A few years after I began working in the oil field, I tried to learn and understand who and why other people appeared to be making more money than me.
In my mid-twenties after I graduated with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, I began working for large civil construction and engineering companies, first as an estimator and AutoCAD designer, then as a superintendent, project manager, and engineer. I began getting better and better positions, with increasing pay, and increasing responsibility as I could demonstrate more ability, knowledge, and experience.
First in Idaho in 2007-2010, then in North Dakota from 2011-present, I learned full-well that people with no education, do not like or appreciate people with an education. People with no education are very uncomfortable, suspicious, mistrusting, and resentful of people with an education.
This resentment comes from such things as local high school students having jealousy of academically successful high school students who went off to college, hearing about how successful they were, while they went to work as construction labor after high school. Even though they went from construction labor, to equipment operator, to manager of a construction or oil field company, they always held resentment for people who went off to college.
I can tell you from first-hand experience, the tremendous hatred and resentment that uneducated people in Idaho and North Dakota have for people with a college degree. This saying that I came up with is completely true, “People in Idaho and North Dakota would rather hire someone who did four years in prison versus someone who did four years in college.”
This is extremely true in Dickinson, North Dakota. More often than not, local employers hired their class-mates from high school as managers and foremen, even though they had no higher education or management training, but instead had multiple drug convictions, DUI, and assault convictions. The people in Dickinson were more comfortable with people who were like themselves.
Therefore, before long, I determined that there was no rhyme or reason to why some people in Dickinson working in the oil field had higher paying jobs. If anything, the dirtier and scummier a person was, the more likely they were to have a higher paying job in the oil field. If there was any logic to this, the oil field does often rely on people to perform short-term and long-term hazardous work without individuals questioning or thinking about what they are doing.
But I continued to wonder, was there anyone who did better for themselves by actual thought and planning in the oil industry? When I worked in the oil field of west Texas for a short while, and when I returned to work in Dickinson in 2013, I realized more and more that even so-called engineers, technicians, and oil company men each only had just a small portion of knowledge. It was surprising to me that no one working in the oil field, even middle and higher management, had a complete understanding of oil field work and processes.
Shortly after I began writing these blog post articles in 2015, a frustrated woman in Dickinson began leaving comments. For reasons that will become clear, I don’t want to use her real name, or even the nickname that I gave her back then, so I will refer to her now as “Nicole” because that’s easy to remember.
Over time, as Nicole left comments to my blog posts, I learned that “Nicole” and her husband “Tom” had moved to Dickinson several months prior. For many years due to her husband Tom working in the oil industry, they had lived in many different oil field towns, but Dickinson was the worst. The people in Dickinson were so unfriendly, uncooperative, and hostile, she could not believe it.
Nicole was communicating with me, because she saw that I had written some of the same observations that she had made herself, I had a similar point of view to hers, and she had no one else to talk to. She had tried to make friends with local wives in Dickinson, but they would not speak to her, they didn’t want to have anything to do with her, probably because she was not like them.
When Nicole elaborated on some of her observations and experiences in Dickinson, she explained a little about herself, both deliberately and unintentionally sometimes. She came from a middle-class or upper-middle-class normal family on the East coast. She received at least a bachelor’s degree, probably a master’s degree, she said once that she had worked as an editor.
Like me, she came from such a relatively normal middle-class or upper-middle-class Protestant family, that she cared about what happened around her, and cared about what happened to other people. Like me, she couldn’t understand why the local people in Dickinson were so hostile and hateful in general, and in particular the incredible greed of quadrupling the cost of housing to where many workers were forced to sleep in their cars at Walmart, the truck stop, Patterson Lake, wherever they could.
I liked Nicole, as there were no women like her anywhere around here. She was like women that I had grown up with and gone to school with. As I became more angry, crude, and vulgar in my blog posts, as a result of the prison-like environment that I was living and working in, Nicole didn’t want to communicate with me anymore. I don’t blame her. She consciously made up her mind that she wasn’t going to sink to this level, and she was done with me.
Out of curiosity, I used some of the information that she had unwittingly disclosed, to find out her real name, and then her husband’s real name. Nicole and her husband Tom were exactly my age. Her husband Tom, like me, he had also graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, but from a slightly more prestigious and much larger university in California.
Unlike me, immediately after graduation, Tom went to work in the oil industry. He obtained a very good entry-level engineering job with an oil company, and he steadily advanced. He had been with the same oil company in various positions and locales for the past fifteen years.
I was envious of Tom. He had the foresight or luck to get into the oil industry and stay there for his whole career. Unlike anyone that I had ever met personally, he probably did have almost a complete knowledge and understanding of oil field work and processes.
See, this is what I had been wondering for several years, was there anyone who ever got ahead in the oil industry through foresight, effort, and planning? One of the things that I learned, was that Tom and Nicole’s previous home in Colorado was an $800K home. I looked through the real estate listing photographs on the internet from when they sold it, and it was one of the nicest homes that I have ever seen, both the home and the property.
What also came up, was that Tom and Nicole had a more than $1 million home in California that was held in a trust. So to answer my question, “Did anyone ever become rich working in the oil field?”, the answer would appear to be yes.
After I did some calculating, I realized that Tom was probably not paid at a high enough level as an engineer in the positions that he had held, to become a multi-millionaire. It was partly through he and his wife purchasing nice homes from an early age, holding them, selling them for more when they had to relocate, buying increasingly expensive homes, and always experiencing increasing equity gains over time. Nicole worked too. And I believe that either or both of them had probably inherited property and money.
So, this answered both of my questions that I started out with, “Why do other people do well and did anyone become rich working in the oil field?” It turns out that it was a matter of having a good education, foresight, sticking with your career, sticking with the same company, agreeing to relocate when required to do so, having a wife who is an effective partner, building equity in your home, being at the right place at the right time, and luck.
I was jealous and envious of Tom to an extent, mostly because of his career and financial success, but partly because of his relationship with Nicole. But I knew that I could never keep a wife like Nicole, she would leave me, probably very quickly. I would not have wanted to drag someone like Nicole through the life that I have led.
Currently I am doing O.K. I have my home in North Dakota, my home in Idaho, and sixteen vehicles. I am grateful that I do not have any ex-wives or children. I do not want any wives or children in the future.
I wondered what happened to Tom and Nicole. In about 2018, Tom and Nicole left Dickinson and they moved to Texas. Tom started an oil company. I don’t mean an oil service company, I mean an oil company, like Whiting Petroleum.
Do you know what this means? The lifetime of money that Tom and Nicole had earned and saved, they used to start an oil company. They acquired land leases, obtained the permits, hired oil drill rigs to drill, and began trying to own and produce oil wells. It costs about $1 million to drill one oil well. Millions go quickly.
In about 2019, many very large apparently successful oil companies began going bankrupt. For instance, Whiting Petroleum went from a stock price high of $370 per share in 2014, to a low of $0.31 per share in 2020 right after the company declared bankruptcy.
Some of the largest, most successful oil companies operating in Texas such as Chesapeake Energy went from stock price high of $6,260 per share in 2014, to less than $0.20 per share in 2020 before the company declared bankruptcy.
I don’t know how to put this delicately and non-offensively, I was envious of Tom, of his career success, his financial success, and his wife Nicole. I just have to admit that some people do better than others in life. Sometimes it’s a matter of effort, intelligence, or luck. But like I said, I never would have wanted to drag a woman like Nicole through the hardships and disappointments of my life. But holy shit, getting so far ahead financially after all of that work, and then losing it all at our age, I wouldn’t want to trade places.