North Dakota’s Bakken Shale gas output increased by 20% in 2019, and the latest analysis shows it growing another 10% year over year in 2020. Due to limited downstream access, the additional production looks to take a greater share on Northern Border Pipeline.

Bakken gas production is expected to grow by 10% in 2020, before slowing down to about 4% annually from 2021 through 2025, according to a forecast by S&P Global Platts Analytics.

Last year, Bakken producers relied on well completions, or bringing drilled but uncompleted wells online, to keep production growing. However, one of the lingering constraints within the basin is insufficient processing capacity and natural gas takeaway, which has caused producers to consistently miss gas capture targets established by the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

To combat the issue there has been a push for additional infrastructure and as a result: four gas processing plants came online during the second half of 2019 and another five are in the planning stages with in-service dates spread out over the next two years.

With Bakken gas production growing faster than processing plants can come online, the region has come up short in meeting the state’s regulatory policy for gas flaring, which not only are set to tighten in 2020, but also are expected to be enforced more aggressively due to public pressure.

Recent enforcement of the regulations has not been strict, especially since the NDIC designated various extenuating circumstances and producer exemptions. The NDIC currently estimates more than 500 MMcf/d of gas is being flared at oil wells within the state with natural gas capture rates hovering around 83% in November 2019. This is a problem because the commission’s current gas capture target is 88% and increases to 91% in November 2020.

There is also a shortage of gas pipeline takeaway within the region. The main outlet for Bakken gas is Northern Border, where Western Canadian import volumes compete for space. Bakken gas has been increasing its market share of Northern Border’s capacity for the past several years. As of late, the percentage of Bakken gas on Northern Border’s roughly 2.5 Bcf/d capacity has approached 80%, according to Platts Analytics.

This means about.500 MMcf/d of Northern Border capacity currently being occupied by Canadian volumes that Bakken gas could potentially push out. In order to meet the current 12% flaring limit, operators in the Bakken need to capture an additional 200 MMcf/d, which is within the bounds of potentially available capacity on Northern Border.

However, about a quarter of the gas produced in the Bakken originates in the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where it is more difficult to obtain permits for building infrastructure such as gathering and takeaway pipelines. Per the latest state data, capture rates in the FBIR stand at 81%. While this marks a notable improvement since January 2019 when the FBIR capture rate registered at 73%, it remains unclear how much extra gas operators in FBIR can capture next year.

With no new announcements for imminent gas takeaway pipelines serving the Williston Basin, operators in the basin will need to maximize their footprint on Northern Border to meet the required capture rates.

Allegiant announced a new nonstop route to San Diego International Airport (SAN) from Billings Logan International Airport (BIL) beginning June 4, 2020.

“We’re excited to expand the number of routes we serve from Billings,” said Drew Wells, Allegiant vice president of planning and revenue. “With summer right around the corner, we are certain that area travelers will appreciate having convenient, nonstop flights to sunny Southern California.”

The new seasonal route via Billings Logan International Airport (BIL) will operate twice weekly.

“Direct service between Billings and San Diego this summer on Allegiant is a great opportunity for both communities,” said Kevin Ploehn, director of the Billings Logan International Airport. “This direct service into southern California will provide locals with vacation options that are outstanding. For Southern California visitors wanting to come to Montana, Billings offers fantastic vacation opportunities as well, especially to Yellowstone Park over the Beartooth Highway, considered by many to be the most scenic drive in America. Thank you Allegiant Air.”

Flight days, times and the lowest fares can be found at To celebrate, the company is offering one-way fares on the new route as low as $59.

A group of property owners in the west end of downtown Billings want to create a new tax improvement district.

The proposed boundaries of the new district would be Division Street, 1st Avenue North and North 31st The pros and cons and options available to them was explained to a gathering of some 30 people at the Granite Tower building, a week ago, headed by one of the property owners Russell Fagg, whose family owns Granite Tower, as well as the Fratt Building, a former school, located just across the street.

