The following is a transcript of an investigative report on Full Measure News. Click on the link at the end of the transcript to watch the video story.
When a stuck ship recently blocked the Suez Canal, a vital trade route, oil prices went up. But that was temporary. Overall, America's oil industry is still grappling with the bust in oil prices prompted by the pandemic shutdowns. During America's oil boom not long ago, Scott Thuman reported on good times in Midland Texas. Now, he returns to find it hit hard.
In the dusty fields of Midland, Texas, folks are aware you can’t always let the picturesque scenes fool you. This massive chunk of land sitting on top of fortunes in oil and gas has at times made or broken dreams.
When we were here in 2018 it was making them. The oil boom was in full swing. They couldn’t build houses fast enough, and even a local barber was making over $180 thousand. The bars were full, and oil workers came from all over.
Chris Woods: Oh, yeah. And that's- you ain't gotta have a high school diploma or anything.
Thomas Clayborn: No.
Scott: Yeah, I guess that's true, right?
Chris Woods: Know how to have a good work ethic, that's about it and sometimes you ain't even got to have that as long as you show up on time every day. (Ha, ha, ha)”
But when Covid hit, people stopped driving, stopped flying. They just sat, and so did pumpjacks. Oil prices did worse, they plummeted, because they ran out of room to store it all just us other countries started a price war.
And where these Texans once made room to keep up with their sudden growth spurt, the dust is still settling.
Scott: That was almost two years ago. Today, still an empty lot, and a part of this city’s multi-million-dollar revitalization plan put on hold.
David Blackmon is the managing editor of shale magazine.
Scott: What did that mean for jobs around here?
David Blackmon: A lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people, companies went bankrupt, we had a hundred bankruptcies in the industry last year. That of course means layoffs. Companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger, the big service companies, the drilling companies had to deactivate 80% of their drilling rigs. And every one of those drilling rigs has a crew 50, 60 people that suddenly weren't working, they had to lay off. So, there were something over a hundred thousand layoffs in the industry last year, just because of COVID. I mean, you could really attribute that to COVID-19 impacts.
Like Joseph Kiowski, now out of the oil business altogether.
Scott: Did you have any idea that you were going to lose your job?
Joseph Kiowski: No. No, not at all. We hit the ground running. And it was looking pretty, pretty fun and pretty fantastic.
Scott: Making a lot of money.
Kiowski: Oh, yes. We were... But at the same time, it's like borrowed, if that makes sense. Okay, we know that there's going to be a downturn, so bide your time and put it back, if you can. Which most people here, they don't. So, that's the nature of the beast. You have to really try and plan for the future, I guess.
Which at the moment, is uncertain. Now that demand is increasing again, oil prices have rebounded back to where they were before the pandemic hit. Still, Blackmon worries about the aftershocks of 2020.
Blackmon: I don't think we're going to get back to the full boom that we were in 2018/2019. But for example, the rig count has gone up almost doubled since last September. It's still just half of what it was a year ago though.
But, folks here will tell you life in west Texas is all about resilience.
Scott: So overall happy, content, optimistic, concerned, what are we?
Dustin Glover: Optimistic.
Chance Hazel: Hey, things are looking up. Everybody's happy.
Dustin Glover: I think a happy medium is honestly 65 to 85 bucks a barrel. And then everyone can make some money, have jobs.
And renewed hope that what lies beneath, will bring them back again.
For Full Measure, I’m Scott Thuman, in Midland, Texas.
Sharyl (on-camera): While oil prices have rebounded some, the other big factor that’ll determine how strongly the oil producing parts of America come back is the Biden administration. President Biden is putting his focus on renewables, like solar and wind. But experts say, major energy companies are still evaluating how that will affect their industry.