Today I met another refugee from the oil industry. This happens so often it’s like work is one giant reunion. Probably because construction is an industry where there’s a lot of crossover in skill sets, and it’s booming, so there are actually jobs. If you were a geologist, you can find a second life as a dirt guy. If you were an engineer, you can translate that over pretty easily to pipeline projects and the like.
“Oh yeah,” he told me. “They got me two years ago when the price per barrel hit $50. Day after that happened, me and all the other old timers were gone.” Then he laughed bitterly.
Yeah, I know the feeling, I said. I made it through two rounds of cuts and then they canned me in March 2016 because nothing had improved.
I have conversations like this every. fucking. day.
And you want to know why so many of us lost our jobs? I’ll give you a hint: it has fucking nothing to do with regulations, environmental or otherwise, on the petroleum industry. What got us all was the global price-per-barrel of crude oil. Here, if you want to see how dependent we are on that price, just take a look at measures like rig-count versus oil price in recent days.
At the time I got made redundant, there were a lot of pet theories floating around about why the oil price tanked. I don’t know if it’s now been clearly established, because frankly, I stopped caring as soon as I put the rubber to the road and got the fuck out of Houston. I do know that the favored pet theory of everyone I talked to back then was that OPEC opened the spigots because they were trying to drive all the foreign oil companies out of the Middle East.
But I can tell you what exactly NO ONE blamed the drop in price on: industry regulation.
The problem with the oil industry, the reason so many of us lost our jobs, is entirely on the supply side. There’s too much fucking supply versus demand, so the price drops. This is macro economics 101. This is not complicated. Deregulating the industry to make it easier for people to drill and produce is not going to solve this problem, because it will add more supply. At the absolute most, maybe it’ll produce a few short-term field jobs while the super cheap leases are getting developed just enough to hold on to them. Maybe it’ll keep a few struggling companies afloat longer and save a few jobs that currently exist by making production a little more economical until there’s so much of a glut that the bottom falls out again.
But it’s not going to bring my job back. It’s not going to bring any of our jobs permanently back. And what it’ll cost in environmental damage, in the loss of our common treasure as Americans, is far too high a price for very little actual benefit.
But this was never about me, or about people like me, or even people like my lovely ex Mike, who is still clinging to his job in Houston by the skin of his teeth. It was never about us and our lost jobs and severely depressed wages as we fled to other industries and our pensions that we will never see.
It. Was. Never. About. Us.
You know who this bullshit will help? Companies big enough that they can hunker down through these bust cycles and snatch up land for pennies on the dollar. Companies so big they can produce just enough to keep their leases going and eat the fact that it’s not profitable. Well, those companies and their major stockholders, I suppose.
People like, I don’t know, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Just throwing that out there.
Every time this bullshit comes up, I get so angry I can’t see straight. Because it is literally me and people like my fellow geologists and former roughnecks who are barely scraping by on jobs that pay us less than half of what we used to make–while many of us are still struggling to pay back our student loans we took out under the promise that we were heading into good, lifelong careers–being used as a shield by rich motherfuckers. It’s me and the other oil industry refugees that I see on construction sites every goddamn day getting used as a shield behind which our public lands will get looted and our public waterways will get polluted and we’ll all be left holding the tab for the cleanup because we’ll have even fewer ways to hold these companies accountable. It’s us who they’re trying to shift the blame to when people see black tides rolling into their back yards get really angry–I mean, it was for us to get jobs, right?
This was never and has never and will never be about the regular assholes like me who worked outside boardrooms and collected paychecks instead of massive stock options. And I’m done with it. I’m fucking done with it.
Please feel free to link anyone who actually believes this disingenuous bullshit to this page. Please print out one hundred copies and then roll them up into a paper nightstick you can use to beat people who don’t get this point over the head.
WE ARE NOT YOUR SHIELD.