Bismarck, ND-based MDU Resources Group Inc. on Thursday reported record 2020 earnings across all of its businesses, including natural gas and power utilities in eight states.

CEO David Goodin and senior executives said they expect continued growth in 2021 despite the Covid-19 pandemic as construction materials and services businesses accounted for nearly two-thirds of the nearly $400 million in earnings, a 16% hike from 2019, and a backlog of more than $600 million in construction-related contracts.

Among the four, mostly natural gas, multi-state utilities, the gas operators are in discussions with various parties to expand MDU’s involvement in renewable natural gas (RNG) and launch some research and development projects on use of hydrogen in conjunction with gas distribution operations.

Goodin said that MDU began working on RNG production 12 years ago with a landfill project still operating near Billings, MT. Interest is increasing, particularly in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, where gas utility operations are through Cascade Natural Gas Corp.

“W’e’re now taking RNG from several locations in our Idaho market,” said Cascade CEO Nicole Kivisto. “We’re also in several discussions with RNG project operators in Washington and Oregon, and with potential hydrogen providers out there.”

In WBI Energy Inc., the gas pipeline business, CEO Trevor Hastings said he expects federal approval for the North Bakken expansion gas pipeline project by the end of the March, which would allow the added capacity to be in service by Nov. 1. In addition, there could be more potential shippers as Bakken Shale oil and production began to increase in the last half of 2020.

“Production for oil has come back within just north of 80% of its peak, and on the gas side, it is up to 92% of previous peak loads,” Hastings said. “We continue to be in contact with potential customers in the Bakken expansion, and as we have maintained, the project has the opportunity for additional expansion beyond the current 250 MMcf/d capacity.”

Hastings said the Bakken project could help North Dakota with its gas capture goal to keep flaring at 8% or less.

In 4Q2020, MDU earned $112.3 million (56 cents/share), compared with $85.1 million (47 cents) for the same period in 2019. In 2020, profits were $390.2 million ($1.95), compared with $335.5 million ($1.69) for 2019. 

The company plans to invest $826 million this year, with cash flows forecast at $600-650 million.