From the Oil Patch Hotline

North Dakota’s top state officials geared up for a tough legal fight to join in overturning a Federal Judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline after warning that action could be devastating to the state.
“He (the judge) did not appreciate the economic devastation to our citizens and community,” said Gov. Doug Burgum.
“The massive economic impact is enormous,” said Atty. Gen. Wayne Stenhjem. “It impacts roads, schools, jobs and companies, taxes and royalties.”
They were reacting to the decision by Federal Judge James Boasberg to shut down the $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline and remove all oil by Aug. 5 while an environmental review by the US Army Corps of Engineers takes place.
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, is expected to appeal the judge’s decision after he rejected the company’s stay.
“Shutting down the pipeline will have a greater negative impact on safety than any environmental benefit the court is claiming to gain, putting more trucks on our roads, and more rail cars on the tracks, nearly 900 railcars per day,” said Ron Ness, president of the ND Petroleum Council. “Shutting down the pipeline will cut off North Dakota oil producers from the safest, most reliable and economic method of transporting our high-quality Bakken oil to the best markets in the country.”
Increasing crude oil hauling by train will also impact the state’s farmers during harvest season, he said.
Justin Kringstad, executive director of the ND Pipeline Authority, said 300,000 BOPD is being shipped out of state now on unit trains each carrying 70,000 BOPD.
Briefing the ND Industrial Commission headed by Gov. Burgum, Kringstad said converting more crude oil to rail shipping will be costly, adding at least $5 a barrel on top of the $8 a barrel transportation costs now.
There are 11 loading stations in the state, Kringstad said, but it will take time to ramp up additional rail cars and crews for more rail shipping. At its peak in 2012, the state was moving over 850,000 BOPD by rail.
The Enbridge pipeline running to Clearbrook, MN can handle 145,000 BOPD while the True Oil and Kinder Morgan pipelines also move smaller volumes south through Wyoming.

This fall, Montana National Guard members will be able to attend Montana State University Billings tuition-free.
Members of the Montana National Guard are eligible for scholarships, federal tuition assistance, and the GI Bill. The tuition waiver is available for Montana National Guard members as a “last-dollar award,” meaning it will make up the difference between the total cost of tuition and the sum of other funding, such as grants and scholarships that are received.
“This waiver will ensure that tuition is not an obstacle for our Guard members to pursue their higher education,” said Dawn Githens, retired Col. Air Force, director of the Military and Veterans Success Center. “It is one more service we can provide to those who serve our country.”
The waiver will be available starting Fall 2020 semester to all Montana National Guard members who do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher and who meet the admission requirements of MSUB or their Montana University System school of choice. In addition, waiver recipients must be certified as a Montana National Guard member in good standing by the Adjutant General.
“This tuition waiver will help keep members of our National Guard here in Montana, united with their families, continuing their education and strengthening our state’s workforce,” said Chancellor Dan Edelman. “Members of our Montana National Guard fulfill a crucial role for our state and our nation in times of need. Increasing access to higher education in our state with this tuition waiver is also a recruitment benefit for the Montana National Guard.”

Glacier National Park has been investigating several fires tht are suspicious in nature. Several investigators were on the ground, along with the FBI and National Park Service assisting remotely. Portions of the park are closed due to the investigation

The Billings REI store opened last Friday. The Washington-based outdoor retailer closed all its locations across the country in March. That included postponing the opening of the new Billings store at the corner of Shiloh Road and King Avenue West.

Ramsay residents are still fighting to prevent Love’s Travel Stops from locating a truck stop complex next to Interstate 90 about 7 miles west of Butte. Residents say a Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board decision that went against them bolstered their case. Love’s has purchased land for the truck stop at Ramsay and obtained a DEQ stormwater permit for general construction activities, but other regulatory approvals are still pending. Some Ramsay residents have opposed the project from the start, saying the truck stop will bring traffic, noise, pollution, transients and crime to the community.

Eagle Mount Bozeman and Julius Lehrkind Brewing have teamed up to make a special release beer in support of the local nonprofit. Eagle Mount provides a variety of camps and activities for kids and adults living with disabilities or cancer. Because of COVID-19, the nonprofit has scaled back much of its activities.

