The Roundup -

Oil Industry A "Godsend"

 

"Towels, a wrench, and a tank gauge are the most important tools for a pumper." – Kurt Kukowski

One of the most exciting things to take place in this country over the last few years has been the resurgence in American oil from American soil. The conversation about energy has changed from one about scarcity to one of abundance.

Along with the tremendous uptick in drilling and production, has come the demand for thousands of jobs. The demand for workers couldn't have come at a more opportune time either, as much of the country saw unemployment numbers skyrocket during the recent economic recession of 2008. Today, energy producing states like North Dakota and Texas are experiencing the lowest unemployment numbers in the United States, and still have openings for job seekers. This poses huge opportunities for not only oil prolific areas, but for neighboring states as well. Montana is a prime example of a state that's seen an economic boom in light of a nearby oil boom.

Not all who've entered the oilfield had previous experience working in oil and gas. In fact, many have gone to work in the oil patch due to declining wages or work shortages in other industries. Take Kurt Kukowski, for example, now with Northern Oilfield Services in Plentywood, MT.

Originally from Minnesota, Kurt taught and coached for 11 years in Wisconsin before deciding that he would move to Plentywood to take a job in the Bakken, so that he could provide more for his family. That was two years ago. Now, Kurt's wife Becky and their two children, Henry (6) and Vera (3), have also made Montana home. Becky teaches and coaches in the Plentywood School system.

Kurt is a lease operator, also known as a pumper, and has one of the more routine positions in the oilfield. He gauges tanks daily for fluid levels, recording the numbers first, then calling them into the office by two-way radio. Pumpers also ensure the units and fluid lines are working properly, and act as the eyes and ears on the ground.

"Towels, a wrench, and a tank gauge are the most important tools for a pumper," Kurt said, who is meticulous about keeping locations clean.

Many pumpers start out as roustabouts, giving them the opportunity to troubleshoot and problem solve by gaining on-the-job experience of how everything works and is built on a well location. This makes it easier to identify any irregularities on regular pumping routes.

When asked if a person could make a long-term career out of an oilfield job, Kurt replied, "Of course! I'm trying to."

The life span of a well can be as long as 40 years. Kurt checks 24 wells a day (between Montana and North Dakota) and is one of eight pumpers at Northern.

Brandon Cunningham is another pumper at Northern, and has a B.S. in Computer Science, though he was working as a journeyman butcher in Washington before moving to Montana. He says that when the recession hit, union members with fewer years were hit especially hard, and he was barely getting by.

He'd heard that many were finding high-paying jobs in the Bakken, and left Washington to find out for himself. Though it took time for Brandon to find housing, he now makes a comfortable living, and is even able to send money home to relatives.

Like Brandon, many arrive in the oilfield with post-secondary degrees they simply cannot put to work. One such short service employee at Northern, Dustin, has four associate degrees which he says he couldn't use in northern California, where he moved from just a few months ago.

Some oilfield workers bring experience from other natural resource industries, like Joe Klessig. Joe moved out to Montana, also from Wisconsin, with a background in logging. He brought with him a Commercial Driver's License and experience driving heavy equipment, including logging trucks, which has proven valuable in his position with Northern Oilfield Services.

 

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