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Oil and gas workers fight to regain footing during oil bust

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 5:04 PM CST
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - Merlin McCalister has worked in oil for 23 years. He’s been here before.

“It’s not my first time going through the roller coaster of the oil and gas industry,” McCalister said,

But he hasn’t been here before.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this bad, but once COVID crossed over the water and got to us here, I knew we were in trouble,” he said.

COVID-19 caused an already bad situation to get worse. In April, crude prices went belly-up, falling more than 300% in a single day.

“The personnel on the rigs started getting let go,” McAlister said. “Some of our rigs started stacking up. Some of the guys started getting sick on the rigs. So, there was no work for us.”

By the middle of summer, McCalister lost his job as a safety specialist. With five kids to support, money got tight.

“Very little Christmas and no birthdays this last year, pretty much.”

And while his children took it in stride, it was McCalister who worried.

“I try not to get down on myself, but it’s kinda hard not to when you can’t go out and provide,” He said.

Not just for now, but also for the future.

Hannah Herrera lost her job at a sand plant in Monahans, as well as her ability to pay for school.

“They agreed to help me pay for my school,” she said. “And when I got let go, and they were just like, you know, we can’t help you no more.”

And like McCalister, doubt seeped into her mind.

“So, I was thinking,” she said. “I might have to drop out of school if I don’t have that extra income.”

It’s not just uncertainty about jobs, but the industry as a whole. And oil and gas will have to learn just how to deal with the changing business landscape, something industry experts like Innovex CEO Adam Anderson believe will take time.

“The pandemic really highlighted some of the weaknesses in the industry,” Anderson said. “I think it’s going to be a while before we get back. It could be years before we get back to pre-pandemic levels.”

As 2020 wore on, Herrera and McCalister found their way to workforce solutions in Odessa, which helped them find jobs.

Both got their commercial driver’s license and work transporting water for use in the oilfield.

“There’s more upside to it,” McCalister said. “You’re going to always need drivers.”

And with many of their friends still out of work and the Permian Basin still struggling economically, they know just how lucky they are.

“There are some days that are good and some days that are not so good,” she said. “But I have a job, you know? I’m working.”

Working for whatever comes next.

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