Sidewall Pizza Company opened this month in the Emerson Center in Bozeman. The first Sidewall Pizza Company was started in an old tire shop in South Carolina, hence the name, and the Bozeman Sidewall will be the first outside of that state. The menu features a variety of meat and vegetarian pizzas, all with the option of gluten free crust, and salads.

Slow Drift Shuttle Service has opened in Bozeman offering shuttle service for the Madison River and Yellowstone River.

Fishing on the Big Horn River is slowly recovering from a bad spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Business has reportedly picked up in the past month and is looking better for following months. Many of the cancellations have been rebooked for October

The Bowman family has been growing cherries on the eastern shore of Flathead Lake for five generations. The family business has grown from a single acre of trees to the two-state operation it is today. As Bowman Orchards celebrates 100 years of operation in 2020, the family looks back at a century of ups and downs. As the orchard grew, so did the cherry crop and the family’s success. In 1935 when a harsh early winter storm destroyed the orchard the family dug in and replanted the orchard.

North Dakota airports are beginning to see a rise in passengers coming through terminals. The eight commercial airports saw around 24,000 people flying, including Williston, Minot, Bismarck and Dickinson – which is only 24 percent of the number of passengers in June of last year. Bismarck Airport says each day numbers continue to climb. In June, they saw more than 8,000 passengers– the highest since the pandemic began.

When the coronavirus hit Montana and non-essential businesses closed, Misty Williams, Froid Grocery store owner, took the radical step of closing the front door of her “essential business,” restricting it to phone and Facebook orders and curbside pickup. Instead of shopping the aisles in person, customers “virtually shopped” by looking at photos of the shelves on the grocery’s Facebook page. Williams says the results were astounding as orders increased fivefold.

Beginning July 20, the City of Livingston announced their offices would be closed to the public since there were four or more active cases of COVID-19 in Park County. All persons on staff will remain available via telephone or email. In-person meetings will only be available by appointment. 

Gallatin County’s residential real estate market saw an increase in pending sales in June, while days on market, the inventory of available homes and new single-family listings decreased. The median sales price increased 6.7%, from $427,700 in June 2019 to $456,325 in June 2020. The average days on market decreased 3.5%, from 57 to 55. The inventory of available homes decreased compared to last year, from 472 to 364, and the month’s supply of inventory decreased 20%, from 3.5 to 2.8.
Sellers received 98.4% of their list price last month, down slightly from 99% last year. The number of new single-family listings decreased 13.4% compared to June 2019, from 269 to 233. Pending sales jumped 32.9%, from 173 to 230, and the number of closed sales fell slightly by 0.6%, from 171 to 170.

Two-Bit Saloon, The Yellowstone Raft Company, Rosie’s Bistro and Red’s Blue Goose Saloon were destroyed by a fire in Gardner, just six weeks after they were able to open following the COVID mandated closures.

Montana ranks seventh in the nation regarding racial equality, according to WalletHub.

In order to determine which states have the most racial equality in terms of employment and wealth, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across eight key metrics. The data compares the difference between white and black Americans in areas such as annual income, unemployment rate and homeownership rate.

Montana came in third regarding median annual income, 13th in labor-force participation rate, 10th regarding the Unemployment Rate, ninth in poverty rate, and first in terms of the homeless rate and also first in terms of the how few of the homeless are unsheltered, and ten in terms of the share of executives.

The Montana Contractors’ Association (MCA) recently awarded $20,500 in scholarships to 14 students, and $8,000 in classroom grants to eight Montana middle and high schools. Recipients of MCA Associates’ Division Presidential Scholarships include: Bradley Irwin, Billings; Morgan Baker, Kalispell; Latasha Fitzgerald, Browning; William Lane, Townsend; Norris Blossom, Helena; Anna Seymanski, Huntley; Madyson Skawinski; Great Falls; Hunter Eichert, St. Ignatius; Kassady Hinman, Butte; Garren Todoroff, Miles City; Sarah Ashley, Helena; Christine Fisher, Missoula; and Cole Arthur, Great Falls. The recipient of the MCA Concrete Division Scholarship is: Mandi Tvedt, Evansville, WY.

