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Confined Spaces: Seeing Beyond the Entry

When it Comes to Confined Spaces, There’s No Room to Skip on Safety Precautions.

In January 2017, a utility worker in Key Largo, Florida, opened a manhole cover and went under a recently paved section of road to investigate why it had settled unevenly. When he stopped responding to coworkers above ground, a second worker went in to see if he needed help. When both stopped responding, The Washington Post reported, a third man entered. What none of these workers knew is that years of vegetation had been rotting underneath the surface, creating a poisonous gas. All three workers were overcome by hydrogen sulfide and methane, causing them to asphyxiate.

These three men lost their lives and two firefighters sustained injury that required medical attention because the danger was not identified before entering.

While many people wouldn’t consider working in a confined space as a work hazard, this situation in Key Largo — as well as numerous multi-million dollar settlements — beg to differ. Confined space work is often dangerous because the hazards that exist aren’t obvious. But without due diligence, these unseen issues can escalate into a deadly situation in seconds, which makes proper training crucial.

Tunnels, storage tanks, culverts, grease pits, trenches, shafts, crawlspaces and manholes are just some of the places that fit into the category of a confined space.

What is Considered a Confined Space in the Workplace?

A confined space is an area that is a small space with limited entry or exit points. It is large enough for an employee or employees to enter and work, but is tight and not designed for long-term occupancy.

OSHA has two classifications for these work environments. They are non-permit confined spaces and permit required confined spaces.

OSHA explains it like this. A non-permit required space has all of the descriptions above. While a permit required confined space has all of the above descriptions as well as at least one of the following hazards.

  • Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere.
  • Has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downwards and taper into a smaller area that could trap or asphyxiate an entrant.
  • Contains any material/substance that poses an engulfment/entrapment hazard.
  • Contains or has the potential to contain any other serious safety or health hazard.

Spot the Dangers Before They Spot You.

Dangers that exist in a permit required confined space include, but aren’t limited to, asphyxiation due to limited oxygen or hazardous gases, explosion, electrocution, engulfment, moving machinery, collapse, rescuers being injured, and falls. Failure to classify an area as permit required and taking the proper precautions can be costly to the worker and has the potential to financially ruin a company.

Whether physical or atmospheric, the dangers of confined space work cannot be ignored. Neglecting to inspect, monitor and address potential hazards before and during work cannot be tolerated.

Every year, lives are lost while working in these small spaces. On average, two workers a week in the United States will die after entering a confined space to work.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Training Doesn’t Just Educate Employees, It Can Save Lives.

Through proper training and certification, workers can greatly reduce and even eliminate the risk of fatalities.

A trained crew evaluates and understands the hazards they may face and communicate these dangers with each other. If the hazard cannot be removed from the work space, proper precautions and equipment must be utilized to keep the worker safe until the job is completed.

It is vital that the workers inside the confined space are in constant communication and monitored from outside where the team understands the dangers and remain alert for any symptoms of distress so an immediate extraction can be implemented at the first sign of trouble.

Trained workers also know when to call for emergency assistance in the event that a worker is adversely affected by seen or unseen hazards. Getting timely treatment for a person is often crucial in ensuring a faster recovery.

Experts caution to take the time to put safety protocols in place.

After all, nobody wants a confined space to turn into a final resting place.

For all of your training needs, call us today at 888-403-6026 or visit our Services Page!

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A Closer Look At Natural Gas Generators

Natural gas generators are a viable alternative to diesel-powered generators, especially in primary power applications, or those requiring extreme emissions regulation. Though they vary slightly from diesel engines, the two have more in common than not. They share more than three-quarters of their components, including the engine block, piston rods, main bearing, crankshaft and EGR systems. It’s the elements that they don’t share that makes them so different. We will go over those aspects shortly, but first, let’s get a better idea of what natural gas is.

What is Natural Gas?

