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
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
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
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
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.
The World According to Wayne: How to Beat the Recession
October 1, 2011