Mysterious Death Uncovers Risk In Federal Oil Field Rules

On a cold night in January 2012, Dustin Bergsing climbed on top of a crude oil storage tank in North Dakota's Bakken oil field. His job was to open the hatch on top and drop a rope inside to measure the level of oil. But just after midnight, a co-worker found him dead, slumped next to the open hatch.

Even though an autopsy showed Bergsing had hydrocarbons in his blood — things like benzene and butane — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's investigation found no safety violations. And it didn't fine the oil company.

Reporter Mike Soraghan came across Bergsing's case while researching oil field fatalities for EnergyWire, an online business publication.

"A 21-year-old kid just sort of dies out in the middle of nowhere and nothing happens?" Soraghan says. "I just remember reading through it and thinking, 'That's it?' "

With the help of Dr. Bob Harrison, who specializes in occupational and environmental medicine, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a pattern was uncovered: nine oil workers found dead on oil pads in the past six years, many of them young and otherwise healthy.

Based on Bergsing's autopsy, Harrison believes they passed out after they opened oil-tank hatches and were engulfed in large amounts of petroleum gases.

"It was one of those aha moments that I have every so often in my career as a doctor treating patients with toxic-chemical exposures," he says.

Families of at least six of the deceased are suing their employers. Since last year, NIOSH has warned the industry about the hazard, but exposure continues — in part because another federal agency's rules make it difficult to use safer measurement methods.

The Bureau of Land Management is in charge of oil development on federal land, and critics say the agency is wary of technology that might not be as accurate as putting guys on top of tanks to measure oil by hand. There's public money at stake — royalties that are paid by the oil companies on the exact amount of oil coming out of the ground.

"If it's a public asset, then the taxpayer deserves to have their money, their assets protected," says Steve Wells, who oversees oil production for the agency.

And since 1989 — the last time the rules were updated — the industry practice for protecting those assets is to measure them manually by dropping a rope into the tank, as Dustin Bergsing did when he died.

The agency is updating those rules this year, but Wells won't say whether the new rules will allow automated oil measurement. One thing the rules definitely won't do is ban measuring oil levels by hand.

"You have some very old facilities, very simple tanks, so the idea is that we're trying to accommodate all the different operations," Wells said. And with 83,000 oil wells on federal land and a $2,000-per-tank cost for automatic measurement equipment, Wells said requiring such an upgrade would cause some companies to shut down.

Truck driver Ryan Ehlis makes his living hauling crude oil in North Dakota, and has some firsthand experience with the dangerous fumes. Like Dustin Bergsing, he spends a lot of time climbing atop large oil-storage tanks and opening their hatches to measure the oil.

He says he tries to avoid the gases, but just the day before, he'd had a dizzy spell after climbing back down from one of the tanks.

"If there's gas in your face, kind of hold your breath and then get your gauge and then step away and get into the fresh air and [take a deep breath] — and then go do something again," he says. "But you can't avoid it entirely."

That's needless, nonsensical exposure, says Dennis Schmitz, an oil and gas safety trainer. Automatic measurement is common in Canada and in the offshore oil and gas industry, which isn't regulated by the Bureau of Land Management. In fact, Schmitz used such equipment on tanker ships.

"And I never really questioned, 'Why is it in the offshore environment that I don't breathe the vapors there, and I do breathe them here?' " he says.

Ehlis says he has thought about getting a safer job — particularly after seeing a truck on an oil-well pad explode into "nothing but a huge orange fireball probably 50 feet in the air" — but that nothing in the area pays as well.

So Ehlis keeps driving, keeps climbing oil tanks and opening their hatches, keeps lowering a rope into the tank to measure the level.

This story was produced by Inside Energy, a public media collaboration focused on America's energy issues. Contact reporter Emily Guerin at

Declining U.S. oil and gas rigs forecast job pain

Oil and gas prices remain at rock-bottom, and the job impacts are growing. Bureau of Labor Statistics data report that employment in oil and gas extraction and support activities in the country has contracted by 18 percent over the past year alone.

Oil and gas extraction alone has lost 15,700 jobs nationally while support activities for the mining subsector, which also includes establishments providing support services for the extraction of oil and gas, has lost close to 100,000 jobs since January 2015.

