WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Worker accommodations in North Dakota’s oil patch can be rough: men sleep in tiny trailers with boarded windows, parked cars and overcrowded apartments. The barracks-style “man camps” might imply that roughness of life, too.
But for some big oil companies, as the boom matures beyond an insatiable rush for bodies and beds, a number of man camps resemble luxury versions of overseas military bases and function almost like hotels. Some of these high-end camps are self-contained communities with all-you-can-eat buffets, private quarters and housekeeping services that lay down fresh sheets and towels.
“These big oil companies have a lot of money and they just want it all done and taken care of,” said Barry Roman, founder of Reliant Asset Management, a firm involved in crew camp construction.
“Once a client comes in, they don’t have to leave again until it’s time to go to work,” said Nick Nelson, assistantmanager of Target Logistics’ 496-bed Bear Paw Lodge near Williston that offers a gym with workout machines and saunas, a store, pool tables and 24-hour dining hall.
Camps like this offer comfort and convenience for exhausted workers while also giving companies a degree of control over the workforce: security guards man the entrances and no booze or guests are allowed.
A military veteran, Nelson underlined the importance of little luxuries in otherwise harsh environments.
“Speaking as a guy who’s literally lived in a hole in the ground for months on end, people will put up with amazing amounts of discomfort in their jobs if they have good food,” Nelson said.
One recent night, the menu included seafood tortellini, fried pork cutlets and cheeseburger sliders. Or workers could grab hot dogs from a convenience store-style roller, make their own sandwiches from cold cuts or skip straight to homemade cookies or soft-serve ice cream.
Reliant has similar facilities in the oil patch. But Roman said while the level of comfort at traditional man camps has increased, the needs of some oil companies have also changed. As some companies move away from the model of flying in workers for short periods of time, they are also looking to cut out food catering costs and get more permanent housing with added privacy.
In Watford City, Reliant has built a hybrid man camp of sorts comprised of prefab cabins that looks like a small subdivision but still operates like a traditional camp with furnished rooms, housekeeping services and a degree of control over guests.
In many cabins, several bedrooms share a living room, kitchen and gas grill. While it is still primarily shared accommodations, it offers a level of privacy and feels much more like a home than the long metal hallways of a traditional man camp.
“It’s not just shoving people into beds anymore,” said Shawn Duby, who manages the facility. “It’s kind of nice to come home and sit on your own couch, compared to the recreation room with 50 other guys.”