The $1,500 MCA Associates’ Division Presidential Scholarships are awarded annually to students whose parents or guardians are employed by MCA member companies. The $1,000 Concrete Division Scholarships are awarded to students whose parents or guardians are employed by member companies in the MCA’s Concrete Division. In addition, the MCA’s Education Foundation announced that eight Montana schools would be receiving MCA Construction Trade Awareness Grants. These $1,000 grants are designed to help area schools fund classroom equipment, provide supplies for class projects, and participate in Construction Week activities. Schools receiving classroom grants include: Belt High School, East Middle School (Great Falls), Fairfield High School, Helena High School, Hellgate High School (Missoula), Highwood High School, North Middle School (Great Falls), and Twin Bridges Schools.

“The MCA is dedicated to helping Montana students achieve their post-secondary goals, whether that includes apprenticeships, certificate programs, four-year degree programs, or whatever their calling may be,” said David Smith, MCA Executive Director. “We are also committed to helping schools encourage a path to careers in construction.”

Rosendale stands for life

It is critical that our lone representative in Congress be a voice for the voiceless and stand up for the most vulnerable in our society—especially the unborn.

Matt Rosendale has a long track record of being unabashedly pro-life. In the Montana legislature, he was a vocal advocate for pro-life legislation, and stood for the rights of the unborn at each and every turn.
Because of his proven record standing for life, this week Matt received endorsements from the two leading pro-life groups in the country, the National Right to Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony List.

The difference between Matt and his Democrat opponent could not be more stark. Kathleen Williams is an abortion extremist. She supports unrestricted access to abortion up until the moment of birth. Her radical agenda of abortion-on-demand is deeply disturbing.

Extreme Kathleen has said that she wants to make Planned Parenthood “a permanent part of our healthcare system”, and in her last campaign even said she was “honored” to receive the support of an organization that advocates for abortion as a means of population control. That is just sick.
Given the clear contrast in records on life, the choice for Congress is clear. I am proud to support the only candidate in the race who stands for life and urge every Montanan who values life to join me in supporting Matt Rosendale for Congress.

Kerry Paulson
Whitefish, MT

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released an initial report about the beef packing industry.

It’s been a year since Ag Secretary, Sonny Perdue, launched an investigation into the meat packing industry amid concerns that there might be illegal manipulations or collusions going on regarding the pricing of meat products.

The initial report does not address those concerns, but evaluates the market conditions and makes recommendations for changes that might improve the industry’s vitality. USDA states that their investigation regarding the possibility of illegal market manipulations will be on-going.

In general, the agency addresses some of the problems they found and makes recommends for additional regulations and for tweaking existing regulations, which were put into place to create and sustain a concentrated market, dominated by a few large companies. A concentrated market means a market that is mostly monopolistic with only a few established companies in operation, protected by restrictions which curb potential competition and inhibits self-correcting market forces.

The USDA analysis found that a fire at Tyson Packing Plant in Holcomb, Kansas, in August 2019, which took 5 to 6 percent of the nation’s beef processing capacity off line for five months, largely contributed to earlier disparities in pricing. The fire, unfortunately, coincided with a peak demand for beef that occurs around Labor Day every year. Because the shortage pushed up the price of boxed beef, market forces kicked in and other plants were encouraged to increase production which compensated for the capacity lost at the Holcomb plant.

Even before the coronavirus, there was concerning disparities between the price of Choice boxed beef and the prices that ranchers received for fat cattle. Prior to the onset of the virus, the spread between the two price points was $67.17 per hundred pounds of meat. The gap became even wider with the impacts of the coronavirus

When many employees of packing plants began contracting COVID-19, prompting the closing of facilities, processing capacity dropped by 40 percent by the end of April. At that point, the difference in what packing companies received for boxed beef and what they paid the livestock producers for the beef was $279 per hundred pounds of beef – a whopping 300 percent above the record, set just months earlier.

As restaurants reopened and public activity returned to more normal conditions, in May the gap between the two price points began to narrow and it continues to do so.

Changes in the beef market were already in play in March due to the way consumers changed their buying habits. Stay- at –home mandates across the country prompted more people to prepare food at home which increased demand at grocery stores. As in keeping with the natural law of “supply and demand”, the increased demand pushed up those retail prices. At the same time the forced closure of restaurants, brought about a dramatic drop in demand for beef for food service companies, which are a different distribution system than that which serves grocery stores. Regulations prohibited the redirecting of the surplus beef in the service supply line, to areas of greater demand such as grocery stores, which would be expected to happen in an unrestricted market.

