It was a tumble that shook the global energy commodity market. When oil prices dipped drastically in 2014, it set the stage for years of challenges for the high pay, high-stakes oil and gas industry.
Workers exited the industry in droves, many at the hands of layoffs.
Greg Giddens started off in the industry as a wireline operator for Halliburton. Then he was a frac operator, then cement. He was laid off in April 2014.
Trena Allen is a salesperson on the service side of the industry. She was working at a startup when the industry took a turn and the company’s investor pulled support from the company. Everyone, including Allen, was laid off in April 2016. She was picked up immediately by a competitor – and five months to the day she started, she was laid off again.
After college, Patrick Pistor worked in the drilling space, spending time in the Black Sea, U.S. Gulf of Mexico and offshore Angola. He returned to school to pursue an MBA while concurrently working for offshore driller Pride International in a marketing-focused management training program. After the company was acquired by Ensco, Pistor left to work in a shore-based operations role for Atwood Oceanics in Perth, Australia. One year later, he received an offer from Seadrill to work in its Houston office in which he focused on marketing, process improvement and HSE. In the summer of 2016, Seadrill laid him off.
Their stories may not be identical, but what binds Giddens, Allen and Pistor are their returns to an industry that is no doubt volatile, but also rewarding.
“I came back for the money,” admits Giddens, who now works as a fueler and driver for Halliburton and Schlumberger. He returned to the industry in October 2017 after working as a delivery driver in the interim.
“The main objective [for me coming back] is my son. We have great benefits and if something was ever to happen, he’ll be well taken care of,” he said.
Giddens isn’t alone. He said more than half of the oilfield workers he knows who left the industry are back. And Rigzone’s worker exodus survey found that 73 percent of laid off workers would return to oil and gas.
But he may not stick around for the next industry downturn. His three-year-old son has changed his priorities.
“This will probably be my last go-round because you know this job is literally suited for a young man,” he said. “You’re not getting an accurate amount of sleep, you’re gone from your family … as you age, these things start meaning more. When I entered the oilfield at age 21, I didn’t have any kids. Now I don’t want to feel broke down or tired when I do see him. Some things aren’t worth the money.”
Allen began working with a company focused on rig inspection in October 2016 – still in sales – and she insisted it was her choice, not a result of her layoff.
“People always tell me, ‘you’re a salesperson. You can sell in any industry – pharmaceuticals, real estate, finance … why stay in the oil and gas industry?’” she said. “I always joke and say, ‘because I’m a glutton for punishment.’”
Allen said she’s struggled with the idea herself.
“After the first layoff, the reason was easy. I was a single mom and I needed a check,” she said. “Also, being a salesperson, you spend so much time building connections and a network and when you look outside of the industry, suddenly that becomes irrelevant. Those contacts are no longer people you can call on or sell to. It almost made me feel like the last four years were for nothing.”
In November 2017, Allen started a new job in sales at a company that provides power solutions to the energy industry. She said her experience selling in the oil and gas industry is beneficial to her long-term career goals.
The time Pistor spent away from the industry was short-lived, but he managed to stay productive.
“I spent a few months getting my own business off the ground,” he said.
Pistor currently manages his own digital marketing firm, Lean Oilfield, which is focused on helping businesses in the oilfield improve their online sales and marketing efforts. He also cohosts the Oil and Gas HSE Podcast.
“With all of the technological advances that originate in oil and gas, our industry is slow to adopt new ways of doing business,” he said. “I came back to the oil and gas industry because even in a down market, there is just so much opportunity.”
Pistor maintains that even after being laid off, he knew he wouldn’t stay away from oil and gas for too long.
“The time spent out of the industry was getting Lean Oilfield set up and running … I don’t really know how to sit idle, so I was developing my entrepreneur skills as I prepared to reenter the industry,” he said.