In the News: Oil Boom Creates Jobs for Archeology Majors

Dr. Adrian Hannus

Dr. Adrien Hannus, professor of anthropology and director of the Archeology Laboratory at Augustana spoke with KELO-TV about how North Dakota's oil boom is creating job opportunities for archeology majors.

The Oil and Archeologist Boom

By Perry Groton, KELO-TV

We've seen how the North Dakota oil boom has created thousands of new jobs ranging from rig workers to road builders to truckers. Now the side benefits of oil are spilling over onto South Dakota college campuses. Young scholars looking to be part of the archeology pipeline.

North Dakota oil is energizing students at Augustana College.

"I think it's great. It's an opportunity that we'll have when we leave here," Augustana senior Jason Bassett said.

Archeologists are in high demand to survey oil fields before the drilling can begin.

"It kicks into place part of the environmental laws that require archeology to be done and so I think that there's been maybe a four- or fivefold increase in the number of archeologists up in North Dakota in just the last several months."
– Dr. Adrien Hannus

Augustana anthropology and archeology students are excited by their job prospects, plus in the rising prominence of their field of study.

"Just in talking to people on the street, everybody seems to know what archeology is these days. A couple of years ago, people didn't know. I get asked if I was going to build buildings because they thought architecture, because that's all they know," Bassett said.

Hannus says the North Dakota oil fields offer a potential "mixed bag" of archeological finds – mostly artifacts from ancient encampments that date back thousands of years.

"You've got the possibility of at least 10,000 years of pre-history, so what you would have is either kill sites where some ancient animals were killed or butchered, you could have campsites sometimes even associated with kill sites," Hannus said.

Students are concerned that oil companies might be too eager to drill at the expense of the prehistoric artifacts underground.

"If they try to do it too quickly, we can lose some things, but if the archeologists can get in there right away, I think we have the potential to discover quite a few new sites," Augustana senior Bradie Schulz said.

If drilling sites are deemed historically significant, the oil companies might have to relocate their wells, perhaps a hundred feet from their original target. Such a move could place archeologists and oil companies at cross-purposes. 

"Because they want to get on with their project and we're trying to slow them down to preserve what's there. But I think if there's a good working relationship, things can turn out all right," Schulz said.

"The public image of this is that archeologists go out, lay down in front of the bulldozers and ruin multi-million dollar endeavors and that is just not the way it works," Hannus said.

Hannus says the process of salvaging the artifacts can delay the projects but not stop them in their tracks. That allows plenty of room for archeologists to unearth new discoveries before oil companies start drilling.

"You protect the archeology but then people like myself get jobs and then the roads get built and so everybody's working so it's great for everybody," Bassett said.

According to the Associated Press, the number of historic sites in North Dakota went from 846 in 2009 to more than 26,000 in 2013.