Now a more telling indicator, the number of oil and natural gas drilling rigs in active use across the country, is foretelling much worse employment carnage in energy states.

Lower prices mean oil and gas producers have less capital to invest in exploration and production, which means in turn that they employ fewer rigs. Since local employment in oil and gas states is more responsive to changes in rig counts than to oil prices directly, rig counts offer a revealing augury of employment trends.

What does the rig tally say? Oil field services company Baker Hughes reports that the number of U.S. oil and gas rigs plummeted from 1,811 in January 2015 to just 489 at the beginning of March—down by 73 percent. North Dakota’s March count was 80 percent lower than in January 2015, while Texas was down 73 percent.

By themselves, these figures are stark, but what makes them truly revealing is recent research that teases out the full short- and long-term employment impacts of rig operation and removal.

A study from Rice University has estimated that the employment impact of putting a drilling rig into service creates 37 jobs immediately and 224 jobs in the long run, once all the relevant multipliers are factored in beginning with oil service company hiring, machinery and fabricated metal work, engineering, and management employment and ending with grocery store and pharmacy spending. Another study has found that the removal of an active rig eliminates 28 jobs in the near-term and 171 jobs in the long run. If this holds true, then the loss of 1,322 working rigs since January 2015 has the potential to lead to the loss of anywhere between 226,000 to 296,000 drilling-related jobs over the long term.

However, the reduction in rig counts will impact oil and gas states differently, depending on the timing and pace of the drilling bust in each place. Of course, states with the largest rig decreases—Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota—will have the largest predicted declines in employment. Likewise, states with less diversified economies will feel the impact of rig declines most significantly. The table below shows the employment response (taking the average short- and long-term response from both studies) from the decline in rig counts from January 2015 up till now. The table also reports the long-term job losses as a percentage of total private sector employment in each state at the end of 2015.

Although Texas shows the largest decline in jobs, the employment impact is more intense in states like North Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico where the oil and gas industry is a larger share of the economy (see map). By contrast, the employment impact of the declining rigs is muted by a more diversified economic base in Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

These data and the varied impacts they depict underscore the volatility of resource economies and the importance of states pursuing policies that prioritize economic diversification. Diversification—and good management—are critical when states play in the boom-and-bust dynamics of resource extraction. Next month we’ll release a report from Metro that advances one idea through which states can manage unconventional oil and gas development through strategic management of fracking-related revenues.

Osborne Supports Oil, Gas Industry with Tax Cuts

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has announced significant tax cuts to help “one of the most important and valued industries” in the country in his Budget speech Wednesday. The measures include halving the Supplementary Charge on oil and gas and the effective scrapping of Petroleum Revenue Tax.

“The oil and gas industry employs hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland and around our country. In my Budget a year ago I made major reductions to their taxes but the oil price has continued to fall so we need to act now for the long term,” he said.

“I am today cutting in half the Supplementary Charge on oil and gas from 20 percent to 10 percent, and I am effectively abolishing Petroleum Revenue Tax too, backing this key Scottish industry and supporting jobs right across Britain.”

Taking a swipe at Scottish Nationalists in his speech, Osborne said that the tax cuts, which will be backdated to be effective from Jan. 1, were only possible due to the fact that Scotland decided to stay in the UK.

“We are only able to provide this kind of support to our oil and gas industry because of the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom. None of this support would have been remotely affordable if in just eight days' time Scotland had broken away from the rest of the UK as the Nationalists wanted,” he said.

“Their own audit of Scotland's public finances confirmed that they would have struggled from the start with a fiscal crisis under the burden of the highest budget deficit in the Western World. Thankfully the Scottish people decided that we are better together in one United Kingdom."

Osborne’s tax relief for the oil and gas industry follows calls from the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce to make further tax cuts to lengthen the lifespan of the North Sea oil sector. Industry trade body Oil & Gas UK had also called for fiscal reform before the Budget and claimed that the UK oil and gas sector needed urgent tax reform in order to boost the industry’s competitiveness and investors’ confidence in the UK continental shelf. Osborne also provided a boost to businesses in general in the UK, including oilfield services firms, by cutting corporation tax by one percentage point to 17 percent.

