Oil Boom Boys
It was time to make a change in my life. I was twenty-two and a young photographer. I reached a point where I needed to do something to keep pursuing my trade. I needed to make money and work. North Dakota became that place, and it was that place for many other young men. I called us the "Oil Boom Boys" because we came here for an opportunity to better our lives. This project is not about fracking. It's not about crime or environmental issues. The story begins with me and ends with others. This story is about the men in The Bakken. It's about how we got here, the challenges we faced, the families formed and who we are. The outside world looks at the oil fields as a machine that is destroying our world. Maybe it is, to us it was a way to gain independence and grow as an individual.
Before I knew about the oil fields, I was living with my father in Pennsylvania and was entertaining the idea of joining the military. A friend from my home state of California contacted me. He told me about the employment opportunity in North Dakota. He spoke about the high wages and the long hours. North Dakota sounded like the place I needed to go. I went on my computer and could not find very much information about living and work in North Dakota. If I was going to do this, I had just to take the risk and go there. I began to save enough money to take a road trip to North Dakota.
It was near the end of 2013, and I was ready to leave on my journey. I packed up my car and took a three-day road trip up north. As I reached closer to my destination, I was shocked to see the dramatic change of environment. I asked myself, "What am I in for?". The sun soon began to fall, and the sky filled with millions of stars. The road disappeared into the thick darkness, and I was getting tired. I looked ahead and saw an orange glow in the sky. I assumed I was heading towards a town or city. As I got closer, I saw fields of giant burning flames; I soon learned that they were natural gas flares on well sites. I was finally in the oil fields, and there was nothing around but well sites. It was a scary feeling to travel so far and don't see anything but darkness and fire.
I got to Sidney, Montana where I was to meet with my friend and stay with him until I could get on my feet. He lived with some locals, in their two bedroom basement with another oilfield worker. He took me to the place he worked, and I got a job within 24 hours being in the state. They sent me to one of their facilities to work and booked me into a small hotel room with my friend. I worked my first three months at a small Sioux Indian reservation with my friend. I was unprepared for the weather and barely had enough to keep myself warm for the long shifts ahead of us. It was so cold that my skin would burn if touched by the wind, my hands would lock, and my feet felt like I was walking on needles. My friend knew that I needed better clothing, So he bought me some proper work boots and a thick coat. He said; "we all come out here without the right equipment, and your first check will always go to clothing."
Some companies provided more than most with clothing and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for their employees. You're life the first few weeks was tough. You had to adapt to the weather, the fatigue, and the workload. We were all learning how to survive and do this job. Most of us had little to no experience working with our hands or on heavy equipment.
You faced a lot of challenges working in the oilfields, and these challenges could be better understood if you knew the environment and company you would start working for. For myself and the people I worked with, we had to prepare for your day the day before. You never knew what kind of shift you would walk into, it could be completely chaotic. You learned to bring as much food and water with you to get through your shift of twelve hours. There were no set lunch breaks or places close around to grab a quick meal. I've have worked many shi