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Oil ministry job fair draws hundreds

More than 500 job seekers turned to the Rock the Oilfield Job and Resource Event in Midland on Friday, an event organized by local Christian groups in hopes of offering relief to workers displaced by the oil bust.

Attendees offered accounts of the human toll wrought by the economic downturn driven by the region’s premier industry. One couple, Kurt and Jennifer Rogers, said they drove all the way from the Fort Worth area to attend the event.

“We traveled four hours, but hey, it’s worth it,” Kurt Rogers said. “You’ve got to do something.”

Both were living in the Bakersfield, Calif., area when they suffered layoffs from their oilfield jobs five months ago. Kurt Rogers had been a production manager at Occidental Petroleum with decades of experience. Jennifer Rogers had worked in the oilfield construction business.

“The work’s dried up,” Kurt Rogers said. “There’s nothing.”

And they said their layoffs came within a day of each other. Ultimately, they decided to rent their home and move to Texas, where they hoped to fare better.

But even as the Permian Basin continues to draw industry activity, regional oil prices hovering below $40 per barrel continue to hamper oil companies’ ambitions — as of Friday, only 225 drilled in the region, fewer than half the amount active at this time last year — and layoffs continue.

Still, on Friday, the Rogers couple said they left with a few leads from the job fair, at the Rock the Desert complex on FM 1788.

Related: Ministry connects workers, jobs

Organizers of the event with First Baptist Church of Odessa’s oilfield ministry and the local chapter of the Oilfield Christian Fellowship said they reached out to some 30 companies to attend the job fair. Fewer showed up, and most were not representatives of oil and gas companies, save for a few exceptions.

The volume of attendees, on the other hand, came as a surprise.

“I didn’t expect to see a bust this quick or this severe,” said Jesse Gore, the self-identified “boom pastor” with First Baptist. “I think for the most part, it catches people off guard when it drops, the price of oil.”

Ben Grimes, an operations manager at one of the oilfield companies that came to the job fair, Midland-based BTA Oil Producers, estimated taking about 100 applications for an open position for work as a pumper in Glasscock County. Some were overqualified, some were just qualified, and others were not, Grimes said.

“It tells me a lot of people just got laid off,” Grimes said, noting a wave of former employees from oilfield services companies including Baker Hughes and Halliburton. “It’s been a rough two or three months.”

Representatives of another oilfield company, Andrews-based Ervin Well Site Consultants, met with dozens of job seekers.

“We’re taking resumes,” said Eddie Veretto, a sales manager for the company. “We don’t have demand for consultants right now, but you never know when the phone is going to ring.”

In the meantime, Veretto said the main short-term benefit they hoped to offer attendees was spiritual support.

Indeed, part of the reason the groups organized the event was to offer ministry and spiritual support, said Damian Barrett, a reservoir engineer with Energen Corporation who serves as director of the Oilfield Christian Fellowship.

Attendees gathered in a room of the Rock the Desert skate park to watch a three-minute video preaching the gospel and tailored to energy workers. Organizers also handed out “God’s Word for the Oil Patch: Fuel for the Soul” Bibles.

“Now, we want to help people, too, with jobs,” Barrett said. “But that’s important, too.”

Related: Permian producers buck the trend

There were representatives of employers like H-E-B, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, who struggled to fill vacant positions when the oil boom was in full swing. A representative of the heavy equipment company Warren CAT also met with prospective applicants.

Some attendees suffered layoffs outside of the oilfield industry, like Midlander Steven Valles, who said he lost his IT job at My Community Federal Credit Union.

“I’m assuming because of the oil,” Valles said about his job loss. “Credit unions are based on loans. You don’t make loans, you don’t make money.”

Valles said he lost his job within the last few weeks, and luckily, had refinanced his home just before. He said he was considering a career change, maybe to selling insurance. Someone who works with an insurance company overheard him, and then they went to talk about a job.

Liza Jimenez sought to inspire people to pursue the same path she did when she was laid off from her job in human resources at SandRidge Energy this spring. Jimenez went to Medical Center Hospital for pay she said was comparable and now works as a recruiter.

On Friday, Jimenez said the hospital has more than 100 positions open and many that do not require a specialized degree like nursing does.

“Yes, oil and gas is great — that’s why we are all here,” said Jimenez, who gave out all of her 150 business cards. “But when times get hard, we all feel it. But Medical Center Hospital, or any type of position in the medical field really, you are always going to be guaranteed work.”

Gore said he went through a similar ordeal in the 1980s after he lost an oilfield job. Afterwards, Gore started working for a predecessor of Oncor Electric Delivery, a career he would maintain for 20 years.

“That’s what we foresee some of these people are going to have to do,” Gore said.

This article was written by Corey Paul from Odessa American, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.