Natural gas is a hydrocarbon gas mixture. It consists mostly of methane but can contain small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and sometimes even helium. Over millions of years, plant and animal remains have decomposed in pockets under the surface of the Earth, exposing the gases to intense heat and pressure. Energy originally obtained from the sun is stored in the gas. It is drilled, piped, refined and then stored in tanks for use.

Intake

Most of us are familiar with how our diesel engine’s air intake systems work, if not have a look at these articles. Like diesel engines, natural gas generators utilize EGR(exhaust gas recirculation) and air from the environment mixed with fuel. However, due to being in a gaseous state, as opposed to atomized liquid, natural gas engines can take advantage of stoichiometric combustion, where 100% of the fuel gets consumed. Not only is this ideal for higher power density and increased fuel economy, it lowers exhaust emissions drastically.

Ignition

Another primary difference between diesel engines and natural gas engines is the ignition process. Because of the low combustibility of diesel fuel, diesel engines use extreme compression and heat to ignite the fuel mixture. Natural gas engines use a spark plug system similar to a gasoline engine. The high combustibility of natural gas means it requires less compression to ignite, though it does require a specific piston-head bowl designed for natural gas engines. Natural gas generator engines utilize an Integrated Fuel Module, as opposed to the familiar fuel injectors found on diesel engines.

Exhaust

Because 100% of the carbon, hydrogen, and sulfur are burned with the oxygen in the combustion process, natural gas engines have the lowest exhaust emissions of any of the commonly available fuels. This enables them to utilize a 3-way catalytic converter, similar to those found on gasoline vehicles. This is a much simpler process than diesel, which uses an active after treatment system that includes diesel particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction components.

Overall, natural gas generators are quieter, cleaner and more fuel-efficient than their diesel counterparts, making them ideal in situations where they will be used as a primary power source. Unless the generator is connected directly to a natural gas line, the fuel tanks can be expensive and are more volatile to store and transport than diesel fuel. For standby service and remote locations where access to natural gas lines is limited or impossible, diesel generators are usually the best solution.

If you are unsure which fuel type is best for your application, give us a call.

610-658-3242
sales@woodstockpower.com

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The Importance of Facility Safety Inspections

Mock OSHA Facility Inspections Save Worker Lives & Millions in Lost Profit

When an explosion occurred in a plant in Corrigan, Texas, severely burning a man, it took four years for the courts to make their decision. When they did, the verdict was staggering.  The court awarded the plaintiff $39.7 million for pain and suffering.

It was April 26, 2014 when Ralph Figgs’ life changed forever. He was working at a Georgia-Pacific plant when a dust collection system failed, causing the explosion that permanently injured Figgs, killed two of his fellow workers, and injured several others.

In all, three companies were held at fault. Along with Georgia-Pacific, a company called Aircon Inc., which designed and installed the dust collection unit, as well as GreCon Inc., the company that manufactures the spark suppression system, were held liable for the accident.

Just some of the issues that arose during the trial were failure to perform proper safety inspections as well as employees not being properly trained in emergency procedures concerning the dust collection system.

 

Why Companies Need to Prioritize Proactive “Mock” OSHA Inspections

Facility safety inspections are a vital component in preventing workplace injury, illness and even death.

Thorough inspections by qualified safety personnel help identify potential hazards before an accident occurs and corrective action can become the difference between life and death. By heading off problems before they arise, not only does it create a safer work environment for employees, but it also can save the company from financial ruin.

Our qualified inspectors know what to look for and where something is most likely to develop into unsafe or unhealthy conditions because of stress, wear, impact, vibration, heat, corrosion, chemical reaction, ventilation or misuse.

In addition to work areas, locker rooms, rest areas, storage rooms, and parking lots are included during the inspection as these are places where workers have a tendency to let their guard down, sometimes resulting in debilitating slip-and-fall scenarios, among other accidents.

It is also important to not only inspect the equipment, but also to observe how the worker interacts with the equipment during the workday.

