With everything slowing down in the housing industry, and a lot of house-well drillers very short on work, a lot of people (myself included) have had to turn to alternatives to keep busy and make a living. So far this year, I have been to Poland, which was very interesting, but not very productive; I have been to the Marcellus Shale play both as a consultant and as a teacher; and now I am in the Bakken Shale play out West in the Williston Basin, supervising fishing operations for one of the biggest service companies in the world.

One thing I can say about the current boom in shale drilling: I haven’t seen a boom like this in 30 years, and I’m glad to be alive to see this one. The Marcellus in Pennsylvania is going great guns, and there is a developing infrastructure to support it. Jobs are plentiful, and living conditions generally are good. The specialty jobs still are being filled by hands from the more traditional oilfields, but training locals is coming along nicely.

With the economy in the shape it’s in, and the severe downturn in new housing, a lot of house-well drillers are having a very bad year. Drilling is down, service is on an emergency-only basis, the guy down the road is cutting his prices to keep his rig working, and the supply house increases the price every time you buy something. It’s hard to make payroll when the rig is in the yard.

Since our industry is a tight-knit group with many family-owned-and-operated businesses, it is not uncommon to see second-, third- and even fourth-generation drillers in the same company. It has occurred to me that multi-generational drilling companies may be able to take advantage of this situation.

Suppose you are a father-and-son drilling company, and there is not enough work to make a check for everyone. If I were in that situation, I’ll tell you what I would do: I’d send my son to the oilfield, at least until the next election. He could learn very important techniques and methods that would benefit the company when he comes home, have an adventure, and make a good check while he’s doing it. To the father: When you get him back, you will have a seasoned hand with a better skill-set than when you sent him off, and you don’t have to feed him. To the son: This might be the biggest adventure of your life, next to the military. You are going to have to man-up, put on your big-girl panties, and take care of yourself. Momma won’t be there to cook for you or mend your boo-boos. The good part is that you will bring home a check bigger than Daddy could ever pay you.

If you want a challenge and fairly easy conditions, go to the Marcellus. The infrastructure is there, and conditions are pretty good. The drilling is easy, and not too deep. Rig moves are kinda tricky because of the terrain and the fine Pennsylvania highway system, but most distances aren’t too bad.

If you really want to man-up and work on the cutting-edge of drilling technology, come to the Bakken. You can learn more and make more money than anywhere in the world right now. Entry-level positions are around $80,000 a year, if you are willing to work. And since there isn’t much else to do, work is all that is here. Housing is pretty much non-existent, so make sure you have a place to stay when you go or bring your own house. This might be the time to borrow Dad’s motorhome. You can do anything you are interested in. The unemployment rate is lowest in the United States, and anybody who wants a job can have his pick. Heck, even my idiot brother Willard has a job.

Weather conditions can be a mite tough. Winters get to -40 degrees F, with 30 inches to 40 inches of snow per year and frequent white-outs, but if you can handle it, no problem. Bring most of what you need with you; this is an empty area. It’s possible to drive 100 miles without seeing a tree, and the only thing between here and the North Pole is a barbed wire fence, and half of it is down. There is an occasional Wal-Mart, but be prepared to drive a while to get there.

The drilling industry is crying for hands, and this might be the perfect opportunity for a young man (or woman, the ratio here is 60% men to 40% women). If you are a woman, you can have your pick of jobs and fine young roughnecks with good checks. Just sayin’.

Something to think about while you are waiting for the housing market to pick up. If you are interested, send me an e-mail, I’ll try to hook you up.