One of my fondest memories as a child, while on the farm, was picking rocks in the fields. Eight cousins walking the rows like a search party in the woods, pick up rocks and tossing them into the tractor’s bucket with my uncle Dale behind the wheel. This memory surfaced during my conversation with Ronan, MT, native Travis Jordan who is the owner and president of MT Rig Mats.
“A Rock is a a pollutant,” Jordan said. “If it is in a place where you don’t want it, to get it removed you have to decontaminate it like anything else. You can’t farm rock.”
Jordan and I laughed as we continued to stroll down memory lane while talking about everything from reclamation to the use of rig mats in the Bakken.
“When we first started in the Bakken we were told North Dakota doesn’t use rig mats,” Jordan said. “Well, every oil rig that I know uses a matting solution.” Jordan continued stating some of the older rigs may not use a mat, but “virtually all of the walking rigs use some kind of matting solution.”
MT Rig Mats have been in business for a little over two years, but as most business ventures, it didn’t come easy.
“We were the product of the 2009 crash,” Jordan said. “We needed some work for our guys, and we are electricians, so we drove out to the Bakken in a minivan and said what can we build for this area. We saw a need for the rig mats.”
Jordan said they started educated themselves on the matting industry. Through the education process Jordan ended up in Canada with a first hand look at the number and scale of the product.
“We had visited a manufacturing company in Canada and saw the volume they were producing,” Jordan said. “When I looked at North Dakota I saw how much the rig mats were being not being utilized here and will be only a matter of time before its more common.”
Jordan added that many of the new rigs coming in the Bakken were using the rig mats, so felt the timing was now or never. After speaking with a couple rental companies in the industry about the demand, ins and outs of the logistical process, Jordan felt confident.
“We felt pretty confident that if we could built them, we could sell them.” Jordan said. “The 2009 recession left a glut of unemployed electricians in our area. Actually anything that dealt with building or construction was hit hard. Even the logging industry was hit pretty hard.”
Jordan’s drive for professional redemption and confidence weren’t the only attributes that drove his decision on how to rebound after the 2009 economic crash. The other was his faith.
“We’re part of a conservative Mennonite faith so to leave my family to come out here just didn’t seem like a solution for us,” Jordan said. “It was either go on the road or find something to ship from home.”
Jordan and his team of eager tradesmen set up shop in neighboring town Charlo, MT, and began constructing rig mats. Jordan is proud to claim his mats are constructed with American made steel and timber from Montana and Wyoming.
“We use Douglas fir for added durability or a spruce pine for lighter weight,” Jordan said. “These timbers can be replaced in the field if they are damaged during use.”
Charlo and Ronan are located located between Kalispell and Missoula, in the Flathead Lake region. The area is primarily known for its serene beauty, nature and tourism.
“We are at the bottom of Flathead Lake which is a high area for tourism,” Jordan said. “For a while there were a lot of mansions being built on the lake and other work within the trade, but when that 2009 bubble burst, there was a glut for anything that had to do with building.”
Rig Mats are nothing new to the oil fields, but the technology and materials are, according to Jordan.
“Matting has been a common thing. They used to lay cribbing and board down on the ground and stick stuff on them, everyone’s done it,” Jordan said. “The difference now is by using steel and creating a steel substructure. Then using the wood to transfer the load into the steel and that is an important part of the process.”
Jordan continued saying he believes the steel is the focus point and deserves his concentration. Because of this focus, everyone who works in his shop are certified welders.
“The strength is in the steel and the certified welding,” Jordan said. When comparing the size of the rig mats, Jordan said the average thickness of a rail road tie is about 8-inches, while the industry prefers 6-inches.
“The rig matting industry and the matting industry for the oil rigs have been driven by the fact the rigs have a very low clearance and they’ve been trying real hard to keep those mats down to six inches as the industry standard.”
The purpose for rig mats or matting solutions can snowball in North Dakota in a hurry. Ice, rain, reclamation are just a couple examples of why rig mats are used by oil and gas.
“After the well or pipeline is done and the matting is removed, the native root stops are still there and your reclamation becomes real easy,” Jordan said. “And it is much more intuitive. You don’t have to go out and find these rare different plants to replant that were native to the area.”
From the 2009 recession to the 2011 Bakken boom, the crew at MT Rig Mats have been on a wild ride courtesy of the modern day shale play. Jordan feels blessed his business and family was able to adapt and reinvent themselves to find their niche in this global economy. And the Bakken appears to be just the beginning of the story for this young matting company.
“The first year we primarily sold to Montana and North Dakota,” Jordan said. “This past year we have sold to Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, some up into Canada and Australia. It’s been a great year of growth for us.”