With prices down and jobs leaving, US oil workers learn patience

CARLSBAD, UNITED STATES (AFP) – Wait for an upturn, or pick up stakes and look for work elsewhere? That’s the dilemma facing oil workers around Carlsbad in New Mexico, where a brutal drop in petroleum prices has hit the local economy hard.

Many oil workers in the arid southwestern state have already left the campgrounds where they had parked their RVs, after being drawn here by exceptionally high salaries.

In this dusty town in the Permian Basin – site of the planet’s largest oil and natural gas deposits, astride the Texas-New Mexico border – a worker can earn USD100,000 or even USD150,000 a year, twice or more than the average private sector wage there.

Clenon Weaver, a 34-year-old welder sitting in the shade outside his camper, said he had told his wife back in Texas, “I’m disappointed that I’m not going to work, but I’m excited to get to come home and see y’all.”

Weaver, who is trying to take things in stride – “laughing and cutting up (making jokes) makes everything easier,” he said – plans to take a few weeks to enjoy being with his wife, their daughters and new baby girl in their home near Houston, a 10-hour drive away.

After that, he plans to start looking for work again.

Thousands of people in the Carlsbad region work in the oil business – drilling or operating wells, or building or maintaining pipelines.

Like Weaver, many of them live in “man camps” just outside the city. In a region where real estate prices have soared after a decade of booming oil prices, they pay USD600 to USD900 a month for a spot to park their camper and pickup truck.

Clenon Weaver in an RV park in Carlsbad, New Mexico. PHOTO: AFP