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Steve Benson
Steve Benson, director of UND's department of petroleum engineering, gives an update on UND's Collaborative Energy Complex at the Bakken/Three Forks Shale Oil Innovation Conference and Expo Monday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. The three day conference will feature over a hundred industry experts speaking on the new technologies and innovations that are yielding greater efficiencies in the Bakken/Three forks formations. (Photo credit: John Stennes, Grand Forks Herald)

UND ramps up oil industry training

By: John Hageman, Forum News Service

UND officials Monday discussed how they’re helping to add skilled workers in rapidly growing oil plays in North Dakota and elsewhere.

Speaking to energy industry officials at the first day of the inaugural Bakken/Three Forks Shale Oil Innovation Conference at the Alerus Center, UND officials provided an overview of the fundraising efforts for a new facility that would house the burgeoning petroleum engineering department.

Steve Benson, the department’s chairman, said there are now more than 200 students enrolled in the program that started in 2010 with just seven students. He said the department is hoping to meet the need for skilled workers in the petroleum industry.

“There’s not going to be a shortage of people, but talented people who can do the work is key,” Benson said. “By 2020, they’re anticipating a shortfall of close to 11,000 of … petro-technical professionals.”

To help accommodate the rapid growth in the petroleum engineering department and other similar fields of study, UND is currently raising money for a new campus facility. The Collaborative Energy Complex would connect Leonard Hall and Upson Hall I, and would include office and lab space.

Building workforce

Dan Muus, the UND Alumni Association and Foundation’s chief development officer, said the goal of Monday’s panel was to raise awareness of the project.

“Typically we’ll do (donation) solicitations in a one-on-one setting,” Muus said. He said UND hopes to break ground later this year.

“As a project becomes closer to funded, people become more interested,” Muus added.

The project has raised $4.4 million of its $12 million to $15.5 million goal, partially thanks to a donation from Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services (AE2S). Steve Burian, the company’s CEO, was on hand to discuss the company’s donation.

He said their $700,000 donation, which comes with a $350,000 matching state grant, was driven by philanthropic considerations as well as to help build what could be their future workforce. Burian said about $1 million of that will go to the CEC project, and the rest will go to a scholarships.

“We want those North Dakota kids who are North Dakota-educated to come to work at AE2S,” Burian said.

Muus encouraged industry officials to think about helping fund higher education in a state where they are doing business, even if it’s outside UND.

“I hope you’ll think about supporting higher education as a long-term investment in our state and your industry,” Muus said.

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