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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and…

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Coke, Meth And Booze: The Flip Side Of The Permian Oil Boom

The fastest-growing oil region in the U.S. is fueling not only the second American shale revolution—it’s fueling a subculture of drug and alcohol abuse among oil field workers.

The Permian shale play in West Texas is once again booming with drilling and is full of oil field workers, some of which are abusing drugs and alcohol to help them get through long shifts, harsh working conditions, and loneliness and isolation.

Drugs are easily accessible in the Permian, which is close to highways and to Mexico. For oil field workers making six-figure salaries, money is not a problem to buy all kinds of illegal substances to shoot, snort and swallow to get through 24-hour-plus shifts. The physically exhaustive work also sometimes causes aches for workers, making them susceptible to getting hooked on prescription painkillers.

The drug and alcohol abuse subculture in the Permian is a known—yet rarely reported or discussed—issue in the most prolific U.S. shale play, where oil production is booming, and relentless drilling attracts oil field workers from all over Texas and all parts of the United States.

In Midland, in the very heart of the Permian oil boom, The Springboard Center—a drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility—has many clients from the oil fields, Christopher Pierce, director of marketing for center, tells Rigzone’s Valerie Jones in an interview.

“We get a lot of clients who work in the oilfield because of where we’re located,” says Pierce, 35, a former oil field worker, and a former addict.

Pierce and The Springboard Center in Midland are now working on building a gated living camp community free of drugs or alcohol for people who want to be in a safe place. Related: The Three Best Oil Majors Of 2018

Oil workers are not speaking up at work about their addiction for fear of getting fired, Pierce said, adding that he doesn’t have anything negative to say about the oil industry, which is the backbone of the economic growth in the Permian.

Some oil field workers and contractors use drug cocktails or various substances depending on the condition they seek to achieve during their 24-hour-plus shifts. At the beginning of a long or overnight shift, they would use ‘uppers’ like cocaine and methamphetamines, and finish the shift with ‘downers’ such as prescription medication or alcohol, Kayla Fishbeck, regional evaluator for Prevention Resource Center Region 9, a data repository for 30 counties in West Texas, told Rigzone.

“In Region 9, the most screened drug last year was amphetamines and that was largely in the oilfield,” she said.

Thanks to the oil boom, the unemployment rate in Midland is at a record low 2.1 percent, and the unemployment rate in Odessa is also a historically low of 2.8 percent.

According to law firm Sutliff and Stout, Midland and Odessa are the top two Texas cities for drunken-driving fatalities.

“We hear stories of guys getting off their shift, getting a six-pack or 12-pack on their way home and start drinking in their truck,” Fishbeck told Rigzone.  

Related: The Most Important Waterway In The Oil World

The Permian’s drug of choice is crystal meth, a stimulant increasingly supplied by Mexican drug cartels, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to the Houston Chronicle in May.

There is a strong correlation between the rise of drilling activity and the number of crystal meth seizures by authorities in the Permian area, Houston Chronicle’s cross-analysis of data from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the rig count shows.

Eddy Lozoya, a former oil field trucker and a recovering addict at 23, has recently found a job at a local department store selling shoes. At least for the next few months, he doesn’t plan to return to the oil field.

“I don’t see myself being able to work 100 hours a week sober,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “The oil field is tough.”

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Justin Torres on July 29 2018 said:
    Hopfully these people find help before its too late. There are free helplines available
    https://addictiontreatments101.com
  • Lee James on July 29 2018 said:
    Kind of makes it look like people will do anything for money. This not only looks bad for people's lives, it also casts a shadow on an industry.

    The news about shifts that are way to long, and other downsides of the employment is bound to get out to the public. I suggest that the industry step in, now.