A good safety inspection doesn’t necessarily mean a stop in production as many times the inspector will observe a normal work day. Often the inspector will share concerns and questions with workers who use the equipment every day, creating a collaboration to arrive at the best course of action.

 

Set up a Mock OSHA Inspection with Certified Safety Professionals

For companies that are subjected to periodic OSHA inspections that can result in hefty fines when something isn’t up to code, having a pre-inspection done by us can also be an invaluable tool.

Failure to conduct forklift inspections, fire extinguisher inspections, having tripping hazards (slips/trips/falls), poor housekeeping, missing protective guards, blocked emergency exits and more can add up to large violations.

But by listening to the concerns of supervisors and employees, learning more about job tasks and goals, identifying potential problems and putting a plan in place to address the continued safety of employees, the long-term health and success of a company can be ensured.

If you are unsure where to start and would like more information, contact us here and ask for a facility inspection example.

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The Importance of Drug Testing In The Oilfield

Testing current or potential employees for the presence of illegal substances or alcohol is common among the oil and gas industry, for a number of different reasons regarding a variety of situations or circumstances.

Why though, when many other industries don’t do so, is drug testing in the oilfield so common?

Why Drug Testing Is Important

Drug tests aren’t just important – they are necessary.

The oilfield comes with its fair share of dangerous work environments. Oilfield workers are often dealing with heavy-duty machinery, high-pressure pipelines, toxic liquids and gasses, etc.

These can make for dangerous situations even with a fully capable and alert individual running things – imagine the added dangers these tasks and situations may present if the individual in question was under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

In fact, the safety concerns associated with many of these oilfield related jobs (especially in booming areas like Texas) are the only reason drug testing is legally acceptable for oilfield workers to begin with.

When (and How) Drug Tests Are Conducted

When 

There are two main instances in which drug tests may be administered to oilfield workers.

  • The drug test may be administered upon the proposal of a job contract, with clean test results being a condition of said contract.
  • Anytime an incident involving damaged equipment, or an injury-causing or fatal accident occurs in the workplace, with company equipment, or whilst on the company’s clock.

Some employers may be approved to do random testing in addition to these particular situations, meaning they could test any employee at anytime – but this is less common as it is not easy for companies to prove such testing necessary, as they most often do not have reasonable grounds to assume someone impaired.

How 

There are a variety of different methods that can be used to test whether or not an individual is under the influence. Typically, the type of test used depends on the particular substance being tested for.

  • Breath Tests – these types of tests are the quickest and easiest way to test a person’s blood-alcohol level (Ie: how much alcohol they have in their system at that exact moment).
  • Urine Samples – these tests show the presence (or absence) of drug metabolites in the individual’s urine. Metabolites are certain drug residues that remain in a person’s body even after the effects of the drug have worn off – the length of time these remain in the body depends on the type of drug.
  • Blood Samples – this type of test will measure the actual amount of alcohol or drug in a person’s system at that given time. Blood tests are better indicators of consumption levels than urine tests are, but have a short detection period, as the drugs or alcohol are cleared rather quickly from the bloodstream and into the urine.

What Do You Think?

Most oilfield companies claim to have the best interests of their employees, consumers, and the environment in mind. These companies have to stay true to their mission and values, and drug testing can help them do so by ensuring that safety is one of their main priorities.

Do you support drug testing in the oilfield? We’d love to hear your opinions on why – or why not!

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Oilfield Products That Focus On Cleaning

No, we aren’t talking about what type of detergent works best on dirty covies or which style of pressure washers are used on muddy rigs – we are talking about cleaning products designed with only one purpose in mind: to keep oilfield equipment and operations running efficiently and safely.

When it comes to these specific products, there are two categories that play larger roles than the others: the products that are used to clean the pipelines and those that are used to clean the oil itself.

Below, we’ll give you a little insight on the types of oilfield products that focus on cleaning both the pipelines and the oil itself, and why these products are so important.