“There are pros and cons,” said Fagg, “I think the pros out-weigh the cons.” While very supportive of the idea, Fagg credited Jeff Kanning, a principal of Collaborative Design, an architect firm, with initiating the idea.
Kanning said that the creation of a TIF would give the area a public investment tool to make improvements that would make the area and Billings more attractive. He said that Billings is in a competition with other cities in the state to attract a workforce – “and Billings is losing.”
“This is an undefined, hidden gem. It could be a lynch pin” to more downtown development. “Maybe we could get city hall to locate down here,” he said. It’s about “place making” and to help enhance the neighborhood. “It’s not to compete with One Big Sky District,” Kanning added.

Kanning said that one possible vision for the area was to build a trolley/bus system to serve the area and connect it to the hospitals and the rest of downtown. Fagg explained that the cost of improving property often exceeds what the market can afford to pay in renting or leasing. Being able to tap into TIF funds to build some of the basic infrastructure for a project, such as a street, helps make the development economically feasible.
“This is about what do you want Billings to look like in 20 or 30 years?”
In consideration are two options for a TIF. One to become part of the existing downtown TIF and the other is to be a stand-alone district. Fagg said his preference was to be a stand-alone district because that would give them control to assure that future tax revenues would be spent at that end of downtown. But it depends on what other property owners want, he said.
The proposal will go to the planning board and then for a final decision by the city council which would have to approve an ordinance creating the district. The process could take up to nine months. It was suggested that the district would be called Founders’ District after Founders’ Park which lies within the proposed district (the triangular park at 1st Avenue north and Division Street, has the lighted Christmas Tree.)

A TIF is a designated area, usually one considered in need of infrastructure improvements or deemed as blighted. Future increases in property taxes paid by the property owners within that district are directed to be spent on improvements within that district. The idea is that the improvements will generate greater development and economic growth, and more tax revenues in the future. Improvements are usually directed at building streets, curbs and gutters, parking garages, utilities, etc.

The city currently has three TIF districts, a downtown district, the east urban renewal district, and the South Billings Boulevard District.
Those in the audience asked “what about the downsides to creating a TIF district?”

There seemed to be few, as far as the organizers were concerned, but from the audience came comments that readily identified some of the typical complaints about TIF’s, including comments from one city council member Chris Friedel, who said that TIFS were “counter productive.” He went on to claim that the downtown TIF, which will expire in 2038 is evidence that TIFs do not achieve what they are meant to achieve.

Others comments were made to point out that tax revenues that are directed to a TIF, do not go into the general funds of other taxing jurisdictions, such as the city, which means that in order to maintain the same level of revenues to fund their functions, those governmental bodies must increase levies on taxpayers outside the TIF districts to compensate.
For taxing jurisdictions which have limited ability to increase levies, such as schools, this can be a problem.

Some property owners commented that whether a project or development is viable in the market is something that should be determined in advance of buying it. Said one woman, “You have to pencil out the thing. That’s what I did. I don’t look to government and taxpayers to do it.” Another commented, “this is cronyism.”

Ceres Bakery in Kalispell has re-opened after a two week closure for a remodel.  The bakery has become popular throughout the valley for its fresh-baked goods and its wholesale business. They are celebrating the 14th year in business.

White Raven Winery will introduce their community to wines made at the winery. The Columbia Falls winery will use Montana grown grapes. The winery will carry wines from grapes grown on Finley Point, around Flathead Lake, in Billings and elsewhere in Montana.

Passenger numbers at the Missoula International Airport set a record in 2019 topping 900,000 for the first time. The airport handled 907,777 people boarding and getting off planes. That’s a 7% increase.

Several new businesses are planning on opening in Missoula: A new pizza delivery restaurant called Headies Brick Oven Pizza will open at 1250 W. Broadway; Crumbl, a Utah-based company that sells fresh-baked cookies will open at 3075 N. Reserve St., Suite J; Pangea, a new two-floor full liquor bar and restaurant concept is being built at 223 N. Higgins; the Cambie Taphouse and Coffee is to open at 2413 S. Higgins Ave

CryptoWatt in Butte has re-opened. Federal District Judge Brian M. Morris was asked to appoint a receiver to run the company’s affairs. Morris named Butte native Jeremiah Lynch, a longtime federal magistrate judge, as receiver. A timeline featured the quick re-opening of the plant was necessary to save the megawatts reserved for the company.