    I suspect that part of what needs to happen is that production should be slowed to become more inline with pipeline capacity and worker health and welfare.
  • Tom on July 30 2018 said:
    In our zeal or greed, to get the oil, we flare a lot of gas, looks like we flare a lot of people too.
  • Joel on July 30 2018 said:
    The use of drugs is choice.i work with and still put in 100 hrs work week without drugs
    I also know alot of 21/25 yr old men that can and do the same.12 hrs. A day with a 1.5 hrs drive one way is common.7 days a week no problem,wihout drugs.you just gotta want it.and remember "If you cant get it.You cant stay".
  • Karl Jackson on July 30 2018 said:
    I worked in oil patch for twenty years .ya it's great $$$$$ but I have had four marriages .ya the women loved the money but hated me being always away .and when got days off I partied .oil patch work is very demanding and safety comes first .21 days straight in camps or off shore or land or rural areas . is a stretch on the body and mind .and seeking help from help lines or trestments or countselling .or going to AA or NA meeting doesn't work for everyone one .listening to all of the above can be a bigger trigger .my self haven't worked for four years know .cause comming home from grey hound as I was knot allowed to travel to some places in own truck. so four years ago the driver from grey hound left me stranded in a small town city. .where I was brutly mugged as I needed help to go to a bank ..and being nice respectful person. .but so tired from work .as I got mugged and knocked out and then tossed into a garbage can and everything thing stolen of me ..and later waking up in a black area being crushed bye some wall .I woke up several days later and found out I was in a garbage truck and crushed twices bye the wall compactor ..as the driver picked the garbage can up and dumped the trash inside his garbage truck .there was no cops or amberlance or safety report taking into action .the driver was had been told not to talk to me .wow .I went back to work after several months as I thought I was healed .I lasted about 45 mins .cause noise and everything around me was freaking me out .I went to treatment countselling I did everything I could .to beat my pain .as I loved working in oil patch and working with great guys .was it my choice I was tired after 21 days straight 12,hour shifts I got mugged and crushed twice and dead on arrival to the hospital for being a nice guy .to this day I've done all I can .know I am a homeless bum .don't do drugs and don't drink .just live from day one day in shelter .because I don't have the ability and strength in my body to lift anything and trust off people or being on dark areas or closed spaces .I've tried all different medication and it made me feel worse .I take nothing and collect a little change as I have a cigarette habit . everything elses has been taken from me so at least I can have a little bit off happy ness left to buy a pack off cigs .not all about choices it's about any thing can happen in a split second .every thing in pares us even over. Eating makes people tired or after lunch .caffeine does stuff to the body .can't always assume it drugs or alcohol a person is on .if I could go back to work today I would .know my phischal body and brane can knot do it .after being crushed in garbage truck ..cause I was super tired from work and being drug and alcohol free until I had my days off .know look at my life homeless .get $two hundreds and fifty dollars a month of government for a single man to survive for a month . .having serveriouly bad injuries and brane damage and ..PSTD really gets me far in life know .god it's a blessing I am alive and I thank the Lord I am every day .but doesn't change my life to get back to working in oil patch again .or other jobs .I've tried so much in the four years after the mugging and garbage truck crushing ..to heal my mind body and soul .if was my choice I wouldn't be broken to a peices .like I am today and if worked do drink or drugs .maybe instead off assuming this or that nobody can read a persons mind and really no what is going on inside or how tired they are .if money the most thing important .well come try being homeless .I've lived the dream off oilpatch and had many things and also done other jobs .jack off all trades type off guy and I lost everything know for the sake of being tired but super nice to a couple of guys and thinking the driver of a grey hound bus would get me home safely .and a cop report or amberlance picking me up and the garbage truck company giving shutting me out .wow and all I wanted to do was thank the man that saved me .but was told to have no contact at all .well it all sound discusting to me .even the muggers didn't get caught ..I'm just another face in the crowd .that no body F**king gives a shyt about .thank God he is there for me cause no body elses is .link in Google man crushed in garbage truck lives to tell story .you will see me live on global News .as I got hold of them after I healed up about from being crushed to death .I blame myself for everything .I should stayed on bus instead of going for a coffee and smoke break .we always had breaks .this bus driver couldn't speak English and was his first day on job and had no clue about what he was suppose to do .I was not the only one stranded .were do I start my life know .be a godblessing fantastic day for me and mircalles..I got nothing to live for just a buying a pack off smokes that gives me the little bit off happy ness left .the rest is gone .thank you Karl and God bless me and God bless to the world and safety too
  • Joel Sprague on July 31 2018 said:
    I call bunko on this article......nobody works 24 hr + shifts. There have always been drugs and alcohol in the oilpatch! nothing new here.....move on!
  • Emmeyekayee on July 31 2018 said:
    As a person well versed in the rigpig culture, I can say this unequivocally. Think about who goes to work on the rigs? Its not like the most integral, quality individuals are the ones taking these jobs. You want to solve this dilemma? Stop making excuses. Find the source, see the problem. It's stupid people being treated like they're smart. And there's very few things more dangerous in this world than a stupid person who thinks they're smart.
