A German geologist at UND finds familiar ground in North Dakota
Sitting in his office in Leonard Hall on Thursday, March 10, Sven Egenhoff spoke with the Herald about his work and his journey to UND. When asked, the German native explained how he came to have the decidedly un-German name “Sven.”
GRAND FORKS — When Sven Egenhoff relocated to North Dakota, he was coming to a familiar place, though the long and frigid winter has come as a bit of a shock.
Egenhoff is the new chair of UND’s Harold Hamm School of Geology & Geological Engineering. He previously visited the state dozens of times while working on research grants in the Bakken Formation, North Dakota’s massive oilfield in the western part of the state. He came to Grand Forks to teach geology, and also to lend his expertise of the Bakken to researchers studying how to store carbon dioxide underground, a possibility state and federal leaders are actively pursuing.
His familiarity with the state, however, didn’t exactly extend to the winter weather.
“What I was not impressed with was minus-31 (degrees),” he said with a grin. “That's not fair.”
Sitting in his office in Leonard Hall on Thursday, March 10, Egenhoff spoke with the Grand Forks Herald about his work and his journey to UND. When asked, the native of Germany explained how he came to have the decidedly un-German name “Sven.”
“When I was born that was a fashion in Germany, to give all the innocent babies Scandinavian names,” he said. “My whole generation is Sven, Olaf, Torbjorn … blah, blah, blah. I'm actually not kidding.”
Egenhoff said people asked him why he was moving to North Dakota, but he said the state reminds him of home. He was born in a small town near Oldenburg, a city in northwest Germany. He said the land in his hometown is similar to what he finds in the Grand Forks region – “as smooth as my table” he said. The fields are smaller back home and people raise more cattle there, but all things considered, Egenhoff doesn’t mind what he sees when he looks out his window.
And there are other advantages to living in North Dakota, Egenhoff said. He came to UND by way of Freiberg University in the German state of Saxony, after which he spent 16 years at Colorado State University.
He said he knew it was time for a change. He led a working group at CSU, educated dozens of graduate students – geologists who immediately found work for oil companies – but he felt there was a lack of access to leaders and policy-makers. He’s found the opposite here.
“What I love about (North Dakota) is you can just go into an office here and say ‘hi, Jim.’ He will say ‘hi’ and he will sit down with you,” Egenhoff said. “Try doing that in Colorado.”
Egenhoff got his first taste of that newfound openness when he attended a late February meeting of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, at the Energy and Environmental Research Center on UND’s campus. The meeting was attended by the three members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation, as well as several state lawmakers. Egenhoff was surprised at how approachable meeting attendees were.
“You could just go up to these people, say 'hi' and it would be no problem,” he said.
Now ensconced at the university, he’s putting what he learned about the Bakken – where oil companies should drill and why they should drill there – to use with researchers at the EERC. This time, he isn’t looking for oil – he’s looking for places to store carbon dioxide.
Plans are underway to make portions of the state a gigantic underground CO2 storage vault. Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions is the driving force behind a multi-billion-dollar project to build a 2,000-mile pipeline that would connect ethanol plants in five states, and carry the byproduct gas to North Dakota for storage.
Egenhoff said oil producers have long been pumping CO2 underground to help extract oil. Now, the idea is to keep that gas sequestered underground.
“The concept absolutely works,” Egenhoff said.
He doesn’t have too far to go in his search. Egenhoff said the Williston basin, where the Bakken is located, is like Swiss cheese from all the drilling that’s been done there. Some of that drilling was for oil wells, but other drilling projects were for research – taking core samples from underground, for example. UND is a repository of thousands of those samples, meaning Egenhoff has only to walk to where they are stored to do his research. He called the repository a “scientific goldmine.”
Work is a balancing act for Egenhoff. He has his teaching duties, his own research and projects with the EERC. He’s also writing a book on sedimentology, which he calls “a nerdy book (written by a nerd) for nerds.” But when it comes to relaxing, he has a hobby that might give him an upset stomach.
“I love baking,” he said. “I'm gluten intolerant, but I love baking.”
His next project: Black Forest cherry cake.