are pros and cons to the boom. “I think the biggest downside is the crime and increased problems with drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It can be dangerous moving your combine or tractor down the busy roads with the increased traffic. However, the oil industry has helped some farmers and ranchers pay off debt. We’ve found companies here are very generous in donating to agricultural programs, like 4-H. Where else would a kid get $6,000 for his steer at the 4-H sale at the Fair?”
The Summer Conference continues June 11 with tours of Safflower Technologies, Rambur Charolais and the Westmoreland Coal Mine.