Minot State University hosted a conversation with three oil and gas executives to tell their stories of their experiences riding the tumultuous waves of life as an entrepreneur in the Bakken oil field.
Sponsored by the Severson Entrepreneurship Academy, Kraken Resources President and CEO Bruce Larsen was joined by Dakota Energy LLC founder Preston Page and Baker Energy Services owner and CEO Jason Baker.
Moderators Kevin Black and Randy Conway led the conversation before a packed room at the MSU Student Center, probing the three executives on the hard lessons and work required to handle the curveballs thrown their way every day.
The three oil and gas entrepreneurs followed similar trajectories with their careers in that none of them set out to enter the industry in the first place, finding themselves either recruited or motivated by family to take a leap into the booming Bakken.
Larsen found himself graduating from the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City with a degree in chemistry and civil engineering shortly after the financial crisis of 2007. He had envisioned himself working for a gold mine or something similar, but one of the only interviews he had was with Shell Oil for a job in New Orleans.
“I said, ‘You know, I’ll just go try for practice. I ended up in oil and gas kind of by happenstance. That story is not unique.” Larsen said, “Entrepreneurs will find that you are often set on a path and that path isn’t always perfectly straight. Sometimes it winds and goes back on itself. Sometimes it falls over the edge and you just find a way to pick yourself up and recover.”
Finding that way to shrug off failures and downturns in the price of a barrel of oil is easier said than done, but as expressed by Baker and the others, the only way through is by keeping an open mind and saying yes to new opportunities as they appear. Baker Energy Services may have started as a side project with his father Paige that employed only two workers found on craigslist, but according to Jason, the business continues to exist today thanks to the diversification of its services to include crane operation, trucking, hydrovac, pipeline construction and even an environmental division that does reclamation, remediation and testing.
“If we had just focused on one service as a roustabout company, we would have been done a long time ago.” Baker said, “The lesson I took away is not to have all my eggs in one basket – to diversify. It’s been a really slow organic growth over the last 13 years, but its been a wild ride and a lot of fun.”
Page found his business opportunity not in the wilds of the oil field, but in the county courthouses throughout the region by aggregating title records for oil and gas rights. While he didn’t enter the industry with a clear path in front of him, Page said the eventual downturn in oil prices in 2015 motivated him to get out of the office and learn more about actually operating the rigs before striking out on his own.
“I worked with the talented veterans here and let me pump wells with them on Saturdays to learn more about that side of the business. We started Dakota Energy around 2015 and started aggregating mineral rights and leases and packing them up for operators to come in and develop.” Page said, “The definition of entrepreneurship is aggregating resources to create value and we really tried to focus on understanding every step of the process for oil, gas and energy development.”
At the conclusion of the panel discussion, Black boiled the event for the assembled students down to one thing, the three’s willingness to say “yes.”
“The takeaway from three gentleman is they said yes. They didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like. They didn’t know totally what they were doing.” Black said, “But they said yes, and they were willing to start at the ground level, whether that was pumping wells on a Saturday or turning a wrench or going out with roustabout crews. You got to start somewhere, and you’ve got to just say yes.”
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