December 5, 2013
From Football to Fracking: A Look Inside the Industry
It’s mid-October and autumn is in full bloom. The days are noticeably shorter and warm summer nights have been replaced with a crisp chill. Football, the American sport, is in full swing. Across the country, Friday nights light up like a Christmas tree casting a glow over thousands of roaring fans. During the 2011-2012 season, the NFL alone brought in 8.8 billion dollars and had over 67,000 spectators (Plunkett Research). As players run onto the field here in Utah, almost 600 miles away another set of lights illuminate a very different kind of game.
Welcome to North Dakota, home of the modern day gold rush. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week drills are busy forcing millions of gallons of water and sand miles into North Dakota’s land to reach the goal – natural gas. Todd Bradford has stood beneath both sets of lights. After coaching college football for nearly thirty years, Bradford made the decision to retire from the game and enter corporate America. Stepping into new territory, he joined a former friend who recently started the company Wind River Oil Services. The choice was not an easy one, but the risk has turned out to be a smart career move for Bradford, who is now the President of Wind River.
Dressed in a college t-shirt and tennis shoes, he looks more like his former role as a football coach that an oil executive. With a football game quietly playing in the background, we sat down to talk about his decision to leave football and embark on a completely different path. Acknowledging the difficulty he states, “I’ve been involved in football since I was nine. It’s hard to walk away from something you’ve known for so long. I miss the players and the coaches.”
One might wonder how Bradford was able to make such an easy transition, but it was clear once we started talking, he knows more about the oil industry than you might expect. While in college on a football scholarship, he earned a degree in geology. He laughs as he tells me how useful it has turned out to be. “People are shocked when they learn what I used to do. I came in knowing the terminology and understanding the techniques that are used. I only thought it would come in handy if I had to coach high school. I could teach science.” Combining his leadership skills, strong work ethic, and education, his success with Wind River is no surprise.
Wind River, which is based out of American Fork, Utah, is one of the leading oil companies in North Dakota. They provide trucking and disposal for water used in the process of extracting natural gas by way of hydrofracking (Wind River Oil Services – Fresh Water Trucking). Bradford’s job is to manage the growing company, establish and maintain relationships between Wind River and the oil companies doing business in North Dakota. Hydrofracking, or “fracking” as it is commonly called, refers to the process of creating fractures in rocks by injecting fluid between the cracks which forces them to open wider. This allows the gas to flow out of the larger openings where it can then be extracted (Hassett and Mathur 11). He explained that the recent “boom” is not just due to fracking, but the combination of hydrofracking and horizontal drilling, calling the advancement a “game changer” for the energy industry.
While fracking has been in production since the 1940s, it has recently become a hot topic of debate. There is a growing concern on the impact it has on human health and the possible risks of air and water pollution, habitat loss, and agricultural decline (National Resources Defense Council). Amidst the controversy, Bradford reflects on the positive things fracking has done for North Dakota. “People were losing their farms. Families were splitting apart because they had to leave North Dakota to go find work. The area we work has been very open to the oil community and very thankful to the income it’s brought. Now, we can’t find enough good men to work for us.” According to recent statistics, North Dakota now has the lowest rate of unemployment in the country (Local Area Unemployment Statistics). Traveling to and from North Dakota almost weekly, Bradford doesn’t focus on the negative, but feels pride in what his company is doing.
Never one to settle for mediocre, he is hoping to lead his company to another big win.
Fracking involves the use of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals. Part of the problem facing oil companies today is the inability to clean and reuse the water. This creates a demand for fresh water which is pulled from wetlands, rivers, and creates a need to build more wells (Loris). While a lot of companies are feeling the pressure to be eco-friendly, Wind River is actively trying to do so. “We are working on our own project to reuse and clean the water.” He explains, “The benefits that come from us cleaning this water will affect drinking and agricultural water around the world. We will be able to take dirty water and turn it into drinkable water. That’s a huge thing. No one has been able to clean the dissolved salt out of the water. We believe there is a way to do that. The science that will come from this will benefit the world for generations to come. A big part of our company plan is to be as green as possible. It is something we are excited to be working on.”
Hassett, Kevin A., and Apama Mathur. “Benefits of Hydraulic Fracking.” OXFORD ENERGY FORUM 91 (2013): 11-13. Print.
“Local Area Unemployment Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. N.p., Aug. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.
Loris, Nicolas D. Hydraulic Fracturing: Critical for Energy Production, Jobs, and Economic Growth. Backgrounder: Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, 2012. report.heritage.org/bg2714. Web.
Natural Resources Defense Council. “Natural Gas Drilling: Impacts of Fracking on Health, Water | NRDC.” Natural Resources Defense Council – The Earth’s Best Defense | NRDC. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.
Plunkett Research. “Sports Industry Overview.” Plunkett Research, LTD. N.p., 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.
Wind River Oil Services – Fresh Water Trucking. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.