Cleaning the Pipelines

Without the pipelines themselves, we would have no way to transport the oil we work so hard to extract. If this were the case, we would have no oil to heat our homes, fuel our vehicles, or manufacture the petroleum made products we use everyday. Pipelines are crucial to our day-to-day lives, even if we can’t see them.

In Canada alone, there are over 800,000 kilometers of pipelines being used for the transmission, gathering, and distribution of oil – imagine how many pipelines there are across the world – and all of them need to be maintained.

Pipelines that are not properly cleaned and maintained are not only costly (because they reduce flow and therefore production rates), but they are also dangerous for both the environment and the workers dealing with them.

Cue the pigs.

Pipeline Pigs, That Is

In the simplest terms possible, pipeline pigs clean pipelines. These “pigs” are actually bullet shaped devices, typically made from rubber, that are pushed through pipelines for cleaning and other maintenance purposes.

They work to clear debris, built up substances, and unwanted liquids or gasses from the pipelines.

It’s no surprise they are one of the most widely used products throughout the oil and gas industry.

Cleaning the Oil

So we have a safe and clean method of transporting our oil, thanks to pipeline pigs – but did you know that the oil itself needs to be “cleaned” as well?

The oil that we extract from the ground is not immediately ready for use – obviously. Among other processes that need to be carried out in order to make this natural product usable for the purposes we need, it needs to be cleaned.

In this case, the term “cleaned” refers to the oil being separated from other liquid and gaseous substances that may be mixed in with it. For this, a separator is used.

Oil and Gas Separators

These separators typically work to separate oil, gas, and water from one another in a set of stages to ensure the best and cleanest separation possible.

They can also be referred to as degassers (which are separators designed to remove contaminated gas bubbles from a liquid stream) or deliquilizers (which are separators used to remove dispersed droplets from a bulk gas stream).

Without these separators, we would have no way to bring the oil to a pure and usable state.

Keeping It Clean

As you can see, without these oilfield specific cleaning products keeping the pipeline equipment maintained and the oil pure, the industry would not be able to satisfy the consistently growing demand for oil related products and services – especially not in a safe and efficient manner.

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Vertical Oil Wells Are Still Worth The Investment

 A drilling rig operates in Oklahoma's Panhandle in 2005. Industry observers say it remains attractive for some oil and gas companies in the state to drill and produce vertical wells. [The Oklahoman Archives]

Oklahoma’s oil and gas operators haven’t completely abandoned drilling vertical, or “straight hole” wells, Corporation Commission records show.

It reported that 197 wells of the 1,003 completed in 2016 were straight hole wells.

Granted, that’s down from a recent high of 858 vertical wells permitted in 2011 and completed by June the following year, when that represented about 42 percent of the 2,082 that year.

But while an industry analyst and a driller are quick to agree that much of the media and general public focuses their attention now on horizontal drilling and production, they add that the tried and true process of drilling and producing vertical wells won’t become extinct anytime soon.

Russell Evans, an economics professor who directs the Steven C. Agee Economic Research & Policy Institute, regularly analyzes trends in the state’s oil and gas industry for trade groups and banking officials.

He said continued drilling and production of vertical wells is supported by three factors, based on information he’s encountered as part of his research.

The first, Evans said, is that he believes risks associated with vertical wells are diminishing in part through data collected as deeper, horizontal wells are drilled.

He said that often, mineral rights owners only sell rights to a resource being targeted by a horizontal well to the company seeking to exploit it. As part of that, they require the company to provide them detailed information on up-hole zones to improve their understanding on potential production from those.

Second, Evans said costs to drill vertical wells have been falling as drilling times have improved.

Third, he said data shows costs to lease mineral rights typically accessed by vertical wells are much less expensive than those for resources targeted by drillers in horizontal plays.

Those factors, he said, continue to make vertical wells attractive for some producers.

Other influences

Tom Gray, a principal of Raydon Exploration, said another reason vertical wells remain attractive is the potential return a producer can get from such projects.

