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Oil companies hiring fracking crews in Bakken

A workover rig stands over six pumping oil wells in the Little Missouri Grassland breaks north of Killdeer, N.D., in Dunn County in October 2015. (Forum News Service)

WILLISTON, N.D. — Oil companies are hiring in the Bakken, and more jobs are expected to open up next year.

Job Service North Dakota announced six oil companies are looking for workers to man fracking crews in the new year, said Cindy Sanford, customer service office manager of Job Service's Williston branch. She said she couldn't reveal the names of the companies due to confidentiality clauses, but she said the companies are looking to hire 45 to 65 workers per crew. On the low end, that could bring 300 hires to the Bakken, she said.

"It's getting busier in our offices, as far as not only with job seekers but also the companies," said Phil Davis, the agency's western area director. "We are seeing more of the service rigs — not so much the drilling rigs — but our service rigs and workover rigs, jobs are coming back there, which is a great thing."

Oil companies announced in October they would post positions for workers in the Bakken as oil prices climbed to an 18-month high in December. Oil on the New York Mercantile rang out Thursday at $53.83, almost a 50 percent increase over last year. That's down from an all-time high of $136.29, which was set July 3, 2008, but almost double the 10-year low — barrels of oil went for less than $27 in early 2016.

After peaking in June 2014, oil prices started to fall off, causing oil companies to lay off workers and take rigs offline. As of Thursday, North Dakota's rig count was 39. That's down from its all-time high of 218 in May 2012, but the count has been on a slight increase over the past several months.

The recent job postings in western North Dakota mostly are for service or workover rigs, which are used to complete a well and install the pump after drilling is done.

As of Thursday, almost 500 jobs posted on Job Service North Dakota mentioned oil.

November's increase from October for all job openings for Stark County, where oil jobs once were abundant before the bust, was 140, while Williams County, the heart of fracking, saw a 50-job increase.

The December numbers are expected to come out Wednesday, Davis said. He added companies are looking for workers who have more skills than the crews hired when the oil boom began in the early 2010s, which saw a lot of "greenhorns" come to North Dakota, he said.

Davis couldn't say whether the job openings meant the oil industry could turn around since it went bust in recent years, but he did say it was exciting to see the jobs come back.

"I'm kind of excited to see what the December numbers bring us," he said. "I'm expecting a little bit of an increase."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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