Following Osborne’s comments, shares in British oil firms, including Cairn Energy plc, John Wood Group and Tullow Oil plc, extended gains and were up 2.7 to 3.6 percent.

A number of organizations associated with the oil and gas industry responded in the following ways to the latest tax cuts:  

“Today’s announcement does indeed mark further progress in modernising the tax regime for an increasingly mature basin. We welcome these measures as they will build on the industry’s achievements in improving efficiency in the face of low oil prices, boosting the sector’s competitiveness and helping to restore investor confidence. We will continue to work with the Treasury to complete its ‘Driving Investment’ plan to ensure that the fiscal regime reflects the business needs of a maturing basin and signals to global investors that the UK is truly open for business.” -Oil & Gas UK Chief Executive Deirdre Michie​​

“We asked the Chancellor for a minimum of 10 percent percentage point cut in the headline corporate tax rate for the oil and gas sector, as well as the zero-rating of Petroleum Revenue Tax. Today’s Budget announcement show that the Chancellor has listened to our members and made changes to the fiscal conditions to build confidence in a world class industry. We still have to examine the detail but it seems that our hard work has been successful in persuading the Government to deliver reforms that reflect the basin’s mature status. The first step is where all journeys begin, and the Government has made that step as part of what is hopefully a long-term strategy to ensuring that we have the most competitive tax environment in the world.” -Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce Research & Policy Director James Bream

“I’m pleased the Chancellor has caved to SNP pressure and has revised the level of tax for oil and gas companies but he has only cut the total amount of tax from 50 percent to 40 percent while cutting corporation tax for other companies to 17 percent. This is a missed opportunity and shows the Chancellor lacks the vision to bring forward a long-term strategy for the North Sea Oil and Gas industry and he has failed once again to introduce measures that would encourage exploration. The Chancellor has failed yet again to bring forward any proposals on non-fiscal support such as loan guarantees which would help sustain investment in the sector and help companies to protect jobs. The SNP government is committed to doing everything within its power to support the oil and gas industry during these challenging times through the Energy Jobs Taskforce - which includes £12 million ($16.9 million) in funding to help oil workers retrain in other fields - and an additional £379 million ($534 million) investment in the north east of Scotland. But while the Scottish Government has taken action the Chancellor has simply sat back and rested on his laurels so if there is one thing that is clear from today’s Budget, it’s that far more could have been done.” -Scottish National Party spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change Callum McCaig MP

“The reductions in headline tax rates for the oil and gas industry announced by the Chancellor, backdated to the start of 2016, are welcome and will help to create a more attractive fiscal framework for this strategically significant industry. In the medium to long term, this should make a positive contribution to the maximising economic recovery agenda for the UKCS. However the headline GBP 1 billion ($1.4 billion) of tax impact is the total over five years, with the relatively modest annual impact being a direct result of relatively low tax take... However, tax reductions in themselves can only ever be part of the solution, particularly in the short term when the prevailing market conditions are forcing the industry to address its operating models and cost base with significant collateral damage. Maximising production from UK oil and gas fields will only be achieved by reducing unit cost of production and driving through operator and supply chain efficiencies, no matter how painful these are. The industry must therefore continue to pursue sustainable cost reduction measures and new ways of working and collaborating, which will better position it to maximise the North Sea opportunity when the commodity price recovers.” -KPMG Aberdeen Senior Tax Partner Martin Findlay

"The tax cuts are a welcome development for the industry but the government's action may be a case of too little, too late for some companies. There is an ongoing need for the government to engage with industry on a proactive basis to mitigate the effects of a 'lower for longer' oil price." -Law firm Ashurst’s Energy Partner Michael Burns

"Oil and gas companies operating in the North Sea have been lobbying for substantial tax cuts to support their activities. It remains to be seen whether the reduction in the supplementary charge to 10 percent and the effective abolition of petroleum revenue tax with effect from 1 January 2016 will be enough." -Ashurt’s Tax Partner Nicholas Gardner

