What A Day Is Like Working For An Oil Field Service Company In Dickinson, North Dakota

Let us say that it is December and it is 0 degrees Fahrenheit outside.  I would wake up at about 5:45 a.m., and put on wool socks, sweat pants, sweat shirt, overalls with a winter lining, steel toe work boots, and then a heavy winter jacket.  This is at least $350 in clothing.  It would have been about $700 in clothing if it were FR “Fire Resistant” rated, which some companies require.

I had a large duffle bag which contained my hard hat, safety glasses, sun glasses, gloves, climb harness, towel, roll of paper towels, bottles of water, map, pen, calculator, and paper.  I had taken a black permanent marker and wrote my name and phone number very clearly on the outside of my duffle bag.  My climb harness, lanyard, and carabiner was at least $200, and I wanted my duffle bag full of stuff back if it fell off or out of the truck.  I had to carry all my personal gear in a duffle bag, because you never knew for certain what truck you would be driving or riding in, or if the truck you planned on taking would be gone.  Also, I was prepared to say at any time, “Pull over and let me the fuck out of this truck.”

I would get to the company shop at about 6:30 a.m.  I would check the engine oil on “my truck”.  I would check the engine oil and fuel level on the truck generator.  I would check the hydraulic fluid level on the bucket lift.  I would bleed off the water on the air compressor tank.  I would check the gasoline cans and diesel cans on the truck.  After discussing where we were going and what we were doing that day, we would load whatever parts, supplies, material, equipment, and special tools we needed that day.  We might have to hook an equipment trailer up to the truck.

We would drive to a truck stop to get diesel fuel in the truck, diesel in the diesel cans, gasoline in the gas cans, and water for the water jug.  Everyone would buy food, drinks, and snacks if they needed to.  There would be no other place that day to stop for food or drinks.  You could never be completely certain that you would be stopping to get fuel in the morning, so you had to come to work with some food and drinks.  After the truck stop, it would be time to go pick up the workers with DUIs.  You waited to do this last, so that they would hopefully be up and ready to go by this time.

The workers with the DUIs that you had to go and pick up, would have a strong stench of alcohol and cigarettes from being at the bar all night, staying up all night, and rolling out of bed at 7:00 a.m. wearing the same clothes from yesterday to come and get in the truck.  They would begin telling about the girl they went home with from the bar last night, but would interrupt themselves to beg to stop at the convenience store.  You had better stop or they will be complaining all day, and possibly run you over with a piece of equipment.

While driving to the jobsite, the drug addicts and DUI people would begin exchanging oxycontin and hydrocodone in a way that you weren’t supposed to see or hear, but how could you not see or hear, they are sitting next to you and behind you.  Keep in mind, that many oil field service companies participate in the “Axiom” program, where a positive drug test is reported to all the other oil field service companies, and you are barred from working in the oil field for three years.  If you are offered a hydrocodone, and you take one, and then the drug addicts who gave it to you go and report you so that you are required to take a drug test, do not take a drug test, leave the company without saying a word.  You could go and get another job, but if you test positive, you are banned from working in the oil field for three years.

At the jobsite, the first thing that you have to do is fuel the equipment: generators, bobcat, lull, snorkel lift, backhoe, etc., but make sure the DUI people and drug addict people, who are either hung over or high, are putting diesel fuel in diesel equipment, and gasoline in gas equipment, and of course with a lit cigarette hanging out of their mouth.  Smoking is not permitted on oil field locations.  You need a “hot work permit” from the oil field location owner prior to having any open flame on the location.

Remember on a remote jobsite, you are on your own.  Always expect your coworkers to run you over with any piece of equipment either on accident or on purpose.  Always expect your coworkers to drop something on you, cause something to fall into you, or hit you with something.  Identify something on your truck to use as a weapon, like a pipe or pipe wrench, that you can hit your coworkers in the head with.  Most of your work crew will be convicted criminals, drug addicts, and alcoholics, so being on a jobsite with them, is the same as being in prison.

The work that you might do at your jobsite: install fencing, a cattle guard, spill containment barrier; dig trenching and install conduit for electrical and controls; set rebar, set forms, and pour concrete; erect a steel building; assemble and set a pump jack in place.

Depending on your crew, you can look at the work plans, measure locations and perform layout, begin dragging equipment and material where it needs to be, all on your own, while others are happy to operate the backhoe or skid steer loader.  I preferred to find an area of responsibility and do it well, in order to be left alone, and other workers would identify another part of the work that needed to be done and complete that in order to be left alone.  Ideally, I would do layout, a couple of people would begin tying rebar, and a couple of people would start setting forms.  It never failed that a couple of workers would stand there watching.  Eventually you could ask the stand still workers to help carry forms and rebar to where they needed to be, once things got underway.

Each of the workers had some ability, some more than others.  Some were O.K. operating equipment and that is what they liked to do, some were good at digging with shovels and carrying things and that is what they liked to do, some were good at assembling things and that is what they liked to do.  Almost everyone figured out that it was better to get to work doing something that you liked to do, rather than standing there and being told to do something that you didn’t like to do.  The crews were like pirates sometimes, everyone going and doing what they wanted to do, and everything getting done, without orders.

It was very cold in the winter.  Hopefully there would not be any wind.  Hopefully it would warm up from 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning to 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the afternoon.  If you could keep busy doing something once you got out of the truck, you could stay warm, you might even start sweating with all your winter clothes on.  One of the most dreaded things, was having to poop, because there were no portable toilets most of the time.  You had to walk out into a field with a roll of paper towels, take off your jacket, unfasten and drop your winter lined overalls, squat, and try to hurry up and poop without falling over or pooping on your bulky overalls around your ankles.  Make sure your wallet, car keys, and cell phone didn’t fall out of your overalls, they probably did.

Concrete pours would sometimes cause us to remain at an oil field location until 10:00 p.m. to finish it and cover it.  Then drive an hour back to Dickinson, and drop people off, before heading to the shop to put the truck away, maybe having to unhook a trailer.  The longest day that I can remember, we left the shop at 7:00 a.m., we worked at about five locations that were pretty far away, we got done at the last location at 2:00 a.m., and made it back to the shop at 4:00 a.m.  That was working 21 hours straight.  Wireline operators and casing installers often have to work that many hours straight.

Most days, me and the other workers looked forward all day long to making it back to Dickinson that night.  We were cold, tired, aching, injured, and hungry.  We had been outside all day, probably 12 hours.  My feet, ankles, hips, and back were killing me from walking around all day on big chunks of scoria rock carrying heavy things.  Most of the oil field workers in Dickinson experienced the exact same thing, or worse.  Going to the bars and restaurants, this was the only time the workers would see or speak to a woman all day long, and the women bartenders and waitresses were shitty, there were hundreds of men, why be nice?  The Dickinson police would wait around the bars and restaurants to give the oil field trash DUIs.

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