To bring in the New Year, Shale Plays Media is counting down the days with a series looking back on the top stories we covered in 2014. So far, we have recapped the Keystone XL debate, the controversy surrounding oilfield waste disposal, and the various fracking bans, among others. Today, we’re revisiting some of the individuals working in the industry, as well as the people watching the changes.
Oil patch professions: Mudloggers
Chris Reece is 40 years old and a recent graduate of Adam State University, a smaller four year school in Alamosa, Colorado. With a laugh he told me about how his grandma called him one day asking if he wanted to go to college, and he decided that’s exactly what he wanted to do. Reece began working for the oil fields when he was 18 years old as a roustabout, eventually becoming a roughneck. During that time, he always seemed fascinated by the mudloggers, saying he thought it looked like such a “cushy job.” When the oil business slackened in the 90s and companies began shutting down, he found other work, leaving the oil fields behind. Eventually, Reece came back to the industry, and when his grandma called, he realized he still wanted to become a mudlogger.
College football player to reservoir technologist
When Houston native Travis Davidson graduated from college, he had no intentions of working in the oil industry, but when presented with a job while being unemployed, it was too hard not to take it. Davidson attended Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) and graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. While attending MSUM, Davidson played on the school’s football team, worked full time at the School’s fitness center and was a certified personal trainer. It is obvious none of these activities or even his degree suggested Davidson would end up working in the oil fields, but that all changed when he moved back to Houston after graduation. Upon returning back to Houston, Davidson was presented with an opportunity to work as a reservoir technologist through a friend’s father-in-law. Davidson explained how the company was looking for entry level workers with no wife or children, and were willing to travel and spend time out on the road.
A passion for the Bakken: PR rep brings positivity to the field
Sometimes the oil and gas industry has difficulty finding positive voices. But two years ago, Jessica Sena brought it to the industry. “I saw the Bakken boom as something so enormously positive and exciting, especially for younger people like myself,” she said. And she is successfully becoming a voice for the positivity she sees in the industry through the Montana Petroleum Association (MPA) and Northern Oilfield Services, Inc. (NOSI). According to Sena, “working as an independent communications director and consultant for both an industry association and a small oilfield service company is a dream come true.” Sena didn’t realize how passionate she was about the industry until relatively recently. She grew up in Montana and Nebraska, and started her college career at Nebraska Wesleyan University. But before she finished, she decided to come back north to finish her degree through Dickinson State University. She made the drive from Grassy Butte every day, an hour drive each way, and finally graduated in 2009 with a Communications and Public Relations degree. But in 2009, there wasn’t much economic development. The boom hadn’t really exploded yet.
Oil patch professions: Roustabouts
“Before I came to North Dakota, I was a struggling actor in Hollywood, so to give my family an opportunity for a better life, I came to work as a roustabout.” Billy Joe Brewer called a friend of a friend, who agreed to give him a shot, and he drove from California to the Bakken oil fields. A job in the oil fields is often a second chance, and the employment ratio of roustabouts in North Dakota is much higher than the national average, drawing people nationwide into the oil and gas industry. Roustabout is the entry-level position in the industry, and those who fill the position are usually valued for strength over skill. Whether working on or offshore, roustabouts are assigned a wide variety of physically demanding tasks and are the bottom of the (oil) barrel in the chain of command. Roustabout was even ranked the worst job in the U.S. in 2011. Yet in 2014, people are still flocking to the oil fields seeking employment. So what is drawing them in? Brewer came for the opportunity for a stable income, something many roustabouts say is the biggest draw. In North Dakota, the mean wage is about $44,000 each year, or about $21 per hour. While workers in the Bakken shale play tend to be paid the highest in the lower 48 states, the lowest average salary is still over $27,000 a year (about $13 per hour).
Online magazine documents cultural shift in the Bakken
Despite the changing face of rural western North Dakota, some things remain the same. Reminiscent of the days of staking land claims and weathering the brutal winters, residents of the Bakken region are maintaining their resiliency and work ethic amidst the shift from farming to drilling. While some have moved here to capitalize on the high wages and available jobs, others are taking it upon themselves to document the growth of the area and to tell the stories of the people making it their home. One such person is Chad Ziemendorf, creator of the Intersection Journal, an online photo essay blog that combines photography and story-telling to paint a portrait of the shifting landscape and lifestyle, particularly in Watford City, North Dakota. “The Intersection Journal is a metaphor on many different levels,” says Ziemendorf. Watford City is the literal crossing where oil and gas operations merge, he says. “You can’t go from one side of the oil field to the other without travelling through Watford City. It’s where Williston comes into contact with Dickinson, New Town, and the east side [of the Bakken formation]. They all have to come through there,” he said.
A Diamond in the rough(neck)
61-year-old Carla Restivo isn’t too worried about abiding by the stereotypical norms associated with today’s workforce society, but rather shattering them completely. In a profession dominated by men, and I mean dominated – 95 percent to be exact – Restivo is just one of a few women “roughnecking” it in the oil fields. Restivo has been roughing it with the boys for parts of 20 years, going through various boom-and-bust periods since 1976. While Restivo’s business card may read “fluid technician,” let’s not kid ourselves, she’s a mud-pumper–and a darn good one at that. Mud pumpers, I mean, “Fluid technicians,” such as Restivo help monitor and manage the type of mud that’s used in different phases of the drilling process.
Two women from the Texas energy industry pay no mind to men’s club rhetoric
Historically, there has been a huge deficiency of women in top corporate positions in the United States. But in Houston, two of the highest-ranking female executives from the booming energy industry are inevitable cracks within the glass ceiling. In a recent Fortune Magazine list, Meg Gentle, the senior vice president of marketing for Cheniere Energy Inc., ranked fourth in the top 25 highest-paid female executives at publicly traded companies. At 39 years of age, Gentle has climbed far in the world of business. Prior to joining Cheniere Energy, Gentle spent eight years in energy market development, economic evaluation and long-range planning. She earned her B.A in Economics and International Affairs from James Madison University in 1996 and a M.B.A. from Rice University in 2004.
Diana Frazier talks the talk about women and oil
Diana Frazier, the president of the Women’s Energy Network in North Texas, is spreading the word about women working in the oil and gas industry. Frazier is a landman and the vice president at Holland Services in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Being a landman, Frazier is in charge of securing leases and titles for the minerals so oil and gas companies can begin exploration and production. The Texas Christian University graduate expressed her love for her job and the industry: “I truly fell in love with oil and gas … It’s something that’s so important to America to relieve our dependence on foreign hydrocarbons. To be able to be a part of bringing things back to America, using American goods and providing American jobs is very important to me.”