Gray, whose firm is based in Oklahoma City but has most of its ongoing operations in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and southwest Kansas, noted the typical rate of return on a deep horizontal well usually is about $2 for every $1 it cost to drill and complete the project.

“In the conventional realm, we are going after traps of oil and gas, and we have a risk that’s higher,” Gray said. “But when we find those reservoirs, their quality is vastly better (than what horizontal shale wells produce).

“Because your return is better, it allows you to take some additional risk. To me, that’s the biggest difference.”

He also agreed that drilling and production costs are down outside of Oklahoma’s SCOOP and STACK plays, although he added that it sometimes can be more of a challenge to find talented drilling and completion firms in areas where activity hasn’t rebounded since 2014.

Gray agreed with Evans that oil and gas companies drilling vertical wells that target conventional reservoirs remain in Oklahoma’s future.

“The likelihood of finding a 10 (million) or 20 million barrel field in the conventional world is pretty small in Oklahoma because there has been so much drilling, historically,” Gray said.

“But there are lots of 500,000, 1 million, 2 million and 3 million barrel fields left to be found through vertical drilling,” he said.

“I think there will always be an appetite for that. And there is some pent-up capital willing and waiting to be deployed in the vertical realm.”

Looking to invest in Oil and Gas

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Jack Money

By Jack Money

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Is Natural Gas Vapor Recovery Profitable ?

 

Average Daily Recovery Rate of 70 MCF

Assume 2,000 BTU vapor at $8/MCF

Daily= 70 MCF ×2 (accounting for BTUs) ×$8/MCF = $1,120 daily

Monthly= $1,120/day ×30 days = $33,600 monthly

Annually= $33,600/month ×12 months = $403,200 annually

Is Recovery Profitable?

Financial Analysis for a Conventional VRU Project
Peak Capacity(Mcf/day) Installation & Capital Costs1 ($) O&M Costs ($/year) Value of Gas2 ($/year) Annual Savings ($) SimplePayback (months) Internal Rate of Return
25 $35,738 $7,367 $42,203 $34,836 13 94%
50 $46,073 $8,419 $84,406 $75,987 8 164%
100 $55,524 $10,103 $168,812 $158,709 5 286%
200 $74,425 $11,787 $337,625 $325,838 3 438%
500 $103,959 $16,839 $844,062 $827,223 2 796%
1 – Unit cost plus estimated installation of 75% of unit cost 2 – $9.25 x ½ peak capacity x 365, Assumed price includes Btu enriched gas (1.289 MMBtu/Mcf)

 

Vapor Recovery Units For Sale

http://oilpatchsurplus.com/ads/custom-built-natural-gas-vapor-recovery-units-vru-for-sale/

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Staying Relevant During a Oil Industry Down-Turn

When an industry is in a down-turn, companies start thinking of ways to save money.  It comes with the territory.  All of us in the oil and gas industry are dealing with this right now.  The first budget cuts are usually made to advertising and marketing.  But did you know that cutting back on advertising is actually one of the worst things you can do for your company?

Sure, you’re saving money in the short-term, but it’s not benefiting you in the long run.  Just because an industry is in a down-turn, doesn’t mean that consumers magically disappear and go away.  They’re still there and they’re more selective than ever.  They’re going to be looking for alternative companies to do business with as companies are closing their doors and going out of business.  The oil and gas industry is slowing, but it’s not stopping.  The existing wells and rigs are still going to need parts, supplies and services.

The consumers are going to be shopping around and looking for ways to save money.  It’s in your best interest to keep your name in front of the consumer!  You’ll want to stand out from the competition.  Do you want to be remembered or forgotten?

When the industry does turn back around, who will the consumer be more likely to buy from?  YOU!  Because you never went away.

The wonderful thing about Don’s Directory is that we make it possible for you to save money while still keeping your name out there.  We offer advertising options that aren’t going to “break you” and spend your entire budget in one shot.  We are the cost-efficient way for your company to stay relevant.  For more information on our advertising options, please visit our website at www.donsdirectory.com.

