Oil and gas industry leaders look for solutions for the labor market

Published: May. 21, 2020 at 6:47 PM CDT
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The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources said more than 16,000 oil wells in North Dakota are still producing. But seven thousand wells have been shut-in since the pandemic began.

North Dakota Job Service said their most recent data shows unemployment claim numbers have reached about 77,000 for the state.

More than 8,000 of those claims since the beginning of March are from mining, oil, and gas industries.

For plenty of workers in North Dakota, oil and gas is their specialty.

"Let's see, I'm 54 and I started when I was 16," said former rig consultant, Kevin Syverson.

Syverson said he's never seen the industry plummet like this.

"The beginning of 2015 when it died out the last time, it shut down fast. But not this fast," said Syverson.

Workers remember how they struggled in 2015, the last time the price of oil hit a sharp decline.

"I was laid off in 2015 actually when it slowed down then, so I was pretty worried about it," said operation specialist, Kellan Blomberg.

But Blomberg says the testing and shipping side of the industry has been more stable for him.

"I basically got lucky because I'm sure I'd be laid off right now had I not switched over to this side of the industry," said Blomberg.

Possible alternatives for work are being considered by the Department of Mineral Resources to help employ furloughed oilfield workers.

The Bakken Restart Program would allocate $33 million to confiscate abandoned wells while a potential program to lessen methane emissions by replacing thief hatches on oil storage tanks could also put people back to work.

"We know the companies want to stay here, we know that they ultimately want to put these wells back on production. We're trying as an industry and through the task force to figure out ways to allow those people significant unemployment while they're furloughed, but to get them back in a working situation as quickly as possible," said Department of Mineral Resources Director, Lynn Helms.

Helms said if they don't find solutions like these, many workers may leave the state or be left waiting as production isn't projected to pick back until about January of next year.

If you've been furloughed and are looking for assistance, you can go online to JobsND.com to file an unemployment claim.