Oil Prices At $40 A Barrel Suck – My Story

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Im an oilfield guy. My career in the oilfield began almost 10 years ago, and the excitement of seeing a drilling rig for the first time was incredible. The sight of many gas flares, and their plumes illuminating the horizon as far as the eyes could see was simply breathtaking, and was the beginning of my love affair with the drilling business. I have been running Water Truck, Hydrovac and Vac Truck all for the same company (I am not authorized to represent my employer in public) for the past decade.

I had absolutely no experience when I first started, but worked my way up. I have worked on drilling rigs with holes that have taken up to three months long and have worked many, many 24-72 hour shifts. I have felt frost bite on my knees countless times after hours of cleaning shale tanks during the freezing cold weather. Back in the day, completing the job was mandatory, or you got skidded by your boss, who was a third party contractor who had no qualms taking you out of the drilling rig.

Back in 2008, after a full one and a half year of working on 3-day holes, my boss decided to finally put me on a drilling rig that lasted for 90 days around Grande Prairie Alberta, which was easy money for a Vac Hauler. I stayed there for the next two years, and survived the last oil crash of 2008-09 which saw oil prices drop considerably. Back even then, my day rate pay was $400, which was the max rate for most Vac companies, and quite good considering the oil price at the time. Of course, partying, drinking and gambling meant I blew through all of my money (the side effects of being young!).

The crash of 2008 was bad and saw my day rate going down to $300 (along with the oil price) but I was still happy since I had a job and was working every day. Sometimes, even for 90 day stretches in the bush South of Grande Prairie. Life went on, and it was not until mid 2009 that I got my pay jacked up to $400 again, at which point, the pay raise was a welcome bonus. For the next four years, I worked hard and managed to finally save up some money. By the time, my average day pay was anywhere between $6000 to $10000 a month (depending on the days off).

There’s plenty of oil in the ground. The oil is loaded on trains and taken to ships that take the oil to refineries that send kerosene, diesel, gas, plastic, asphalt, motor oil and bunker fuel all over the world. In turn, we get pipes from Mexico, Germany, South Korea…even India. Oil prices are kept afloat. Globalization at its finest!

I bought a nice Chevy truck in 2013, no lift kit or anything, but it was loaded and cost me $40,000. I had good food to eat, was able to pay my rent, and went on a few expensive vacations too. But everybody goes through expensive financial blows in their life at some point, and I got mine in late 2014. I lost almost $80,000 on a failed business deal, which was a real smack at the back of my head courtesy of reality.

Well, water under the bridge, I don’t stay awake thinking about it. But, it stung at the time. At about the same time, Rachel Notley got elected and the oil prices started to dive. And with that, so did our wages and jobs. While I’m not blaming Notley for the falling prices of oil or the dried up job market, but her policies didn’t exactly help the cause.

One by one drilling rigs started shutting down and wages went really low and oil prices fell. As in, $250 a day, what made it worse was work was limited which left quite a few good guys sitting by the phone, waiting for the call. I on the other hand, I was the lucky one, even if it was working only a few days a week. About seven months into 2016 my gross earnings was $19,500, take away the $5,500 for taxes, which left me with around $14,000 to my name. It was a really long spring break up (too long) and the Fort McMurray fires did its damage by delaying more work.

So, let’s do the math and see if I have some extra money this year.

My bills:
• Truck payment: $600
• Rent: $1200
• Phone/Internet/energy bills: $200
• Insurance: $250
• Gas/Groceries: $500
• Cigarettes: $300

This all adds up to $3000 and change in seven months that’s $21,350 spent. So, I have a loss of $7,350.

Its important to note that these are the expenses of a single guy, with a girlfriend, who has a full-time job and pays her own bills. We don’t have any children, so even in the basic monthly expenditure, I have a loss of thousands of dollars.

The purpose of this blog was for all those folks out there who diss oilfield workers for being spoilt. Just like you, we have families and responsibilities, and while many oilfield workers do not have to deal with a failed business venture that cost them $80,000, there’s still mortgage, camper payments and other expenditure that takes its toll, especially during recession, through tumbling oil prices and job cuts. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, give us a break, and ask some people who work in the oilfield if you need advice.