  • Suzanne Moore on July 31 2018 said:
    The comment about drugs and alcohol always being part of this job is correct. But the comment: "nothing new here ... move on!" is totally bogus and incorrect. I lived there for 8 years around the real boom in the 1980s with unemployment so low there was no housing except tent cities between Midland and Odessa. The big difference now is the introduction of cheap cartel drugs of all uber-destructive types from heroin to fentanyl to ketamine to crystal meth. It is now roughneck CHAOS ON STEROIDS with crime rates so high and incidents so impossibly vicious and unhuman, it's hard to comprehend. When will they get a death grip on cartels, instead of the other way around?
  • JD on July 31 2018 said:
    I'll say this. I've worked in the oil & gas business for 24 years. The drugs are there if you want them. I've been drug free for 10 years. And yes we do work some long hours. But it's your choice weather you chose to work on drugs or not. Like everything else in life. But drugs are in every workplace & easily accessible. So it's not just the oil & gas industry that has employee drug problems. Drugs are everywhere!!
  • Bill Smith on August 01 2018 said:
    Please don't forget hookers. Another danger lurking in the patch.
  • Ricky Collins on August 02 2018 said:
    How did us old times ever make it. I’ve been in the patch 33 yrs and never had to do any drugs to do a 24 hour shift. For sure no alcohol. Try a a 76 hour shift out. That was my longest hitch pulled. I will admit, I did drink a lot of coffee back in the day! How many companies are allowing contract hands to stay on location working more than 16 hours out there.
  • TH on August 02 2018 said:
    As a current oilfield worker of many years, I'll resound what the bottom line is....... Choice. I work 100 hr weeks, I'm over 50 and have never used drugs to keep me going. Ive worked plenty of 36 and 48 hour shifts also. Its about lifestyle and choices period. I choose to stay healthy and in the right mindset to keep going, stay alert for safety reasons for myself and others around me. Is it hard on marriage? Yes. Family life and kids? Yes. Dealing with a lot of solitude and loneliness? Yes.....but turning to drugs just complicates and escalates the issues. Plus you put yourself and everybody around you at risk by being under the influence. The oilfield is a all in or none at all business. Youre either made for it or your not. If you have to resort to using drugs to get through your shifts then get out of the patch and go get a job at McDonalds or Walmart or something....just get away from me and putting me at risk for your immature and moronic behavior. The younger generation Ive seen coming into the patch has A LOT of substance abuse issues. Its sad really. If you work with a company that does a lot of drug testing, you won't last long, yet there are companies out there that will employ those same individuals just to have a warm body to get the work done. I love my work and the patch. It can be very good to you and your family if you use it to your benefit and not your demise.
  • Drew Parker on August 02 2018 said:
    So I have been in oil and gas a while there have always been drugs around however in downturn years I have worked other industries and guess what just as many or more drugs around. It comes down to there are drugs around dont do them. By the way I believe this article tilts a certain direction. To the person who said " look at the people who take these jobs" I do everyday I see fathers supporting families they never see and paying for education so their children will have it better. I see sons supporting elderly parents. I also see an underappreciated and under valued demographic that does alot for this country so your welcome.
  • Mike peterson on August 05 2018 said:
    Fake News ! I worked the oilfields for many yrs. 95% of the guys are there to do their job, make
    their money, and head to the house and families. The screw-ups don't last because the
    companies don't put up with it. Lots of drug screening and pee testing for any accident or injury.
    That work is too physically and mentally demanding to be doping and drinking. It's just too easy to get hurt, or hurt someone else or tear up equipment when everybody is paying attention, and doing the right thing. When that happens, here come the questions, the drug tests for all involved, and the reasons for the screw-up.
  • Sad on August 07 2018 said:
    Lost my Dad in 96 to an oilfield accident for lack of sleep. He was 42. Now losing my Boy Friend to the oilfield from drug addiction. He’s 38. ???? Times have change..
  • Kathy on August 10 2018 said:
    This report is not accurate for the “ industry”. The smaller companies that do not drug test do have problems with meth being used by roughnecks. The larger companies do not tolerate drug use. They not only do random drug tests they also do hair follicles that go back several months. If an employee fails a drug test they are kickin rocks! There is no second chance, no rehab option, no excuses your ass is fired! The oilfield is a dangerous job there’s no room for errors or drugs. I’ve been a rig wife for over 25 years. Trust me ive seen it all. The men who do drugs to “make it through the workday” do drugs anyway, it has shit to do with the industry. These people are meth heads that seek employment with companies that do not drug test just like any other industry. If you don’t hold their feet to the fire they find you and that’s where they work.
    I hate reading totalitarian reports like this. The oil industry like any other industry has good companies and bad companie, good employees and bad employees. It’s a dangerous job where there’s no room for drugs. Mistakes made in the patch are often fatal. There’s no coming back from dead. But don’t write a report as if all roughnecks are drug addicts because it’s just not true.
  • Corvettekid on August 20 2018 said:
    Clearly, the (smaller) companies need to do a better job of making sure there is balance between working conditions and family life. Otherwise, they will lose good people.

    Even a 5% monthly attrition rate is very high. Labor churn is not good for morale, productivity, or long-run success.

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