The median price of a home sold in Gallatin County in 2019 reached $400,000, up 6.2% from 2018’s median price of $377,500. According to a report by Big Sky Multiple Listing Service, the price of homes has grown since 2018 in almost every part of the city.

Hess Corporation is using a new well completion design to boost its Bakken well performance, one that the company projects will allow it to increase Bakken production in 2020 while still running the same number of rigs as it did in 2019. Hess has announced 2020 capital expenditures of $3 billion ahead of its third-quarter earnings call.

The historic Irish Times bar in Butte was gutted by fire on Jan. 23. Located at Main and East Galena, other businesses were also impacted — including The Muddy Creek Brewery and The Post and UPTOP clothing.

Big Sky was named to the list of Most Popular Ski Resorts and Destinations of 2020 by Vacasa. The travel company looked at data from visitors/bookings from December 2019 through February 2020 and compiled a list of ski towns that are seeing the biggest influx of guests this year.

Montana Studios is a media production company in Butte, that will be locating in NorthWestern Energy’s old office building at 40 E. Broadway. The county is selling the building for $1 to Missoula-based Bitterroot Gateway Development LLC.

Since 2018, POLICOM Corporation has ranked Bozeman as the strongest economy in a city with fewer than 50,000 residents. The group uses 23 different factors over a 20-year period, including wages, unemployment and welfare. Bozeman has ranked consistently in the top 20 since 2011.

Lucky’s Market is closing 32 stores following the announcement of a primary investor, Kroger, in December that it planned to divest its investment in Lucky’s. Closures included its stores in Missoula and Billings, leaving open seven stores primarily in the mid-west. Lucky’s is headquartered in Niwot, Colorado.

Businesses have been mixing it up in Missoula, with some closing and others opening. Following the closure of Herbergers in 2018, JCPenney in Missoula will be closing soon, joining other locally-owned businesses that are also closing as The Green Light and Pita Pit. But, while Shopko closed in Missoula (and Billings) last year in Missoula, grocery store, WinCo will buy that property with plans to open in 2020. In 2018, another large retailer, Herberger’s, closed down in the mall. Herbergers also closed in Billings in 2018, as did Sears.

Nielsen Commercial, Inc. (NCi), a general construction firm serving the Northwest United States, announced expansion into Montana and a new office location in Great Falls. The company looks to establish a strong local workforce delivering a diverse collection of construction projects throughout Montana. Jeffrey Nielsen, founder of Nielsen Commercial and former co-founder of BNBuilders, has deep ties to the state of Montana.

The board of directors of ONEOK, Inc., on Jan. 16, increased ONEOK’s quarterly dividend 2 cents per share to 93.5 cents per share — resulting in an annualized dividend of $3.74 per share.

Montana Craft Malt, Butte, will produce thousands of tons of malt from Montana-grown barley. The facility, inspired by a market analysis report and a variety of grant and technical assistance programs through the Montana Department of Commerce, will employ approximately 20 people and provide high quality and specialty malt to the brewing industry.

With the Montana State Legislature approving a set of incentives in 2019 for the film industry, filmmakers are expecting a new wave of activity in the state over the next few years, and a recent workshop in Bozeman was held to prepare crews for the projects.

Susan Beckman was appointed by the White House in January 2020 to serve as Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Region VIII. Beckman provides regional executive leadership for Region VIII encompassing Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

The Gallatin Ice Foundation in Bozeman received $120,000 in state grant money from Tourism Advisory Council to buy a third compressor that will allow the Haynes Pavilion to offer ice all year round. The  skating rink at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, currently has to close during the summer months. The rest of the needed funding will be acquired through fundraising.