At first glance, you might think that working in the oil field is all fun and games. Oh wait, no one thinks that because it’s damn hard work. It’s something that has really taken some getting used to, and it’s definitely made me respect the people that do it day in and day out with little benefits besides a steady paycheck (which is, I guess, the main benefit). So first, it should be clarified as to what I do because that’s really the hardest thing to explain to people.
I just deleted a full paragraph explaining what I do because it’s so uninteresting I can’t even bare to read it, so here’s the short version: I dig holes in the desert to mount equipment that goes on the tanks that hold the oil.
The real focus of this post is not really what I do, but really what the oil field makes you into. I’m not trying to get poetic — it’s really not some man vs. the machine thing that makes him stronger in the end. It’s really just a natural progression of what happens to people who work in the oil fields, and this is dedicated to them. Of course, I don’t think anyone who works in the oil fields even knows what a blog is!
There are a few main elements which make working in the oil field a pain, and I felt compelled to make a list of them with no specific order since each have their own merits:
- Trying to find remote locations. It’s nearly impossible to find some of the oil leases. You’ll drive for hours around a fence line only to find a small dirt road that will take you to an adjacent fence next to where you want, but never quite there. This gets better with time since you learn to look for tanks, pump units, and black piping on the side of the “road” as clues.
- Dealing with the elements. It’s either super hot or super cold, with few exceptions. You combine this with some rain and if you don’t have a 4×4 you’re screwed (bring tow ropes). If it’s windy, the dust will make it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you.
Nature. I can’t think of many positive words to describe yellow jackets (the wasps, not the fashion statement), and I think even God might be at a loss as to why He decided to add them to the roster of awful creatures. I’m being particularly harsh tonight because I was stung earlier today on the back of my neck. There are also a large number of spiders, though I am less upset by these than I initially was. Rattlesnakes exist and some of them are pretty huge. I’ve only seen a couple and they didn’t bother me, but I would imagine getting bit by one in the middle of nowhere has to have a huge suck factor.
Hazardous chemicals. Well, I think oil itself is supposed to be dangerous right? I was seeing them wear all sorts of outfits to clean the oil spill in the Gulf, but I certainly haven’t seen them out here. As far as I’m concerned, a little oil never hurt anyone. But, what does really suck is something called H2S gas, which is basically like a tear gas that makes you feel lightheaded and foggy. Everyone wears a meter to detect it, but it only goes off when it’s above a certain percentage. In general, about 50% of the places I go have some of this gas (it is often associated with the smell of rotten eggs), and of those 50%, 80% have levels high enough to make me work while streaming tears down my face. I haven’t cried like that since a funeral. Then again, I think my eyes are pretty weak to that stuff. Either way, I guess in theory you could die from this gas, but it’s more of a frustration than a danger.
- Entertainment. I get it, it’s work, why do you need entertainment? Well, I get the pleasure of driving to all of these locations and a big part of the job is just making it there and back, sometimes being hours just getting to one unit that takes 15 minutes to get going right. So, in the company truck, there is one option: the radio. I’m not quite sure why, but the strongest station I can get is a pop station. So it’s either Katy Perry or static-filled conservative talk radio or silence. This is more of a danger to your sanity than anything else.
- There’s more stuff that sucks that could go here (like dismemberment and death), but you get the idea.
What’s the point of even talking about all this? Well, the effect that is has on the people who do this kind of work every day is apparently pretty evident, that or it just naturally attracts the most badass dudes on the planet. These are some no-nonsense folk who make me feel like the most out of place guy around… though I’m finally getting used to how things work out here.
This whole story has essentially led me to a short example of why the oil field workers are the hardest people on the planet. When I meeting someone to show me where a unit was located, the guy walked up to me and said hello and we shook hands. After this, he grabbed my shoulder and pulled back a still moving yellow jacket and crushed it inbetween his fingers. Before going back to his truck, he said only this:
“You had a wasp there.”
This man is the epitome of America.