“Today’s announcement will go some way to support the North Sea oil and gas industry and reverse some of the cost challenges the government had previously levied. However, there is still a major risk that the industry will continue to lose talent, skills and expertise to other sectors. It remains to be seen if these tax cuts will protect or create jobs for the North Sea.” -Recruitment company Airswift’s CEO Peter Searle

“We welcome the Chancellor’s tax incentives for the North Sea announced in today’s Budget, which show a continued dedication to the viability of the region. Changes to the Petroleum Revenue Tax are welcome, though we see them as only benefitting the industry’s larger oil companies who are still operating the larger, more mature fields. The supplementary charge reduction will be more encompassing and while we would have rather seen it fully reduced to zero, we wholeheartedly welcome the decrease. The investment in further seismic surveys shows a confidence in the UKCS, although this will only have a longer-term impact on exploration and will not support the sector in the short term…At IO, we combine consulting and engineering expertise to take a holistic view of projects to ensure a positive FID. We look forward to working with the industry to provide certainty in the upstream sector and act as a catalyst for operators and contractors to collaborate for a brighter industry future. IO is working hard technically, commercially and financially to accelerate further developments in the North Sea.” -Chris Freeman, Director of Field Development, IO Oil & Gas Consulting Field Development Director Christ Freeman

Platform fire puts focus on company's use of Filipino workers

Platform fire puts focus on company's use of Filipino workers

The most seriously injured workers in Friday's oil platform fire in the Gulf of Mexico were Filipino guest laborers at a Galliano oilfield construction company.

Filipino workers have said they were recruited from their homeland with the lure of a fat paycheck and a better life. But they said they later found themselves living in substandard conditions, working far out in the Gulf, making only modest wages.

Grand Isle Shipyard's use of the foreign workers – along with the recruiting agencies that helped bring them to Louisiana – has been criticized for more than a year.

Those criticisms are outlined in a lawsuit that claims the company conduct “rises to the level” of human trafficking, involuntary servitude and forced-labor offenses.

The alleged practices already attracted the attention of the Embassy of the Philippines. Now, in light of last week's disaster, the company is under even more scrutiny.

"We need to know more details,” Jose L. Cusia Jr., the ambassador of the Philippines to the U.S., told Eyewitness News. “Their contracts for example, how were they brought to the U.S.?”

In November 2011, Grand Isle Shipyard and several recruiting agencies were named as defendants in a class action lawsuit that claims Filipinos were brought to Louisiana and forced to work in inhumane conditions.

Grand Isle Shipyard and the other defendants are trying to to dismiss the suit, saying the allegations are false. The companies noted in court filings that they never discriminated, mistreated or harassed Filipino employees.

All of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are citizens of the Philippines and were recruited and brought to Louisiana to work for Grand Isle Shipyard.

The workers were desperate for employment, and two Filipino recruitment agencies promised to help them obtain visas and earn substantial pay, according to the lawsuit.

Two U.S.-based placement agencies allegedly helped usher the Filipino workers into Louisiana and into the Grand Isle Shipyard’s business.

“Specifically, from the minute plaintiffs and other Filipino workers set foot in Louisiana, they were essentially imprisoned,” the attorneys wrote in one filing.

The lawsuit claims the Filipino workers were forced to stay in substandard bunkhouses. Workers reported that at times, six men slept on racks in a 10-foot by 10-foot room.

Among the other claims: Filipino workers were monitored so they would not escape, forced to abide by a strict curfew, and prohibited from obtaining driver’s licenses or even riding in a car with an American worker.

The lawsuit alleges that though the Filipinos were promised a substantial income, the employer “deducted an excessive and unreasonable amount” from their wages, upwards of $3,500 a month, for housing and living expenses. Also, the company “often deducted the cost of protective equipment and tools from the paychecks” of Filipino workers.

Because the Filipino workers were working on temporary visas in an unfamiliar place, “they had no option but to bow to the exploitative and unlawful employment practices thrust upon them,” the lawsuit states.

The civil suit claims Grand Isle Shipyard and the recruiting agencies had leverage over the workers, and if questioned, would intimidate the workers. The company allegedly didn’t treat its non-Filipino employees this way.

Several former workers said they could only leave the company’s facility to work, or for a weekly trip to a local Walmart while supervised by a Grand Isle Shipyard representative.