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Texas Allocates $4.47M to Seismic Monitoring Program

Texas Allocates $4.47M to Seismic Monitoring Program

“This program will set a much better baseline for Texas seismicity,” Dr. Scott Tinker, state geologist of Texas, said.

By Jennifer Delony

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June signed legislation that authorized $4.47 million in funding for the TexNet seismic monitoring program, which will be led by the Bureau of Economic Geology – State Geologic Survey of Texas – at University of Texas at Austin.

“This program will set a much better baseline for Texas seismicity,” Dr. Scott Tinker, state geologist of Texas and director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, told Oilman on June 24. “Understanding Texas base level seismicity can help in many ways not just related to disposal of fluids from oil and gas wells; we have a lot that goes on in Texas – industrial as well as natural.”

According to Tinker, the program will help Texas lead a national response to growing concern over increases in seismic activity.

“We are forming a research team with different expertise at University of Texas, and we’ll collaborate with other universities, including Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M, and Stanford University, as well as with other states,” he said.

The TexNet program will include the purchase and installation of 22 new permanent seismometers in Texas to add to the 16 seismometers currently installed throughout the state.

“We’ll decide what types of permanent seismometers we want this summer, and we’ll open that up for public bid, and by mid to late fall we will begin to deploy them on a station-by-station basis throughout Texas,” he said. “That also will require permitting with landowners because they will be in place for a long time.”

Deployment of the permanent arrays will continue throughout 2016, Tinker added.

During deployment, Tinker said the team will make sure that data collected from the arrays meet the protocols established by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

The TexNet program also will include the purchase and deployment of 36 portable seismometers.

“This summer we will also begin to decide what types of portable arrays we want, put that out for public bid, and then begin to acquire them,” Tinker said. “We will probably have those arrays staged in three facilities that the Bureau of Economic Geology has across Texas – in Midland, Austin and Houston – so that they are accessible to different parts of the state.”

When and how the portable arrays are deployed will be determined by seismic events, he said, adding that an advisory committee and technical group will decide whether new seismic events can be explained by natural causes and whether those events warrant deployment of portable arrays in order to pinpoint the event by geographic location and by depth.

Data from the permanent arrays will be available to the public.

“We’re hoping that local schools and libraries will get excited about knowing what is going on seismically in their areas,” he said.

Data obtained from the portable arrays relating to specific seismic events will be studied by the TexNet group and released to the public on a case-by-case basis.

“The exciting thing about this program is that it has brought industry, government, universities and even NGOs together around the topic of seismicity,” Tinker said. “They are engaged in understanding this problem better.”

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A North Dakota Oil Boom Goes Bust

A North Dakota Oil Boom Goes Bust

The Atlantic

In a field of brittle yellow grass and clotted mud about five miles north of Dickinson, North Dakota, stands a cemetery of sorts. Drilling rigs stretch into the sky like tall skeletons. The occasional lone truck rattles along a dirt road. Otherwise, the location is deserted.

Similar graveyards have been popping up across the western half of the state since the price of oil sharply declined last fall. These once-great moneymakers that drew thousands to the state are now idle, or “stacked,” in the lingo of the oil fields. As more and more companies have stopped drilling following the decline in the price of oil last year, the term has become all too familiar.

During the good times, jobs were plentiful and businesses prospered. High-school graduates earned six-figure salaries in the oil fields, and cash flowed into the hands of those lucky enough to own the mineral rights to land rich with oil. North Dakota’s sudden success coincided with an economic slump in the rest of the country; job seekers rushed to the state fleeing hard times. For seven straight years, North Dakota boasted the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Early this year, it slipped from that coveted spot.

Though many native North Dakotans remembered the oil bust in the late 1980s, this time it was easy to believe that the boom would last. “Your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be working in the Bakken,” Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said in October. Just over a year ago, North Dakota was producing more than one million barrels of oil per day, more than any state but Texas. This time around, it seemed, things would be different.

