So, you work in the oil and gas industry, huh? Depending upon your age or who you have crossed paths with during your time in the field you may have heard the term “oilfield trash” as a label placed on those of us who work in the industry. There are many mottos and slang phrases floating around that others like to use to describe workers associated with this industry. There are a lot of individuals who wear these labels with pride and smile when they hear someone reference them in such a manner. But there are also many of us who think it is quite shallow of others that choose to place labels on those who have chosen this profession. I believe anyone who decides to place demeaning labels on a person because of the field of occupation the person works in or for other reasons for that matter, shows their egotistical and narcissistic personality. Two traits that in my opinion are not conducive to a being good person.
I am not a person who is heavily affected by what others think when it comes to the profession I have chosen. I am a third-generation oil and gas and I was brought up with a work ethic and an understanding of what it takes to step off into an industry such as oil and gas. I am not placing my chosen profession above any others in the world, but I will say, it is a profession that many people would not or could not endure if they chose it for a lifetime occupation. And that is okay too.
Before I get any further into my presentation here let me tell you that everything, I offer here is strictly my opinion based on my own experience and knowledge. I have no desire nor is it my intention to ride on the shirttails of others. I am one guy who has over 28 years of oil and gas experience. I hope that I can bring some value to those of you who are just entering the industry, or those individuals who have been in it for a significant period. I want to share and maybe teach what I have learned, share with you the impacts this industry has had on me professionally and personally, and openly talk about my failures and successes along the way. You might be at a turning point in the industry either with your personal or professional life and not sure what options are out there for you. I hope what I share here will assist you in some fashion with your decision-making process. I further hope that if you are in fact a “lifer” in the industry maybe I can share some ideas or skills that can increase your potential for advancement in your field of expertise or assist you in moving into another position within the industry.
I cut my teeth on a block brush and file and for those of you who know what these two items are, then you have some time under your belt. “Back in the day” welder’s helpers used a wooden block brush and Bastard file to clean welds. I broke out at 11 years old working with my dad who had his own welding and roustabout business. Sharing my experiences with my dad and working for other contractors through my younger years is another article for another day.
Prior to returning to the oil and gas industry, I bailed off into thinking I wanted to be a bush pilot and pursued education and training in that direction for several years obtaining my private pilot’s license, commercial and instrument ratings. Through the course of that, I stumbled into an opportunity to be a Wyoming Peace Officer and went to work for the local sheriff’s office and worked as a patrol deputy for a few years and then took a temporary assignment with the State of Wyoming performing narcotics investigations. Prior to returning to uniform with the sheriff’s office my wife and I were struggling with a lot of different emotions with our work and the politics that went along with it. She was a dispatcher for the city working emergency services handling 911 calls, local EMS, and sending city and county officers on calls.
I was offered a position returning to the oil and gas industry in 1993 and took it. There were some things I missed working with the law enforcement community and one of the big ones was the comradery. I was not aware back then when I left the law enforcement world that I would find that same unique relationship within the oil and gas industry. Through my years I have learned that nearly every profession out there has a comradery type of connection. I think it is human instinct to build close relationships with others who share and know the ins and outs of their profession.
In 1998 I was approached with an opportunity to take a utility inspector position on a project in Colorado. I remember thinking I am not qualified to be an inspector. Thoughts of self-doubt flooded my head along with thinking my knowledge base was very thin. I was excited because of the opportunity and it would mean a boost in pay. After many phone calls to my dad who reassured me, I had the knowledge and that I just needed to give myself that chance to prove that I did, I took the position. I have been an inspector ever since.
In my first year of inspection, I encountered a lot of people who did and did not work in the industry and used the term “oilfield trash” quite often. I started to think about that comment a lot and the more I did, the more I felt compelled to try to change that labeling. You see, I was raised to respect people regardless of their chosen profession, race, culture, or ethnicity. Probably because my dad was a Native American tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and my mom was white. And the type of work you chose did not matter. You were respected because you had a J.O.B. and worked.
I started to notice that many individuals who said they did not mind being labeled as oilfield trash used it as an avenue to act out inappropriately always saying, “Hey man, I’m oilfield trash and proud of it.” I think those who were not in the industry and at times witnessing these kinds of behaviors latched onto the labeling and carried it forward from their experiences. So, I decided to try to change people’s perceptions of themselves who work in this industry as well as those who do not. Now, before I go any further let me throw this tidbit out there. I am well aware that among all fields of work there is a certain percentage of people who are just plain ornery, mean, and deceitful individuals who have no respect for themselves let alone others that they come into contact with. These folks have a chip on their shoulder and there is no getting around it. Some will change and many believe their way is the only way, placing them borderline narcissists. Again, my opinion only.
The oilfield trash term, for the most part, falls onto the group of professionals who work in the “trenches” so to speak. I am referring to laborers, operators, welders, inspectors, superintendents, foremen, straw bosses, leads, etc. But, if you have ever sat and listened to anyone who advocates labeling those of us who work in the oil and gas industry as oilfield trash, they associate everyone who works in the industry regardless of the position they hold as being trash. Which includes project managers, engineers, presidents, vice-presidents, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, admins, etc. Now, we can only guess as to why these kinds of people are so definitive on the label. It could be many reasons that I have no intention of going into here.
Before the end of my first year as an inspector, I started talking and referring to individuals I worked with as professionals. I was mentioning it in JSEAs, “tailgate meetings”, everywhere the opportunity allowed me to interject it. If the opportunity presented itself, I would address the term oilfield trash and what others’ definition of it was and explain my view of the workers as being professionals and explained why. I found that for the most part many of these workers never had anyone point out that the work they performed could be interpreted as a professional position. And on many occasions, these individuals were never treated like a professional or respected as such. When I started implementing this ideology into the crews, I witnessed a change in their behaviors, work performance, along with more participation with one another in a more respectable manner for each other’s hired position. More times than not, when you are not respected or do not respect yourself, you will not respect others.
The oil and gas industry is inundated with many talented individuals in every position within the sector. These folks are hard workers and have tenacity and resilience to work in all sorts of environments, climate included. Many are exceptionally good at what they do and will strive to improve themselves if given the respect, leadership, and opportunity to do so.
I challenge all of you regardless of your position and choice of occupation, to be more kind to your co-workers, colleagues, staff, and peripheral personnel. Give and show respect in the workplace and acknowledge them as professionals. You will be amazed at what changes will take place and how quickly “words” that are not conducive to respect and professionalism will disappear from dialogues.
Take care and be safe!