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North Dakota University Establishes Bakken U for Idled Oil Patch Workers

The North Dakota state university system has established "Bakken U" to help out-of-work oilfield workers cope with the industry’s retrenchment.

"Bakken U: Energizing Through Education," a program supported by the industry, aims to encourage energy workers to attend a state college or university in North Dakota. University system officials are banking on the fact that employment is still robust in the state with a reported 35,000 jobs available and attainable through continuing education programs.

Early this year, an oilfield worker enrolling in courses in Dickinson State University (DSU) was awarded a $5,000 scholarship funded by the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC). Bakken U Program Director Jerry Rostad said the program is geared toward veteran oilfield workers who want to come back to school.

"We hope to continue to support [the scholarship] in the future and hope to see it grow," said NDPC spokesperson Tessa Sandstrom. "Unfortunately, with the current price situation, we haven't been able to contribute as much as we would like to."

Sandstrom told NGI's Shale Daily that NDPC offers the "Al Golden Scholarship" for students pursuing a degree in energy fields, and it could be another "potential resource for those who may have started but not finished school."

NDPC and the Lignite Energy Council also sponsor what they have dubbed the "Energy Career Awareness Partnership" for people seeking energy or energy-related careers, but the program is targeted to middle or high school students. This program is geared to meeting the expected "brain drain" in the next five to 10 years when a large part of the energy industry workforce is expected to turnover.

The state Department of Mineral Resources, which regulates the North Dakota oil/gas industry, does not support the industry education programs with funds, but it is supportive of "the concept of retaining, educating and improving the state's oil/gas workforce," said DMR spokesperson Alison Ritter.

DSU officials have said the oil/gas industry is an important part of the regional economy, and it would be beneficial to retain the current oilfield castoffs in the state.

North Dakota University System (NDUS) Chancellor Mark Hagerott told local news media that after he listened to the concerns of officials dealing with the oil price crash fallout, he was convinced that the state's higher education organization needed to do something to help. That prompted NDUS and five western North Dakota colleges to create the Bakken U website.

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