The USDA recommends improving transparency in pricing by imposing a regulation that would require packers to negotiate at least half of their weekly cattle needs on “the negotiated cash market” for product that is to be delivered within 14 days. The report said that when the events that led to reduced packing capacity happened “cash trade plummeted, making it difficult for industry participants to know prevailing prices.

The USDA also suggests that cattle producers do not know how to manage market risks and need government directed “risk management training.” They also point out that the Risk Management Agency’s Livestock Gross Margin and Livestock Risk Protection program can be improved to help producers manage risk.

When consumers found empty shelves in their grocery stores during the COVID panic, they turned to local small processors or tried to purchase meat directly from the farmer or rancher. The demand quickly overwhelmed the small producers, a problem the USDA suggests could be helped by offering grants to assist small meat processors to expand their businesses, which would increase competition in the overall packing industry.

The document states, “USDA further recognizes there are many discussions about reducing the burden for smaller meat processors, asserting that the high cost of compliance with Federal requirements are barriers to entry and/or survival.”

It goes on to recognize, “The current pandemic has also created a resurgence in demand for services provided by these small and very small processors, and for consumers who are interested in buying their meat more directly from the farm and ranch where it was raised… USDA is committed to working with stakeholders to balance food safety with these growing consumer preferences and growing e-commerce platforms.”
Pointing out that small producers and cooperatives often struggle to cover the mandated costs of operation, the agency reminds that there is USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant funds to provide assistance in organizing and forming co-ops.

Also, the agency sees a need to update the Packers and Stockyards Act, which regulates the industry. The report states, “Beyond rulemaking, small and medium-sized producers could also benefit from updates to the P&S Act designed to offset the impacts of operating in a concentrated industry, where the market power resides with large meatpackers. Smaller producers often find themselves to be price takers in the market for fed cattle and lack the volume of larger producers to negotiate unique and advantageous marketing agreements with large meatpackers.”

A key measure of U.S. consumer prices declined in April by the most on record as travel and apparel spending collapsed during the coronavirus pandemic, reports Bloomberg.

The core consumer-price index fell 0.4% from the prior month after a 0.1% decrease in March.  That’s the biggest drop in data back to 1957. Compared with April of last year, the core CPI rose 1.4%, the smallest annual gain since 2011.

A key measure of U.S. consumer prices declined in April by the most on record as travel and apparel spending collapsed during the coronavirus crisis.

The core consumer-price index, which excludes volatile food and fuel costs, fell 0.4% from the prior month after a 0.1% decrease in March, Labor Department figures showed Tuesday. That’s the biggest drop in data back to 1957. Compared with April of last year, the core CPI rose 1.4%, the smallest annual gain since 2011.

May 8 at 8:59 pm

Chef’s log day eleventy four, day 5 post quarantine. Parking lot is full, guests are dining 6′ apart, social distancing is being adhered to, my dining room is full, and the take away meals keep on coming. 45 days of plating in styrofoam boxes and aluminum half pans has been my method of operation. I cannot adequately express the joy to plate a meal on actual plates! To my crew that has stuck with me from day one of this pandemic, my hats off to you all. You all are the reason the HH is what it is, and continues to be! I am normally very humble, but to hear the continuous compliments, read the positive reviews, help turn your meal from sustenance into a memory, sparks not only pride but creativity. I want to keep doing right by my customers every single dish. I want today’s meal to be better than yesterday’s, and even better tomorrow. There is no manual or cheat sheet for a chef to refer to amidst a pandemic. It’s learning every second of every day what works, and what doesn’t. Sure there are failures and missed opportunities, but we are learning as we go. I can honestly say I could cook the rest of my life and never deal with another quarantine, and be just fine. However, when the murder bees flock to Billings, or they release the Carole Baskins, I am ready to deal with it! Night ‘yall.

Andrew Glynn is Chef at the High Horse Saloon and Eatery in Billings.

Could it be that a new technology that utilizes a waste material of Colstrip power plants — coal ash— can build the foundation (perhaps quite literally) of a new economy for Colstrip?