The Filipinos were forced to work about 12 hours per day, about six to seven days a week without being paid properly for overtime, said Attorney Joseph Peiffer.

"We had a client who had told to us that he was told that he had to weld for 24 straight hours and that he went temporarily blind as a result of it,” Peiffer said. “It's a number of these kinds of things that we are alleging."

Peiffer said he believes the lawsuit affects hundreds of current or former Grand Isle Shipyard workers.

Some of them reported that Mark Pregeant, Grand Isle Shipyard’s chief executive officer, made Filipinos wash his car, work on his home and perform other personal tasks.

Pregeant did not respond today to a request for comment. Attorneys for his company, as well as recruiting companies named in the lawsuit, did not get back to us.

In court, these attorneys have called the allegations false and are trying to get the suit tossed out.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Isidro Baricautro Jr. His story highlights a pipeline from the Philippines to a Gulf of Mexico oil platform.

Baricuatro says he was recruited to work as a welder in the United States. The recruiter secured him an E-2 visa and a welding job with Grand Isle Shipyard, where he worked off and on from January 2007 through December 2010, often in months-long stints, according to the lawsuit.

He claimed the recruiter promised him an eventual green card or citizenship in the United States in exchange for his work.

The lawsuit is pending in federal court in New Orleans. None of the plaintiffs are involved in last week’s deadly platform fire.

Earlier this year, after the lawsuit was filed, a group of the workers said company officials had intimidated them and threatened deportation unless they dropped the suit. Attorneys for the defendants denied such claims.

U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered Grand Isle Shipyard and the recruitment companies not to contact those workers.

Jose Cuisia, the ambassador, is currently in Louisiana, working as a liaison to the workers’ families back home. Cuisia said the injured workers were part of a much larger group recruited to work for Grand Isle Shipyard.

“I understand there were 162 scaffolders, and different types of workers who work on an oil rig, who were hired from the Philippines,” he said.

Cuisia said job opportunities in the Philippines are "not sufficient" and workers who can't find jobs there venture elsewhere for other opportunities.

President Obama to Visit New Mexico Oil Field Jobs

President Obama to Visit New Mexico Oil Field Jobs

Oil Field Jobs -It's always busy at Linda's Grill at lunchtime as oil field jobs from around the region fill the lone restaurant in Maljamar, a no-stoplight town of 38 in the middle of the oil-rich area.On Wednesday, some of the restaurant's eight tables were filled with a rare sight: men in suits and ties. They were from the White House and stopped for a meal before President Barack Obama's visit to New Mexico's petroleum fields outside of town later in the day.

Maljamar resident Bill Gideon, 64-year-old husband to the grill's namesake, sat there about an hour before grabbing a meal and going back to work. He owns L&B Trucking and his six trucks haul piping for drilling to oil rig jobs all over the region. The economy is OK, he said, and people have jobs, but it could be busier.Companies have moved rig operations west because "the permits weren't coming fast enough, it was slow," Gideon said.

The complaints about a slow permitting process were being echoed across the industry here as Obama was scheduled to step into solid Republican territory to visit oil fields on federal lands and tout the fact that domestic oil and gas production has increased each year he has been in office.The industry is also upset over the administration's consideration of listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species, which it fears could curtail development.

The visit was part of a three-state swing the president is making to defend his energy agenda in the face of rising gas prices. His first stop was to a solar panel plant in Nevada, then to the oil and gas fields in New Mexico and the site of a future oil pipeline in Oklahoma.The White House said in a news release that the stop will "highlight the Administration's commitment to expanding domestic oil and gas production." Oil production is at an eight-year high and natural gas output is at an all-time high, it said.

