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Bismarck State College’s head of energy programs visits the Joel Heitkamp Show

Kari Knudson, Vice President of Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence (NECE), and Jack Ekstrom, Vice President of Corporate and Government Relations, Whiting Petroleum Corporation, visited Joel Heitkamp’s KFGO-AM show this morning, covering topics of growth of the oil patch and how Bismarck State College is meeting the demands of the oil patch workforce.

Heitkamp began the conversation by asking the background of the National Energy Center of Excellence, and Knudson explained the history of Bismarck State College’s energy programs went back to the 1970s with the lineworker program. From there, several energy industry programs were developed, like power plant technology, refining, gas processing, mechanical maintenance, to its two most recent programs geared toward the oil industry, petroleum production and petroleum engineering technology programs.

“The petroleum production program just started in the fall, and we now have 17 students,” Knudson said. Those students, a mix of men and women, represent a variety from those already employed in the oil industry to some with no industry experience. All of the energy programs have faculty that come from the industry, and fortunately, Knudson said BSC was able to find talented and experienced oil industry professionals to develop the new petroleum programs.

The students that  attend BSC’s NECE can get an associate’s degree in two years or less, though Knudson said there are students who get snatched up by the oil and gas companies before they complete their program. “Students are prepared as much as they can be, and the fact that we offer online programs, it’s a win-win,” Knudson said. “They can go to work and still complete their degrees online.”

The online program has given Bismarck State College a wide student-base from all 50 states and internationally. With the variety of programs offered, Knudson said that students want to understand which program gives them the best chance of success. Despite the allure of high wages, there’s unfamiliarity of the oil and gas industry jobs that will wear off when the newness wears off. “North Dakota is going to catch up and be known for oil, and […] the people of North Dakota are going to become more in-tune with industry,” Knudson said.

Ekstrom said that North Dakota’s mild winter has been good for the company, and he doesn’t see the progress slowing down anytime soon. “I was just in Minneapolis last week [at a conference], and I was dumbfounded at the number of projects they told me about in western North Dakota,” Ekstrom said. “We are five years into the oil development, and with the world class resource we are harvesting, you are looking at a primary level of activity for 30 years.” With constantly evolving technology, Ekstrom believes there’s 50-60 years of sustainable economic activity in the western part of the state.

Heitkamp brought up an earlier question from a listener that if the industry will still be sustainable if oil prices tank. Whiting Oil is economic at $55 per barrel of oil, roughly half of what it is now, Ekstrom said. Even if the market crashed, activity would slow marginally but not dramatically.

Therefore the long-term goal of the National Energy Center of Excellence is that it’s successful in providing a pipeline of employees for the oil and gas industry, like they have with the utility industry, Knudson said. “We want to develop students that will be there for the long-term and provide workforce for the state.”

You may be interested in: National Energy Center of Excellence programs


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