September 2, 2011

Life in oil field 'man camp'
not for everyone 

Martha Irvine, The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Austin Mitchell, left, and Ryan Lehto, work on an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D. With what many are calling the largest oil boom in recent North American history, temporary housing for the huge influx of workers, known as "man camps," now dots the sparse North Dakota landscape.


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Austin Mitchell, right, takes a break with Ben Shaw, left, and Ryan Letho, center, while working an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D.


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By that, he means there is no such thing as a normal schedule. One guy's shift might start at 4 a.m., another's at 4 p.m. — those shifts often running 12 to 16 hours, seven days a week, depending on the work and the deadlines.

It leaves little time for the rowdiness that you might expect at a place like this. The quiet is most often broken by the sound of footsteps on the gravel that fills the camp walkways.

The men might watch a little TV, shoot some pool or hang out for a chat and a smoke. They use computers next to the laundry room or Wi-Fi on their own laptops to communicate with the outside world, and cell phones, when they work.

Target Logistics is building another camp near Tioga, N.D., that will have a barber shop, a tanning booth, a hot tub spa and a 24-hour commissary. It's a sign of what it takes for oil companies to keep good workers, some who pay their companies $400 a month, or whatever they can negotiate, for room and board at the camps.

In reality, though, these men have time only for the basics — eating, sleeping and recuperating from work that can be grueling, and dangerous, so they can go back out there and do it again.

"If I had a sign at my desk, it'd say, 'It's the food, stupid,'" says Brian Lash, CEO of Target Logistics. Next in importance: a comfortable bed. He likens the man camp to a hotel, "a turn-key city that has everything you would need to live in a remote environment."

To the average person, though, the rooms at this camp would probably seem more like a dorm, or Army barracks — solid enough, with heat, air-conditioning and indoor plumbing.

But they're also basic and tight on space, often equipped with a single bed, a small desk, a TV with cable and a DVD player, and a "Jack-and-Jill" bathroom, shared with a next-door neighbor. If that neighbor visited, someone would have to sit on the bed. There's only room for one small chair.

The smell of plastic (a main component in the walls of these temporary structures) and pesticide (mice and insects are problems out here on the prairie) also can be a little overwhelming.

But to most of the men who come here, especially those who've lived elsewhere on the oil fields, the accommodation is just fine.

"It looks nice to me!" says Matthew Tjaden, a 21-year-old oil worker who has just arrived at the camp.

The Minnesota native has been toiling in the oil fields since he graduated from an Iowa community college in the spring of last year.

Before this, he stayed in a double-wide trailer with six cots on one side and six on the other — 12 stinky, snoring guys who were mostly fed a diet of chicken nuggets and other junk food.
Tjaden hears that there's a salad bar at this man camp's cafeteria, and his eyebrows rise.
"Vegetables?" he says. "What is this? The Ritz?"

Even if it weren't, he'd stay for the same reason everyone else does: the money.
His degree is in recreation and leisure management. When he was in school, he was a Wal-Mart cashier and also delivered pizzas.

Now he makes six-figures working on an oil rig, 80 hours a week. He figures this time, with more experience and plenty of overtime, he'll take home $4,000 to $5,000 a week.

"I've paid off college and my car. I blew a lot of it, too," he says, detailing some of those purchases — $4,000 worth of snowboarding equipment, $5,000 worth of clothes, a $3,000 mountain bike....

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Temporary housing units outside of Williston, N.D.



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