But Steve Henke, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said production could be even higher. And he was hoping that Obama might be announcing more funding for the Bureau of Land Management office in Carlsbad, which he says is unable to keep up with demand for the drilling permits needed to accelerate the development of federally owned oil and gas resources in the state, he said.
"We feel that if the administration wants to invest with a partner to create jobs and revenue, that they should invest in the BLM and the Carlsbad field office," 

Maljamar is about 280 miles southeast of Albuquerque near the Texas border.According to the menu at Linda's Grill, "William Mitchell, president of Maljamar Oil & Gas Company(Alberta Oil Careers), which brought the first oil well to southeastern New Mexico in 1926, reportedly named the town for his three children, Malcolm, Janet and Margaret."
Oil Field jobs -Drilling Rig touching Equipment and fix Equipment Are critical in the Oil Industry

Oil Field jobs -Drilling Rig touching Equipment and fix Equipment Are critical in the Oil Industry

Oil Field Jobs -The oil industry is huge. The equipment used is specialized and expensive. With the increased need for oil it is important to keep finding it. Once it has been found the faster it can be accessed the better. As a result of this there is an increased demand for drilling rig moving equipment. Oil industry companies no longer have fixed drilling equipment. It is more cost effective to be able to transport a drilling rig to new oil deposits.

Modern oil rigs jobs are designed to be taken down and moved from one well to another. A drilling rig comes apart in pieces. Drilling rig moving equipment is used to transport the pieces to the new well location. There it is simply quickly rebuilt. This keeps costs down, and speeds up production of oil. Offshore oil rigs are made on land and then floated to where the oil is. Offshore equipment is needed to move the gigantic constructions. Once the oil has been depleted the rig can be moved to a new offshore deposit.

Speed is important in the oil industry. Delays caused by equipment failure needs to be kept to a minimum. Drilling rig repair equipment has to be available to prevent delays. The offshore rigs need to have most repair equipment on the rig. They are usually isolated and it takes time to get anything to the rig. It is costly to have to shut down production due to equipment problems. The faster the equipment can be repaired or replaced the better.

Oil field jobs on land are often in remote areas. Depending on the location it may not easy getting equipment in and out. Having the repair equipment on site makes sense. There is no point in having a well not producing if it can be repaired. Waiting around for some equipment is unproductive. If there is a problem with a rig it has to be fixed. Drilling is a dangerous job. It is vitally important that equipment is safe and functioning properly. If equipment is not working then it has to be repaired or replaced as fast as possible.For more detail visit Alberta Oil Careers.
The world’s fastest-growing Oil Rig Jobs

The world’s fastest-growing Oil Rig Jobs

Oil Rig Jobs -Collapsing natural gas prices have yielded an unexpected boon for North Dakota’s shale oil bonanza, easing a shortage of fracking crews that had tempered the biggest U.S. oil boom in a generation.Energy companies in the Bakken shale patch have boosted activity recently thanks to an exceptionally mild winter and an influx of oil workers trained in the specialized tasks required to prepare wells for production, principally the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing.

State data released this month showed energy companies in January fracked more wells than they drilled for the first time in five months, suggesting oil field jobs output could grow even faster than last year’s 35 percent surge as a year-long shortage of workers and equipment finally begins to subside.As output accelerates, North Dakota should overtake Alaska as the second-largest U.S. producer within months, extending an unexpected oil rush that has already upended the global crude market, clipped U.S. oil imports, and made the state’s economy the fastest-growing in the union.

Six new crews trained in “well completion” - fracking and other work that follows drilling - have moved into North Dakota in the past two months alone, according to the state regulator and industry sources. Back in December, the state was 10 crews short of the number needed to keep up with newly drilled wells.“Three to four months ago, the operators were begging for fracking crews,” said Monte Besler, who consults companies on fracking jobs in North Dakota’s Bakken shale prospect. Now “companies are calling, asking if we have a well to frack.”

For the last three years, smaller oil rig jobs companies with thin pockets were forced to wait for two to three months before they could book fracking crews and get oil out of their wells. As more and more wells were drilled, that backlog has grown.Last year, an average 12 percent of all oil wells were idled in North Dakota. Even so, output in January hit 546,000 barrels per day, doubling in the last two years and pushing the state ahead of California as the country’s third-largest producer.


Fracking, which unlocks trapped oil by injecting tight shale seams with a slurry of water, sand and chemicals, has drawn fierce protests in some parts of the country, but it has not generated heated opposition in North Dakota.