But as soon as the price of oil dropped late last year, things began to unravel, and rigs started to close. Of the 192 drilling rigs active in April of 2014, just 94 were open one year later.

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Two pumpjacks pull oil from the ground in western North Dakota. (Mara Van Ells)

Charlie Cogdill, an agent for Halliburton, has been through four oil busts over the course of his career. He describes drilling as “the tip of the spear,” the first part of the industry to be affected by the slowdown. A downturn in oil prices produces a ripple effect that spreads from drilling to fracking, from the workers on the rigs to the small communities where those workers live.

What will happen to those who uprooted themselves and their families to move here? What will happen to the towns that suddenly flourished? What will happen to those who pinned their dreams on the North Dakota oil boom?

​* * *

Early this spring, 16 miles east of a town called Watford City, Dallas Lawrey watched from his trailer as one of his last drilling rigs was taken apart piece by piece.

The bust hit the drilling industry the hardest. As more and more drilling rigs stack, more and more men like Lawrey worry that they won’t be able to hang onto their jobs.

At high noon, the rig buzzed with activity. Men wearing steel-toed boots, clear safety goggles, and mud-splattered hard hats were everywhere, driving trucks and moving machinery. A team hosed down and cleaned the rig before it was stacked as an extra safety consultant watched to ensure protocol was followed while the rig was disassembled. Just beside a dirty, frayed American flag, another flag—a white one, bearing the name of the drilling company Nabors—flapped in the wind. The crew took down the flag of XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobile, after they learned the company was idling the rig.

Lawrey, a long-time resident of Dickinson, North Dakota, worked in the oil fields most of his adult life and is the main provider for his family. His wife, Sara, works as a secretary for the private Catholic elementary school his two youngest children attend, earning them discounted tuition but little else. The family moved into a spacious new home five years ago, which they have yet to finish paying off. Lawrey recently bought Sara a “spendy” new Suburban.

For the past five years, Lawrey worked for XTO Energy as a drilling consultant. “I think they’re going to keep me on,” Lawrey said in March. But that’s not how things shook out. Lawrey worked his last day for the company on April 21. He is now working full-time for a friend’s excavating company. “I’m kind of enjoying the break from the oil field, to be honest,” he says.

​* * *

Although drillers and their supervisors are the ones most affected by the slowdown, the livelihoods of those who sell equipment to the oil field have also diminished in recent months.

Jesse Kilwein, 27, is one of those workers. On behalf of Little Dog, LLC, he sells the tools that drillers use to break apart rock formations. In 2012, Little Dog serviced 68 rigs. By March, that was down to 25 rigs and Kilwein’s boss, Charlie Cogdill, expected that number to keep falling, and it did. Before the slowdown, Kilwein and two other full-time salesmen would each work with five or six different drilling companies every day. Little Dog has so few rigs left to service now that Kilwein and his co-worker Zach Schlabsz make their rounds together. The staff has shrunk significantly as of late—the other full-time salesman, two shop hands, and a secretary have left the company or been laid off.

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Jesse Kilwein and Zach Schlabsz, salesmen for Little Dog, LLC, unload a drill bit, the equipment that helps drillers break apart rock formations. (Mara Van Ells)

Cogdill gave the two employees he laid off a month’s severance and told them to find another job while they still could. “Having been through this before, I know how it goes,” he said. “What I told them was, ‘I can keep you on for two, three more months but, in the end, this is going to happen.’”

Both Kilwein and Schlabsz are anxious about the slowdown. With fewer rigs to service, salesmen who are paid commission make less money. And both men have young families to support. Kilwein’s wife, Kayla, gave birth to the couple’s second daughter earlier this month. The couple had been hoping to buy a house, but that now seems out of reach. “We are constantly looking,” Kilwein says. “With the market the way it is, it’s hard to find the right place for the right price right now.”

