In America’s busiest oil patch, where the rig count has climbed by nearly one third in the past year, drillers, service providers and trucking companies have been poaching in all corners, recruiting everyone from police officers to grocery clerks.
Midland, Texas, is being whipsawed by the latest Permian Basin shale-oil boom, fueling the region and starving it at the same time.
In the country’s busiest oil patch, where the rig count has climbed by nearly one third in the past year, drillers, service providers and trucking companies have been poaching in all corners, recruiting everyone from police officers to grocery clerks. So many bus drivers with the Ector County Independent School District in nearby Odessa quit for the shale fields that kids were sometimes late to class.
The oil industry has such a ferocious appetite for workers that it’ll hire just about anyone with the most basic skills. “It is crazy,” said Jazmin Jimenez, 24, in an interview with Bloomberg. Jiminez zipped through a two-week training program and was hired by Chevron Corp. as a well-pump checker. “Honestly I never thought I’d see myself at an oilfield company. But now that I’m here -- I think this is it.”
That’s understandable, considering the $28-a-hour she makes is double what she was earning until December as a correctional facility guard. Jimenez said she’ll take the money as long as it lasts.
There’s no question the economic upside is big in the basin, which covers more than 75,000 square miles in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Midland saw year-over-year increases of at least 34 percent in sales-tax collections in each of the last four months. Jerry Morales, the mayor of Midland, Texas, said coffers are full enough that he may ask for raises for city workers – so they don’t bolt for the oil fields.
The labor shortage is inflamed by the real-estate market: The $325,440 average price in Midland is the highest since June 2014, the last time the world saw oil above $100 a barrel. Apartment rents in Midland and Odessa are up by more than a third from a year ago, with the average 863-square-foot unit commanding $1,272 a month.
At Midland College’s oil and gas program, which trains for positions like petroleum-energy technician, enrollment is down about 20 percent from last year. But schools that teach how to pass the test for a CDL – commercial driver’s license – are packed.
And you can make a whole lot more money than waiting tables. Jeremiah Fleming, 30, is on track to pull down $140,000 driving flatbed trucks for Aveda, hauling rigs. “This will be my best year yet,” he told Bloomberg.
Mayor Jerry Morales, a native Midlander and second-generation restaurateur, has seen it happen so many times before. Oil prices go up, and energy companies dangle such incredible salaries that other businesses can’t compete. People complain about poor service and long lines at McDonald’s and the Walmart and their favorite Tex-Mex joints. Rents soar.
“This is my home town. I don’t want that reputation,” he said. He’s not yet quite sure what to do about it as mayor of a city that has been on the oil-industry rollercoaster for nearly 100 years.
His pitch: “If you’ll stay with me, I can give you three quarters of what the oil will give you but you don’t have to get dirty or worry about getting hurt.” And just maybe, when crude crashes, they’ll still be employed.
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