© 2023
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A shortage of oil workers

Standing on the shoulder of I-25 in eastern Wyoming, see a herd of pronghorn antelope running off that way and on this side of the interstate a billboard which reads “Crude Oil Drivers Wanted. Text Crude to 865-337-8415.”

This is happening in oil fields from North Dakota down to Texas.

HELMS: “You'll see close to 200 frack crew jobs listed for North Dakota,"

North Dakota Mineral Resources Director, Lynn Helms at a press conference last month.

HELMS: "The rigs are outrunning the frack crews."

Companies rushing to get the oil out of the ground faster than they can fill the jobs.

Cindy Sanford with Job Service North Dakota says, numbers-wise, there are about as many job openings in the Bakken oilfield now as there were during the real boom times of five or so years ago.

SANFORD: “One exception is that the skillset is higher now.”

As in, the skills employers require.
Technology has improved on the rigs.

And Sanford says whereas a few years ago companies were in the drilling phase on many wells -- and needed more unskilled labor.

Now, these wells are in the more technical stages of production -- the actual fracking -- using water and sand to crack underground rock formations to get the oil flowing.

SANFORD: “Well, the frack crews, those positions, a lot of them require a CDL.”

A commercial drivers license to drive semi-trucks.
Jason Crowell is a recruiter for Brady Trucking, a company operating primarily in oil fields.

He says there are worker shortages across his industry.

The workforce is graying.

CROWELL: “Retirements were up 33-percent last year.”

And millennials don’t seem as interested.

CROWELL: “Regular middle class Americans not encouraging our children to go into the trade.”

This is important because a lot of these oilfield jobs, they’re more than just trucking stuff around -- it also requires a lot of manual labor.

CROWELL: “Some of the stuff is heavy and requires some dragging, lifting, climbing, pulling.”

Crowell says they’re going all out to bring in new blood.

Setting up at job fairs, touting the company’s emphasis on wellness and quality of life.

Still, that’s planning for the future.
Even if a new recruit trains and gets that coveted CDL.

CROWELL: “They’re not quite qualified to do the job.”

The other thing with these frack crews -- they generally require a couple years trucking experience, for insurance reasons.

So, Crowell’s company will send the newbies to other companies to do more traditional, simpler, and lower paying trucking work until they get that experience.

But, the hours are long and away from family.

CROWELL: “Oftentimes these guys drop out of the market before they get to the prize, before they get to the two-year mark, or the qualified mark to get to the oilfield.”

If the new guys keep at it long enough to be eligible for these positions--it’s not a bad pay day.

Crowell says average salary for his company’s 40 or so open oilfield jobs all over the west…..

about $80-thousand a year.

For Inside Energy, I’m Dan Boyce.

Dan Boyce moved to the Inside Energy team at Rocky Mountain PBS in 2014, after five years of television and radio reporting in his home state of Montana. In his most recent role as Montana Public Radio’s Capitol Bureau Chief, Dan produced daily stories on state politics and government.
Related Content