The number of idle wells waiting to be completed in the state reached a record 908 last June, the result of a new drilling rush and heavy spring floods. Only 733 wells were idle in August as crews caught up, but the figure crept steadily higher until the start of this year.Now, the industry may be turning a corner in North Dakota, the fastest-growing oil frontier in the world.“Both rig count and hydraulic fracturing crews are limiting factors. Should they continue to rise together, production will not only increase, it will accelerate,” said Lynn Helms, director of the state Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division.

The tame winter likely played an important role in helping reduce the number of idle wells - those that have been drilled but not yet fracked and prepped for production. That number fell by 11 in January, as oil operations that would normally be slowed by blizzards were able to carry on, experts said.

Residents of the northern Midwest state - accustomed to temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius) in winter and snow piles as high as 107 inches (2.7 meters) -this year enjoyed the fourth warmest since 1894, according to the National Weather Service.The milder conditions also helped prevent the usual exodus of warm-weather workers that occurs when blizzards set in.“Not everyone wants to work in North Dakota in the winter,” Besler said.

The backlog of unfinished wells has also begun to subside because the pace with which new wells are drilled has leveled off. The state hasn’t added new rigs since November.The latest state data shows oil companies brought 37 new rigs to North Dakota’s in 2011 but have not added more since November. The rig count held steady at 200 in January 2012, although more than 200 new wells were drilled in that period.


North Dakota has gotten a boost from the fall-off in natural gas drilling due to the collapse in prices to 10-year lows. Energy companies such as Chesapeake CHK.N and Encana ECA.TO have shut existing natural gas wells and cut back on new ones.

Last week, the number of rigs drilling for gas in the United States sank to the lowest level in 10 years as major producers slimmed down their gas business, according to data from Houston-based oil services firm Baker Hughes.The fewer gas wells drilled, the less need for skilled fracking crews in the country’s shale gas outposts.

Fracking in oil patches is similar to the process used in gas wells, except for the inherent power of the pumps employed. Crews inject high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to free hydrocarbons trapped in shale rock.
So big service firms such as Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger SLB.N are reshuffling crews from shale gas fields to oil prospects in the badlands.“We have moved or are moving about eight crews. Some of those crews are moving as we speak,” Mark McCollum, Halliburton’s chief financial officer, said at an industry summit in February. Halliburton declined to specify where the crews were moving.

Calgary-based Calfrac moved one crew into the Bakken in late 2011, according to an SEC filing. Privately owned FTS International no longer works in the gas-rich Barnett shale but has set up operations in the Utica, an emerging prospect in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, according to a company representative.The reallocations come with some efficiency losses. Halliburton had to scale back its 24-hour operations and is still trying to solve logistical problems.

“You actually take the crew from one basin and they have to go stay in motels, you have to pay them per diems for a while. And then you have to double up your personnel while you’re training new, locally based crew on the equipment once it is moved,” McCollum said.At the same time, a shortage of key equipment such as pressure pumps is easing as companies start taking delivery of material ordered months or even years ago.

It takes about 15 such pumps to frack a gas well, and many more for oil wells.The total pressure-pumping capacity in the United States at the end of 2012 will be 19 million horsepower, two-and-a-half times more than in 2009, according to Dan Pickering, analyst with Tudor Holt and Pickering in Houston.


Easing personnel constraints suggest recruiters may be meeting with success in nationwide campaigns to attract workers with specialized knowledge of complex pumps and hazmat trucks - and a willingness to brave harsh conditions.Even with U.S. unemployment at 8.3 percent, such skilled labor remains in short supply despite salaries from $70,000 to $120,000 a year. In North Dakota, unemployment was just 3.2 percent in January, the lowest rate in the nation.

Fracking crews, much like roughnecks on drilling rigs, clock in 12-hour shifts for two straight weeks before getting a day off. They live in camps far from cities and towns. Jobs are transient -a few weeks at a single location. Most workers divide their time between the California desert, Texas ranchlands and the freezing badlands of the Midwest state.

Companies have scrambled to nab talent, with recruiters scouring far and wide. Military bases have gotten frequent visits, and some companies have hired truckers from Europe.“There’s definitely a push to look all over for people who have good experience since it takes at least six months to train someone how to use a fracking pump,” said David Vaucher, analyst with IHS Cambridge Energy Research.For more detail visit Alberta Oil Careers.

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