The slowdown has spread to the oil-production side as well. Although not seriously affected yet, production companies are taking steps to save money. Jesse Crone is the regional manager of Extreme Energy Services, one such company. Crone’s team has already taken one pay cut, and he’s laid off two people. “Every week you see more and more rigs coming out of the field,” he says. “I’ve been taking pay cuts myself.”

Crone has worked in the oil industry for 10 years and remembers when work slowed temporarily in 2008. “When times are good in the oil field, no one ever thinks about the slowdown. But the slowdown’s [always] just around the corner,” he says. “It’s either feast or famine,” his wife, Chelsey, adds.

​* * *

The promise of steady work lured the Air family—Clint, Jamaica, and their children—to Dakota territory.

They came from Apple Valley, a town of 70,000 people, considered small by the standards of Southern California. When the housing market crashed in 2006, Clint’s eight-year-old surveying business collapsed. “There was no work,” he says. “It was horrible.” Clint worked in Australia for a year but wasn’t able to obtain long-term visas for the whole family. When they returned to California, in 2008, the economy was still in a slump. Jamaica worked at a vacuum store owned by some of their friends. The couple started a side business slaughtering rabbits and shipping them to restaurants, which brought in an extra $600 a month. Still, they were barely making ends meet.

Then, the Airs’ luck changed. A headhunter recruited Clint to be a surveyor in North Dakota for a Texas-based company. He moved to Dickinson in June 2013 and Jamaica brought the kids out in August.

During the economic downturn back in Apple Valley, Clint says, a part-time, minimum-wage opening at a McDonald’s would bring in a long line of applicants. But during the boom in western North Dakota, fast-food chains, desperate for workers, paid above minimum wage and offered hiring bonuses to potential employees.

Prior to the slowdown, Clint managed five crews of two people each, most of whom were from Texas. Many of the crew members have since been laid off, although a few of them were able to return to projects in Texas. By March, Clint was working on his own, and the four trucks that belonged to his crews—each containing about $100,000 of surveying equipment—were parked outside his home. Since then, one crew has returned to North Dakota, but the others remain out of state.

The Airs had always thought North Dakota would be a temporary home, but not this temporary. They had originally planned to stay and save money until their son, Destin, now an eighth-grader, graduated from high school, and then they’d move to Oregon or Washington. But after experiencing the steep cost of living firsthand, the family had resolved to leave after the current school year if the rents didn’t drop. Since the rents did drop, the Airs will be staying in Dickinson for the time being.

The Airs are planning to stay put for now, but some families can’t manage that degree of stability. The district has lost 120 students over the course of the year, a 3.4 percent decrease, according to Vince Reep, the assistant superintendent of Dickinson’s public-school system. The loss is in sharp contrast to the steady influx of young students the schools saw for two years prior. “We grew by over 500, nearly 600 children in two years,” Reep says.

The departing children and families left empty homes behind. Dave Bauer, who manages 700 apartments, garages, and houses in Dickinson says that in September of last year, he had barely any vacancies. Then in October, he began receiving notices from residents saying they were leaving the state for reasons related to the oil slowdown. This spring, the vacancies piled up.

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Recently, the price of oil has crept slowly upward, but it has stagnated at around $60 per barrel. The improvement is enough to inspire a sliver of hope but isn’t enough for drilling to ramp up again in again earnest.

“It’s the first to fall and the last to come back up,” Cogdill, of Little Dog, says. “Unfortunately, we’ve fallen a little farther than I thought we would,” he says.

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New apartments in Dickinson, N.D., that were built to house the influx of people working in the oil field now advertise openings. (Mara Van Ells)

Some are hopeful that oil production will rebound, but Cogdill predicts that drilling won’t bounce back for at least two or three years, even if the cost of oil shoots upward. For one thing, it would take time for drilling to ramp back up after the rigs have been stacked and crews have been laid off. In any case, he believes production would need to fall significantly in the United States before the price of oil would increase and new drilling would start up again.

These are just Cogdill’s predictions. As to what will actually happen to the industry: “I don’t know. Nobody really knows,” he says.

 

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