Workforce Fine, Innovation Needed

By Luke Geiver | February 26, 2015

As the Bakken continues to grow in prominence within the global lexicon, so does its ability to provide headline writers with the topical fuel needed to drive page views. For the past two months, the slide in oil prices has pushed many to ask and write about the impact low oil prices will or could have on the oilfield-related workforce. Naturally, answering that question appears to be a simple “if-then” situation: if oil prices drop, then companies associated in generating revenue via Bakken oil production will be forced to cut jobs to save money at a time when less money is coming in. At the heart of an if-then approach to a Bakken story is that it fits into a page-turning, boom-and-bust storyline. But, because the Bakken shale play is so unique and so unequivocally different than any other oil-production-based economic engine seen before, the sensational story of a booming play going bust just simply isn’t accurate.

Has the culture of chasing rigs evolved? Yes. Will the capex cutback impact the amount of time, money and investment put into the Bakken? Certainly, at least for the short-term. Will low oil prices cause a shift in North Dakota’s job market, and the oil industry’s too? For now at least, but not as much as you might think. In fact, Patrick Miller’s piece on the Bakken’s current job market offers incredible insight on the current state of jobs in the Bakken.

Before diving into the piece, our team had heard and read many doom-and-gloom stories and we were prepared to echo that view. But, after talking in-length with 14 different people entrenched in the Williston Basin’s economy and job market, transcribing more than 10,000 words worth of interviews and drinking more coffee to finish the piece than we want to divulge here, Miller’s piece revealed that the Bakken’s job market—for better or worse—has changed very little with the drop in oil prices. Included in the story is perspective from economic developers, job service experts, oilfield service firms and economists, each offering unique items for all of us to remember. As Nancy Hodur, an economist from North Dakota State University, who has become synonymous with explaining the workforce dilemma and the Bakken economy to all interested parties, alluded to in Miller’s feature, any shift in employment could actually benefit the health of North Dakota’s current and future well-being, including the oil industry.

If you are looking for a boom-and-bust piece, please skip Miller’s story. But, for what we feel is an accurate account of the current Bakken job scene in the Williston Basin, take a look at page 26’s headline, “A Bullish Bakken Jobs Market.”

And read about a unique drilling rig power option tweaked to near-perfection by Ferus Natural Gas Fuels, Statoil and GE Oil & Gas in our story, “Straight From the Bakken Source,” on page 34. In it, Stuart Wilson, Ferus vice president of commercial development, recounts the rise of tube trailers, well head gas capture, transport and reuse. What this trio of companies has done, Wilson says, is logistically different than the common oilfield milk run. Their story fits well into a theme we’ve heard for a month regarding the entire U.S. unconventional industry: Innovation is needed now more than ever.

Luke Geiver
The Bakken magazine