Ukrainians Take Refuge In North Dakota Oil Fields

Ukrainian laborer Maksym Bunchukov settled in North Dakota 18 months after the conflict began. He is one of sixteen newcomers hired under a trade association’s Uniting for Ukraine humanitarian initiative in response to a critical scarcity of qualified workers. 

North Dakota’s Bakken Global Recruitment of Oilfield Workers program has invited twelve extra Ukrainians to arrive by August 15th. The employees are split on whether they want to stay in North Dakota and raise their families or return to Ukraine.

Brent Sanford, who served as mayor of Watford City from 2010 to 2016, is in charge of the Bakken program’s humanitarian and labor initiatives. Western North Dakotans with prior oil industry expertise were the first to respond to the oil boom, but when the economy faltered during the Great Recession, thousands of individuals from other states and even abroad came to the Bakken oil field in search of high-paying employment. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have made getting oil from bottomless reservoirs possible.

In an oil field that produces over 1.1 million barrels per day, the shortage of qualified workers has grown critical during the last ten months. There are now an estimated 2,500 open positions. Rather than posting separate ads for each available position, most companies just do so once or twice. An immigration legal company told Ness that North Dakota, with its Ukrainian ancestry, comparable climate, and agricultural inhabitants, would be a natural match for Uniting for Ukraine.

Roughly one hundred and sixty Ukrainians have recently relocated to North Dakota, with the majority calling Bismarck home. State Refugee Coordinator Holly Triska-Dally said this migration is due to the Uniting for Ukraine project. The number of applications from potential sponsors throughout the state has increased dramatically in recent months, most likely due to increased publicity and the success of many Ukrainians who have found jobs and can provide for their families.

The Bakken initiative hopes to have hired 100 people by the end of 2023 and another 400 by the end of the following year. Some employees must drive, begin in shops, or construct roads, pads, and gates to get to the well site. They’ll start at minimum wage, then go up to $20 an hour in construction or another entry-level field. 

Volunteers in the Uniting for Ukraine initiative can leave their employment or even the state. With governmental permission, the industry offers a two-year “humanitarian parole” to create a more permanent solution. 

Workers are helped to fill out paperwork, learn new skills, and adjust to their new environment by four interpreters.