According to oilfield analysts at Graves & Co., around 150,000 oil and gas workers have been laid off in America since the price of crude oil began to tumble in October of 2014. Now, energy companies in the Bakken fields of North Dakota are facing employment shortages.
As it stands, there are thousands of uncompleted wells around Bakken that drillers walked away from when crude prices sank. Oil companies are beginning to come back to those wells, and they’re finding that they don’t have enough labor to complete them.
It takes about 3 months to bore and complete the average horizontal well, so companies that are looking ahead to spring and summer production are already trying to find workers to hire. The problem is, a lot of the workforce has left the area.
Nobody Sticks Around
In 2010, the Bakken play in North Dakota was just as well known for its oil-rich shale as it was the terrible conditions in camp. Crew quarters were rough and unfinished, there were strict curfews and restrictions in place, and company stores were famous for gouging workers with high prices.
It’s not surprising that nobody was interested in sticking around when work got scarce.
In a more traditional industry, facing layoffs might mean you’re forced to retrain your skills but can stay in the area. That means experienced workers are available to be rehired as needed. But that’s not the case in the Bakken fields, where oil companies are hurting for crews to complete their wells and get them producing in time for summer.
The combination of not being able to see their families or have a drink has driven a lot of people out of the camps. There’s a solution, and a lot of small towns around Bakken are ready to give it a shot.
Oil Companies Need to Build Communities, Not Camps
One way for oil and gas companies to recruit more crew members is to build communities instead of camps. In the past, experienced rig operators and oilfield workers have been tolerant of poor conditions. But in the two years since layoffs began, a lot of those laborers have migrated to other areas of the workforce.
In order to lure qualified engineers and operators back to the field, oil companies need to provide better conditions.
Young employees are more tolerant of man camps, but the kind of workers that oil and gas companies are looking to attract right now are more likely to have families. In areas like Watford City, ND, camps are already on the decline.
The town is located in the heart of the Bakken shale play, and instead of keeping oilfield workers out, it’s welcoming them with open arms. Watford City wants crew members to stay and raise a family, not to mention spend money at local businesses instead of company stores.
Communities like this will continue to draw in older and more experienced workers, while young laborers head back to the camps.
Not Enough Workers in Bakken
A lot of former Bakken crew members that haven’t left the industry entirely have been lured away to other fields. Living conditions in Oklahoma and Texas are better, and the pay is generally a bit higher in Alaska.
But in the Bakken fields, jobs are way easier to come by. There just aren’t enough workers to go around.
It’s estimated that the region has lost 60,000 jobs since 2014, and some analysts believe 25,000 will be re-hired in North Dakota by the end of 2017. That means as many as 2,000 workers per month could be required to report to the Bakken fields.
And if crude prices keep rising, the number could be much higher.
Regardless of the price of oil, demand is inching its way back up, and that’s the true driver of domestic production. Bakken’s tight shale plays are profitable at $55 per barrel, and most people in the industry think we’ll see that and more by summer.
Growing Opportunities for People Who Want to Work
The good news is, if you’re looking for a job in the oil industry right now, you can find one in North Dakota. The camps aren’t booming like they were 5 years ago, but people are coming back to work every day.
New positions are opening up every day for oil and gas workers who want to get their foot in the door and work their first serious oilfield job. Advancement comes fast in these fields, understaffed as they are. There’s opportunities to be had for tough young laborers.
As a result, North Dakota is attracting more new oilfield crew members than any other state.
The Bakken shortage might be hard on oil and gas companies looking to hire and not finding the crews they need, but it’s great for new hires.
The hours are long, but the pay is high. And when Bakken gets back to work, it’s going to bring the next generation of oilfield laborers and engineers with it.