The North Dakota Tribal College System (NDTCS) is partnering with three leading oil and gas companies on an apprenticeship program to develop a homegrown workforce in the energy sector and other trades.

Bakken Hess

Persistent labor shortages have plagued the Williston Basin, home to the mighty Bakken Shale, one of the Lower 48’s major oil and gas producing plays.

Hess Corp., a top Bakken producer, has committed to invest $12 million over the next four years “to provide tuition assistance, stipends and other support for establishing apprenticeships in a variety of industries [designated] by each of the state’s five tribal colleges based on the local job market and needs of their tribal communities,” NDTCS said. 

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Hess has been ramping up its drilling and completions activity in the Bakken amid a tightly supplied global oil market. 

“Our company has a longstanding commitment to making a positive social impact on the communities where we operate,” said CEO John Hess. “We are proud to support the North Dakota Tribal College System in developing a comprehensive program to provide students with education and employment opportunities that will lead to rewarding careers.”

Oilfield services giant Halliburton Co. and Nabors Industries Ltd., owner of the world’s largest land rig drilling fleet, have each pledged to kick in $1 million as well.

“As a company with a long history of operations in North Dakota, we see this program as a fantastic way to develop and nurture skills necessary for the future productivity of the local economy as well as for Halliburton,” said CEO Jeff Miller. 

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources’ Lynn Helms, Oil and Gas Division director, has frequently cited labor shortages as the main impediment to production growth.

Helms told reporters this month that “we just are unable to attract the skilled labor that we need” to add more drilling and completion crews.

The Williston rig count stood at 39 as of Friday, up from 23 a year ago, according to Baker Hughes Co. 

Nabors is a leading rig contractor in North Dakota. The firm’s Jade Strong, chief administrative officer, said, “Nabors is committed to strengthening the communities that our employees call home. We are honored to support the NDTCS and advanced educational opportunities that can change lives and launch careers across North Dakota.”

Gov. Doug Burgum praised the initiative as well.

“Public-private partnerships can be transformative, and the program being launched today is another great example of our state’s private-sector partners believing and investing in the future of North Dakota,” Burgum said. “With today’s announcement, Hess, Nabors, and Halliburton are providing essential resources for our tribal colleges to invest in students in a way that can spark generational change and empower people, improve lives and inspire success.”

NDTCS said the new statewide program will follow the “earn and learn” model of the apprenticeship program currently in place at Lake Region State College.

The new program “will provide tribal college students with on-the-job skills training through college work study, internships and apprenticeships as they progress toward completing a two-year degree or technical certification, with the possibility of earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree depending on the apprenticeship position and location,” NDTCS said. The apprenticeship program is slated to begin in January 2023.