Fargo native finds success with crew camp

Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service, INFORUM
Trent Mindeman stands in Bakken Residence Suites
Trent Mindeman stands along one of the main corridors of the Bakken Residence Suites complex he helped build from the ground up outside Watford City. Bryan Horwath / Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – With recent reports of Oil Patch crew camp mayhem, including murder, garnering headlines, it’s not shocking that the perception of such residential complexes isn’t exactly bright.

With a lot of men – many of them younger – taking advantage of Bakken energy play employment opportunities and living in western North Dakota, it’s not a surprise that there are incidents of violence popping up.

After all, when you mix people being away from their families and hometowns with a lot of testosterone and the work-hard, play-hard culture of North Dakota, conditions are ripe for things to get a little out of control.

Trent Mindeman said that’s not so at the Bakken Residence Suites crew camp he oversees just south of Watford City.

“I had a guy stop in not long ago who asked me if it got ‘pretty wild’ here,” Mindeman said while giving a tour of the complex last week. “I told him no – it never gets wild here. I think he was a little disappointed.”

But being disappointed doesn’t seem to be a big part of the equation for most BRS residents. Mindeman said the 93-suite facility is at “100 percent capacity,” with occupants enjoying a small piece of sanity in the middle of a bustling energy boom known the nation over.

“You can’t really find another place that compares to this – at least not in this area,” Mindeman said. “For companies that want something really stable, we’re the place. When we did our market research, we found that a huge obstacle in getting people out here to work was housing. Our goal was to make our residences as nice as possible so there would be absolutely no stress coming from the housing factor.”

Cabins sitting on the BRS complex include leather couches, granite countertops, flat-screen TVs and feature washers and dryers. The one- and two-bedroom suites also have high-speed Internet, automatic locks and around-the-clock staff. A glance around the BRS neighborhood last week showed trucks with logos of many of the major players in the Bakken, including Dickinson-based KLJ, an engineering firm, and RockPile Energy Services, a hydraulic pressure pumping company.

“Any name you recognize out here has probably stayed here at some point since we opened in 2011,” Mindeman said. “We’ve also had hunters, a Japanese TV crew working on a documentary about the Bakken, a French newspaper reporter and the people who did the March National Geographic story (about North Dakota) also stayed here. But we’re mostly set up for transitional workers who are working in and around the Bakken shale region.”

Moving west

The Fargo native, along with his wife, two sons and his daughter, were living in Virginia when a series of events led him to consider moving his family back to his home state.

“I had been spending too much time at work at my job with the Virginia DOT and my mother back in Fargo had cancer,” Mindeman said. “After spending some time in North Dakota again, I started to think about moving back. The original plan was to open a restaurant in Fargo, but I had heard about what was happening out here and was presented with this opportunity through one of my friends in Virginia. That first fall and winter back in 2011 was rough, but it’s been an adventure, and I’ve gotten to spend a lot more time with my family, which is important.”

Paul Moore, Mindeman’s friend from Virginia and one of the principal owners of BRS, convinced him to give it a shot, and the move seems to have worked out well for everyone.

Mindeman said a big advantage to his family’s situation now is the fact that they can spend a lot of time together, which goes hand in hand with the Mindemans’ practice of homeschooling their children.

No worries

Nicole Mindeman, 16, sat on the steps of her family’s house on the BRS complex Thursday afternoon just feet from one of the busiest two-lane highways in America, Highway 85, relaxing in the warm North Dakota sunshine with a book.

“It’s different here,” Nicole said. “We used to live out in the country, so it’s been a challenge getting used to all the people. But it’s exciting, too. It was a lot of work at first, but I think it’s been good for our family. It’s certainly less quiet here, but you learn to enjoy the quiet moments you do have.”

Trent’s wife, Dawn, said it was a shock to the system moving to a crew camp in the Oil Patch, but added that she hopes to eventually get some land and possibly settle down for good in North Dakota.

“It’s funny. The first people who came here a couple years ago never locked their doors,” Trent Mindeman said. “Now we have electronic locks on the doors, but we’ve never had any issues or any theft.

“People come from other parts of the world looking over their shoulder, worried about what might happen. We don’t worry about that too much here. The people staying here are hard-working people who have mortgages and families and are saving for their kids’ college tuition.”