WILLISTON, N.D. — As oil prices remain perilously low and even the biggest of the Bakken companies succumb to layoffs, city commissioners are working toward the elimination of crew camps.
While it’s an issue that has much of the city wondering about the impact on rents, it has left the halls of Target Logistics altogether somber.
Oilfield workers and Target Logistics employees silently go about their day, wondering what the eventual riddance of temporary housing means for their livelihood.
In the early hours of the morning, the oilfield crew is finishing its shift sat down for a quick bite. Finishing a plate of eggs and fruit, hydraulic fracker, Jay Huntz, sits alone in front of the cafeteria TV.
“Man camps are nice,” Huntz said as he sipped on his coffee. “We work 16 to 18 hour days. We can come in, get something to eat, throw your dishes in the sink and get yourself a little bit of sleep. It makes life a little bit easier.”
Developers, hoteliers, crew camp operators, and city officials have held separate meetings to discuss the future of crew camps in Williston. Mayor Howard Klug said developers may have had closed meetings if they chose to do so, but some developers have sat in on meetings meant for the crew camp operators.
“At no time did I say they were private meetings,” Klug told the Williston Herald. “I didn’t see any point in asking anyone to leave.”
With apartments, hotels, and housing overbuilt in the wake of the slowdown, developers have been pushing to close crew camps in hopes it would boost their occupancy rates. Hoteliers have also felt the effects of the slowdown and sit at an average 55 percent occupancy rate, according to numbers provided by CVB Director Amy Krueger.
While many developers have been lobbying for their cause, other members of the business community feel the decision isn’t just about eliminating crew camps but wronging the concept of the free market itself.
Due to the nomadic lifestyle of oil workers, they can be at a rig site one week and relocated to another the following week. Few workers say they are looking to make that kind of commitment to an area due to the uncertainty of where the work comes from.
“From our perspective, we don’t believe they will flock into town to stay in an apartment,” said Target Logistics Regional Vice President Travis Kelley. “They are very temporary in nature.”
As to the argument that suggests companies should work out housing arrangements with existing apartment facilities, Kelley says companies like his are in a unique position.
“Target Logistics has set themselves apart from others in the community,” Kelley said. “We fit a niche that can’t be served by hotels or by apartments. We serve the service industry and our client list is exclusive to big industry players. You can’t walk in and get a room for the night.”
And from the oil field workers’ point of view, apartments often require a commitment many simply can’t make.
“(Oil companies) give us a housing allowance, the only trouble is you have to sign a year lease and if you quit you’re stuck footing the bill,” Huntz said. “That would make it very difficult for a lot of guys. I imagine this is cheaper for the big oil companies to house us than giving everyone a housing allowance.”
For fellow fracker Ben Smith, closing the crew camps would be a deal-breaker.
“I wouldn’t stay to be honest,” Smith said. “If they get rid of this, it’s time to go home.
“Why would (companies) want to pay for your housing when they are cutting costs everywhere else? I can’t see them paying our rent and giving us the $500 per diem when they’ve cut it because they couldn’t afford it before,” Smith continued. “It states in the contract that they only way out of a lease is if you’re laid off so you know what the companies would do would be to just cut the housing allowance. So you would be stuck with a lease but then someone is still making money on the housing.”
Another benefit of crew camps, Smith contended, is that they’re actually safer.
“This place is secure but outside, there are drugs and crime,” Smith said. “In an apartment you can do what you want.”
Target Logistics cook Corine Bilgar came from Romania 20 years ago in search of the American dream. On this day, she’s nervously fills the salad bar with an air of concern on her face.
“I’m sorry, I’m a little stressed,” Bilgar said. “I don’t even want to think about it. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Information from: Williston Herald, http://www.willistonherald.com
This article was written by MELISSA KRAUSE from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.