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Chasing ‘black gold’

Chasing ‘black gold’

By Tiffani De La O
Bridge contributing writer
Published Monday, April 27, 2020

Three hours North of Laredo lies one of many oilfield drilling rigs. These rigs run around the clock without any means of stopping, which makes this profession one of the most demanding in the world. 

Working in the oilfields backtracks to 1859 when the first American oil well was discovered. OPEC started up in 1960 in order to coordinate and create a union between 14 of its members, all foreign countries—the U.S. not among them.

Under the guidelines of that organization, crude oil is being drilled every day, worldwide, to produce energy, gasoline and other resources used on a daily basis. Each barrel, which contains about 40 gallons of crude oil, makes 19 gallons of gasoline. The workforce, which contributes to this organization, comes from drilling companies with crew members who are from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

For Gustavo Chavez, 23, of Laredo, it was one of his dreams to be able to have the chance and experience life in the oilfields. After having a rough childhood, which ranged from poverty to displacement, he decided to get up and make his life better even if it meant being far from home. That is when he became a floor hand for Helmrich & Payne.

“Just like any person, you work at a different job and there is word of mouth that better jobs are out there which pay $2,000 a week,” Chavez said about his motivations. “That is when I decided I have to give it a try because I wanted to better my life and start making good money.”

Ryan Flores pursued a welding career in Oklahoma City before coming to Laredo.

“[It’s] always hard work for everyone, day in and day out, with busted hands and feet,” Flores said of working in the Laredo fields. 

A typical day in the oilfields is nothing less than hot, it gets even worse during the summer. Texas heat will have one of these workers dehydrating and sweating their pores out. Shifts range from 12 to 16 hours, sometimes with no days off for weeks. On workdays, shifts begin with a safety meeting to update the crew on what happens with the rig and about ongoing operations. 

“The meeting is a safety measure to prevent any accidents or to learn about the dangers going through the operations such as drilling, tripping in or out the hole, and other crucial things,” Chavez said. “My primary job as a floor hand is cleaning, maintaining, organizing and being that extra hand the crew might need. It’s like being a custodian for the rigs.”

Flores, on the other hand, would be pre-inspecting equipment to be used and welding metals for the rig with equipment such as grinders, torches, bevel machines and more. “It is usually done way before a rig moves in,” Flores said of the welding process. “It is the main stage for frac welding, or even after in case a pipe has a leak or has been broken.”

Those who work in the fields admit how difficult the work can be.

“Being out on a location is tough but we create a bond through our work ethic,” Chavez said. “You see different kinds of people but there’s people that won’t put out or don’t last their full hitch.”

In fact, the work is so intensive they rarely find time to joke or relax.

“[There’s] not much horsing around,” Flores said. “You have to be alert for anything serious such as [hydrogen sulfide] gas or any explosion on live gas.”

Just like most jobs, some overachieve and others remain satisfied with the work they do—they don’t go the extra mile.

“Not everyone’s work ethic is the same,” he said.

The oilfield lifestyle is not for most, it is a demanding job that puts stress on the crew members who are working far from home. This can also affect life back at home because this career does not allow workers to get up and go home whenever they would like. The people working at Rig 626 have living quarters fully equipped with working stoves, fridges, restrooms and other appliances, but it is not as comfortable as one’s own bed.

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