Core investment: State unveils expanded Core and Sample Library on campus

President Kennedy speaks at the Laird Core and Sample Library dedication
President Kennedy speaks at the Laird Core and Sample Library dedication

Julie LeFever just might be a two-marshmallow kind of person.

That’s how President Mark R. Kennedy described her and Wilson M. Laird at the dedication of the newly expanded and remodeled Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library on Sept. 27.

He was referring to a Stanford University study in which researchers offered children a choice between one marshmallow immediately or two later. They found that the children who chose the two-marshmallow option tended to be more successful in life than the “one-marshmallow” children.

At the standing-room-only ceremony emceed by Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, Kennedy, and members of the State Industrial Commission, as well as industry executives and others praised LeFever, who has directed the core library for 27 years, and Laird, the building’s namesake, for their long view that marked the way for the oil boom in North Dakota.

“Their long-term view of what could be has resulted today in a public/private partnership and investment in the future that has resulted in North Dakota’s prosperity,” Kennedy said.

Julie LeFever, director of the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library on the UND campus, stands in the newly expanded area of the library, during a Monday, Sept. 26 ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.
Julie LeFever, director of the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library on the UND campus, stands in the newly expanded area of the library, during a Monday, Sept. 26 ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Looking forward

As the first (and only) director of the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library, LeFever has always had an eye on the future. She’s worked with students, scientists, legislators, and the oil industry to study and preserve core samples from drill cuttings. Those samples – 4.4 million tons of rock and counting – can determine whether or not an area contains oil, and, said many of the attendees at the ceremony, resulted in a number of oil and gas plays that led to the North Dakota oil boom.

The library contains the most complete set of cores and samples in the nation and was established by UND geology professor Wilson Morrow Laird, who was also named North Dakota State Geologist in 1941. He served as State Geologist and chair of the UND geology department for 28 years, and passed away in 1997. After his appointment, he began working to pass oil and gas laws 10 years before oil was even discovered in North Dakota. Those laws required that samples of all drill cuttings and cores be provided to the North Dakota State Geological Survey, then located at UND.

That foresight resulted in the ability of industry, students, and faculty to study core samples and find indicators of oil and gas.

The 13,000 square-foot library, which was built in 1980, reached capacity earlier this year. The 2015 North Dakota Legislature, recognizing the importance of the core library, authorized the $13.6 million expansion on campus, which added 28,000 square feet and three additional laboratories. It was paid for with funds from the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund, which is used for one-time expenditures that improve state infrastructure. The revenues from the fund come from mineral royalties, which Gov. Jack Dalrymple said was very appropriate.

UND Ph.D. student Spencer Wheeling (right) shows core samples to North Dakota Industrial Commissioner members: Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.
UND Ph.D. student Spencer Wheeling (right) shows core samples to North Dakota Industrial Commissioner members: Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

A great investment

“This is a great investment for the people of North Dakota,” said Gov. Dalrymple, mentioning that the core library is one of the factors in the growth of the Petroleum Engineering program, which began in 2010 with just a few students and grew to more than 200 today. “It’s a fantastic educational facility and an incredible opportunity to develop a successful career that can last your entire life.”

“This investment in our state’s future will pay us back for generations to come,” Dalrymple said.

“This is a valuable lesson on the importance of foresight and a vision for the future,” said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a UND law and undergraduate alum.

Many states don’t collect drill cuttings or core samples, Stenehjem said. “Thanks to Laird’s foresight, the Core Library houses 85 percent of core samples” collected in the state. “It’s the most complete collection in the United States.”

Stenehjem, a legislator for the Grand Forks district before he was elected Attorney General, credited  legislators and others, past and present, who contributed to its founding.

“This is a vitally important place,” said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who noted that in an 18-month period that encompassed 2013, the core library collected more core samples than in the previous 18 years.  “It’s built for the future,” he said, citing partnerships with the Legislature, industry, UND, and the state.

Industry partnerships

Representing both the oil industry and the State Board of Higher Education, Kathleen Neset of Neset Consulting used the core library as a young geologist and also provided core samples to the library.

“We are glad to provide core,” Neset said. “It’s a great way to store drill cuttings. This lab is about the future,” she said, adding that public and private entities, engineers, and students will all use the library.

“This is for you,” she said, addressing the many students in the room. “This is for our future.”

“I’ve treasured the accessibility,” said Mark Sonnefeld, Whiting Petroleum Vice President, who credits the library for a number of oil discoveries.  “Geology matters.” And during downturns, he added, “it’s important to come here and re-examine potential. This facility enables that.” He thanked the Legislature, North Dakota Industrial Commission and the North Dakota Geological Service for their investments.

“It all comes down to the rocks,” said Jack Stark, President and Chief Operating Officer of Continental Resources, which he said represents between 10 and 15 percent of North Dakota oil production.

“It’s a great partnership and facility,” Stark said, adding the lab is well-organized, well-designed, and established with great vision. “It reflects quality people and leadership,” he said, crediting LeFever for engaging students and interacting with industry. “I envy young students who will have this great learning environment,” he said. “Hats off to Julie.”

All four of William and Reba Laird’s children attended the ceremony, and son Don said they were proud to come back. “The core library combines academia, industry, and regulatory agencies,” he said. “We’re honored to assist North Dakota to be more successful in the future.”

And, it turns out, Julie LeFever is a two-marshmallow kind of person. Her reward? One of the new laboratories has been named after her. “It really is an honor,” LeFever said.

But more importantly, the core library means a lot for students.  “This is a world-class facility to work and study in and to interact with industry,” she said. Those introductions to people in the industry can lead to great jobs later.

“It’s a tremendous asset to students and the EERC,” said UND Energy and Environmental Resources Director Tom Erickson. “It gives us the ability to look for ways to harvest more oil and focus on technologies with a smaller environmental footprint.”

“There is no place in the United States with a facility this good,” said Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Geology and Geological Engineering Will Gosnold. He said students go to the core library to learn, and while there interact with private companies. “That just blows me away.”

“This place is just amazing – it’s even better than I expected,” said Kyle Peterson, a student from Berthold, N.D., who is earning his master’s degree in geology. “This resource – having rock and core at UND – will really help us.”

A video is available here.

— Jan Orvik, University & Public Affairs writer