Craft Electric Inc.

On the Bakken: keeping pace with oil field automation
Written by: 
Emma Gregg
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

In today’s oil industry, Stanley, North Dakota, is a great location for a specialized electrical contractor like Craft Electric Inc.

The city sits on top of the Bakken and the Three Forks, two geographic formations that lie beneath North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, Canada, which, due to technological advances in drilling and extraction over the past 12 years, have emerged as some of the richest sources of oil in America.

Currently celebrating 40 years in business, Mike Craft founded Craft Electric, Inc. in Williston, North Dakota, in 1977, and moved his company to Stanley before the boom. As a result, the company, which specialized in wiring oil production sites as well as everything tied to them like pipelines, disposals, rail load outs and gas plants, was ideally placed to take advantage of the unexpected windfall.

Craft Electric Inc.

Originally known as the Parshall Discovery, the beginning stages in the Bakken took up approximately 36 square miles near Parshall, North Dakota, which Craft calls his own backyard. At that point, there was only one oil company and one gas plant being built, and Craft Electric worked on both, even though there was no infrastructure for gas recovery or wastewater disposal.

“We were there from before the boom,” Craft says, “I wired the fifth oil well in the Bakken, but no one knew it would be the size it is today nor produce the million barrels per day in North Dakota.”

Now, with a satellite office in Minot, North Dakota, Craft Electric has strategically placed crews in the surrounding North Dakota cities of Killdeer, Watford City, Williston and Tioga, with capabilities to cover Sidney, Montana, another oil and gas rich region, as needed. Craft Electric has also expanded its services in the Niobrara oil field after opening a service shop in Sterling, Colorado.

Driving automation

Craft started working in the oil fields and coal mines of Wyoming in the 1970s, which he says was good match for what was to come.

“We climbed poles then instead of the readily accessible bucket trucks they have now. The wiring in those days resembled the Programmable Logic Controller [PLCs], but in a much simpler way to understand,” Craft says. PLCs are typically used for the automation of industrial, electro-mechanical processes.

“Today, with PLCs, it takes specialized trained men to come in after the site is wired, install a program, and start up a site,” Craft says. “That’s where we excel. We are a UL listed panel shop, meaning we build PLCs from scratch to whatever specifications the oil company has, and we’ve been able to fix a lot of problems that was out there from the past.”

Over the past 10 years, Craft says he’s turned the company’s PLC division into a driving force in western North Dakota, offering around-the-clock service and support.

To keep up with the growing need for control systems and real-time data, the company’s automation team has designed and programed applications, using Allen Bradley software and Rockwell Automation products.  Craft says the automation division also teams up with the company’s electricians to offer turn-key solutions.

Another reason for the company’s success, Craft says, is the automation division’s commitment to always look for new and innovative ways to optimize control systems and functionality.

For instance, the company’s ability to build UL508A panels and function test the programming logic designed by the automation team, is turning into one of the best solutions in the industry.

“We also manufacture multiple types of skid units. The units we manufacture are VRU, MCC, LACT, salt water transfer, quad sep, gas lift, gas metering, chemical pump and fresh water injection. Each of these are custom designed and are built right here in the heart of the Bakken. Often times skid units are trucked in from other states, which come with no service technicians. Or sometimes the parts that need to be replaced were not a common stocked item in this area, and the PLC system did not match what the customers wanted,” Craft says.

“This ties in well with our panel shop because we have our UL listed panel shop and the employees trained to handle all phases of the electrical field to complete the job for our customers,” he says.

“We expect a lot of changes to come in the future with the skid units, as our customers will want to upgrade with technology. Our PLC division has been able to identify what works best for our customers, saving time and money for everyone involved.”

Local quality

Craft feels a sense of pride watching the oil industry thrive in North Dakota.

“We’re from here so we’re all interested in the long run, not only to provide good quality service, but safety and stability to the oil companies we work with,” Craft says.

Oil companies use Total Recorded Incident Rate (TRIR), a mathematical calculation regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to compare companies’ safety records.

Craft Electrics rate of incidents for 2016 was almost half of the national average, something that Craft says wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of the company’s entire team. “We stay current with safety requirements and stay up to date and certified on all of our equipment,” Craft says. “We are full of young and experienced guys who plan to retire with Craft Electric. We not only work together as team players in the field, but many work together outside the office as well as in our local community. I am extremely proud of my team.”

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