David White, CEO and co-founder of RamRock Building Systems, LLC, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, believes so and he has come to Montana to try to persuade Talen Energy, Montana regulators, and the public to take his company’s proposal seriously.

The product can be a low-cost strengthening additive to Portland cement, as well a high-quality, low-cost alternative to conventional concrete. Because the product locks up toxins in the ash at the molecular level, it becomes environmentally benign. It’s a win, win on every front.

“It effectively turns waste into wealth to the lasting economic and environmental benefit of the people of Montana and beyond,” said White. “This is a break through. It is break through chemistry…something that did not exist before…. we are doing something no one else is doing…. we can revolutionize the nation’s electric utility industry.”

RamRock first tested similar material in the US two and a half years ago, having initially been developed and commercialized by RamRock’s overseas technology partner ARC Innovations in South Africa.

White’s biggest problem seems to be that it sounds too good to be true, but since RamRock is simply importing proven technology for domestic commercialization, all they really need to do is to demonstrate how it can benefit a trillion-dollar disposal problem in the US.

White has presented his proposal to Talen Energy, a partial owner, and the operator of Colstrip generators 3 and 4, which may otherwise close within the next five years. Talen Energy is responsible for determining how they will mitigate the environmental threat of the residual coal ash of which there are, according to DEQ, some 15 million tons, not counting perhaps 20 million more tons from the older, now-defunct units, Colstrip generators 1 and 2.

Disposing of those wastes onsite will cost between $400 million and $700 million for units 3 and 4 alone, and several times that if it is determined that that waste and the waste from units 1 and 2, must be removed for burial in lined landfills.

The closed J. E. Corette Power Plant in Billings is also a likely beneficiary of White’s new technology. The plant was where two local political candidates made a public announcement a couple weeks ago, heralding the product’s potential benefits.

Public Service Commissioner Tony O’Donnell and state Rep. Rodney Garcia, both of whom are in re-election campaigns, held a press conference trying to gin up public support for the idea and for their campaigns.

O’Donnell said it is not only an opportunity to clean up a toxic waste site but a public relations coup for Talen Energy in being able to claim credit and help generate sorely needed jobs for the Colstrip area.

For RamRock the press conference was an opportunity to generate public support.

White first contacted Rep. Garcia during the state legislative session when Garcia was trying to convince legislators that the state should buy the Colstrip Power Plant. Press coverage made White aware of Garcia and of the problems confronting Montana in the possibility of losing jobs and the economic base that comes from energy generation at Colstrip.

DEQ must approve the idea for Talen Energy to act upon it, since DEQ has oversight on how the ash is disposed of.

White has been in conversations with DEQ officials since a visit to Montana with ARC Innovations last July. His company is presently preparing the documentation for a Beneficial Use Determination (BUD) by DEQ before the month is out.  Meanwhile, RamRock remains in discussions with Talen Energy regarding a demonstration project that White hopes will “carry the day” for his company’s “cutting-edge, economic development initiative.”

White makes clear that the product needs no research and development funding, as the proposed demonstration is just that — preliminary testing on Colstrip ash to demonstrate that it has compression strength in excess of 6,200 PSI in a mere 7 days.

At that strength the product is well beyond that needed for conventional concrete, said White. And, it is perfect for the all-concrete home and related construction that RamRock is pioneering in association with ARC Innovations.

A demonstration video shows the product being made simply and quickly using nothing more than a bowl and a stick —- mixing the coal ash with a couple of proprietary liquids and pouring the fluid into a plastic container. In about 29 minutes, sitting at room temperature, the fluid is no longer fluid and in an hour and a half it can be removed from its mold and is “as hard as a rock” – and maybe more so.

RamRock’s Colstrip initiative is based on a preliminary proposal submitted to the US Department of Energy last year for a “Zero emissions approach to all solids, liquids, and gases, including CO2” and its use, among other things, in feeding an onsite indoor farming complex which would provide “year-round, 24/7, fresh, organic, fruits and vegetable.”

“We have the technology,” says White, “and repurposing the money that will otherwise be spent to either cover Colstrip’s coal ash problem up or move it elsewhere is all that really stands between embracing the future and turning our back on it.”