COLUMN: Dealing with the tragic downturn in oil and gas

Putting opposing political notions aside, the oil and gas industry has been the lifeblood for many economies, especially in the west, for decades. Seeing the tragic downturn amid the tanking prices mixed with a global pandemic is heartbreaking to say the least.

Before I made the glamourous turn to journalist, I spent many long days in various sectors of the oil and gas industry. One thing that people like me, who were never all-stars in school, could depend on if it all went south was finding a way into the industry.

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It promised financial freedom in many scenarios. Granted, the pay was level with the difficulty of the work. Without the oil and gas, I am not sure I would have ever learned the proper work ethic it takes to make it in life.

I was a bare-faced 18-year-old looking for a way to make my mom proud. Having not graduated high school, I felt my options were limited. A friend of a friend said if I got my first aid and H2S tickets I could be in the back of a Chevy headed for northern B.C. onwards to an Ensign rig within the week.

Without even thinking, I got my tickets and before I knew it I was headed to Hope, B.C. where I would learn the industry that is managed pressure drilling. I was scared and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hack it. My first shift was 35 days on and five off, which I found out when I got there.

Whether I wanted to or not, I was in it now and I had to go through with it. I am forever grateful I did.

Not only did I learn what a long day’s work actually was, I also learned how what we were doing out there impacted the economy. It was a glorious time for the industry and everyone had more work than they knew what to do with.

The next seven years I would transfer between underbalanced drilling, pipeline and industrial acoustics to name a few. I always knew the oil and gas wouldn’t be my end all and be all, but the people I met along the way are the reason for writing this article.

The industry has always received a bad wrap in some circles for the sort of people who operate their lives on a shift-work basis and what they spend their money on. I can tell you first-hand, the people who work these jobs are some of the smartest, hardest working people you could ever hope to come across.

So often these days we look at the generations younger and scold them for their inability to get out there and make something of themselves. I always told young people before me if they wanted to learn what it took to make it anywhere, spend some time in the oil patch. What you could learn there would transfer to whatever avenue you choose to go down afterwards.

I can’t even fathom what so many of these workers are facing right now. As if a world-wide pandemic wasn’t enough, you also throw in a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and the end result brings you to negative trading prices for the first time in history.

On April 21, for the first time, oil prices were trading at negative numbers. The price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate oil fell as low as minus $37.63. The number comes from the demand destruction of oil due to COVID-19 restrictions along with the above-mentioned price war.

That is about as scary as it gets for people who work hard day in and day out to provide for their families. You also throw in the constant added regulation and taxes put on the industry and it makes you wonder if it will ever recover.

Again, putting politics aside, you can’t help but feel for these people. You spend a good chunk of your working life trying to master something that most people won’t try due to difficulty, and without warning it is taken away.

I can understand people wanting to stray away from fossil fuels and whatever else. But, this is not a time to push these ideologies. If you know someone who works in the industry who is dealing with the hardships that come with this, reach out. Let them know you are there for them.

Saskatchewan may be set to reopen soon, but the damage done to this sector has damages that still haven’t been uncovered, and probably won’t be until the pandemic is over.

Hopefully, we can see some sort of recovery that will put these people back to work. We can deal with the politics later. Rebuilding a ravaged economy should be priority number 1.

No matter how you look at it, the people of the oil and gas industry are a huge part of making that economic recovery happen once we’re in a world without the threat of COVID-19.

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