A Merry Fracking Christmas in the Oil Patch

A Merry Fracking Christmas in the Oil Patch

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In North Dakota’s Bakken Basin, the Christmas holiday will be another drill, baby, drill 12-hour Monday for mancamp roughnecks, roustabouts, and derrick hands.

WILLISTON, North Dakota—In an eight-trailer mancamp tucked into a frosted fold of rolling prairie above an ice-laced lake, Chord Energy’s derrick hands, roughnecks, and roustabouts are ready for Christmas.

For them, it’ll be another Monday, another 12-hour shift, another day of drilling two miles deep and three miles wide below the 3-acre Patterson 806 rig, where fracked shale oil is siphoned into surface wells to the ceaseless cadence of pumpjacks—their mallet-nosed horse heads hammering air on snow-spotted slopes shared with grazing Black Angus cattle.

“I’ve been out here for the last four Thanksgivings, Christmases, and New Year’s,” said Dallas Moore, 38, a father of three from Casper, Wyoming, who on Dec. 21 was on day 32 of a 44-day stint at Patterson 806, about 15 miles east of Williston in North Dakota’s Bakken Play.

“It’s been a while since I woke up with the kids on Christmas morning,” said the solids control consultant who manages and monitors drilling fluids to ensure shell, rock, and debris doesn’t impede flow to the rig’s wells.

Like many among Patterson 806’s 50-man crew—near-exclusively men, near-exclusively under 40-years-old—Mr. Moore is an independent contractor signed onto Williston-based Chord Energy. He’s toiled in oil patches in the searing summer heat of Texas and New Mexico, and in the brutal winter cold of Wyoming, Colorado, and North Dakota for half his life.

And, like many of his oilfield coworkers, he’s missed children’s first words, first steps, first days of school. The money is good—he’ll leave Jan. 3 with $36,000—but it is earned at incalculable cost.

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“When Santa is coming down the chimney,” Mr. Moore said, “I’ll be out here with my drill fluids.”

Patterson 806 is one of 31 rigs pumping oil to nearly 19,000 wells in North Dakota’s Bakken Play; a 15,000-square-mile multi-basin shale oilfield that stretches into eastern Montana and southern Saskatchewan.

While Texas has more than 4,000 rigs and New Mexico nearly 1,000, the Bakken’s output—1.25 million barrels a day in November and December, according to the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC)—driven by independent operators and entrepreneurs far surpasses the per-unit production in the United States’ two top petroleum states.

The Bakken rigs each employ around 150 with an average of 50 working directly on-site, according to the North Dakota Division of Oil & Gas.

While most of the 35,000 field and technical support professionals will enjoy Christmas at home, there is no holiday pause for the 15,000 rig hands, who will be manning wind-whipped derricks, ice-encrusted catwalks, and well platforms buried in snow drifts—although it was a mild fall—scattered across a dozen western North Dakota counties.

Christmas at the Patterson 806’s mancamp will be another Monday, another day of waking up in a bunk bed in a diesel-scented trailer, another day of donning thermals, insulated coveralls, hoods, hats, boots, gloves, and of going to work—to “muscle” work, dangerous work, dirty work, a hard half-day of work.

But some have Christmas plans.

 Christmas will be day 35 of Matrix Oilfield President/CEO Dallas Moore's 44-day stint working as a solids control coordinator for Chord Energy at the Patterson 806 rig and living in a nearby mancamp east of Williston, N.D. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Christmas will be day 35 of Matrix Oilfield President/CEO Dallas Moore’s 44-day stint working as a solids control coordinator for Chord Energy at the Patterson 806 rig and living in a nearby mancamp east of Williston, N.D. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

No Santa in the Patch

Brett Smith, 34, “a third generation roustabout,” will drive two-and-a-half hours to his Glendale, Mont., home to “see my Dad, the girlfriend,” and then drive two-and-a-half hours “back to the grind” between shifts.

Riley Kuntz, 40, a derrick hand who challenged former governor and two-term U.S. Sen John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in the state’s 2022 GOP primary, garnering nearly 22 percent of the tally against a household-name incumbent, will celebrate Christmas with his wife and three children, all under 5-years-old, in a nearby hotel between shifts.

Santa Claus, however, won’t be showing up before his family returns to Dickinson, N.D. “We got out in front of that,” he said. “We told them there’s no Santa. The same with the Easter Bunny.”

“I don’t have an issue with it,” said James Harmon, 25, of Seville, Ohio, a solids control technician who, like Mr. Moore, is working 44 days straight. A traveler who spent his last “two-week weekend” in Germany, when he leaves the Patterson 806 mancamp on Jan. 3, Mr. Harmon is bound for Smithers, British Columbia, to ski and maybe catch some steelhead.

 John Person, a geological field coordinator at Neset Consulting Service in Tioga, N.D., explains how lateral drilling has made Bakken oil rigs more efficient and productive. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
John Person, a geological field coordinator at Neset Consulting Service in Tioga, N.D., explains how lateral drilling has made Bakken oil rigs more efficient and productive. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

‘You Have to Sacrifice’

Neset Consulting Geological Field Coordinator John Person will enjoy Christmas with his wife and six children at home on their White Earth ranch.

But not until the Tioga-based company’s 300 employees—lease operators, medics, roustabout crews, mud loggers, geologists, gate guards, equipment techs, saltwater operators, safety hands—who will be working Christmas at various rigs and platforms are served, he said.

“Our people out on the rigs will be working,” Mr. Person, 48, said. “There’s going to be a really nice Christmas Eve dinner that we’re going to put out. You’re away from your family, and that part is not fun, but it’s still bringing some normalcy. Yeah, [workers] won’t be sitting in the command center eating a microwave dinner.”

Matt Bornschein, 32, of Grand Junction, Colo., could go home to see his wife and daughter but he’s spearheading the roll-out of a new division at SandPro, a 100-employee wellhead, sand, and automation management contractor in Berthold.

He hasn’t been home for five months and “probably” won’t go home until the new division is “up-and-running, everything dialed-in,” maybe, hopefully, by April.

His wife can’t come north for Christmas because she’s caring for her ailing father, Mr. Bornschein said.

“Oh yeah, it definitely makes me sad,” he said. “They understand the sacrifice. You have to sacrifice. It’s not the first time, so they understand the sacrifice.”

 Casey Gardner, account coordinator at Creedence Energy Services in Williston, N.D., said many people take oilfield workers' sacrifices for granted on Christmas. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Casey Gardner, account coordinator at Creedence Energy Services in Williston, N.D., said many people take oilfield workers’ sacrifices for granted on Christmas. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

No Power, No Christmas

Casey Gardner, 33, account coordinator for Minot-based Creedence Energy Services’ Williston office, said most Americans don’t understand the sacrifices oilfield workers make as they enjoy their lighted, warm homes on Christmas.

“They’re taken for granted,” Mr. Gardner said. “People don’t appreciate the sacrifices they make in time away from their families.”

They are among the nurses, utility linemen, police, firemen, EMTs, active-duty military, and the many others who dutifully man their posts, who show up and stay until relieved, said the father of two young children who has “worked the wireline” in the oil patch on Christmas several times.

#Merry #Fracking #Christmas #Oil #Patch


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