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Fractured families

by Debi Sporleder
HUERFANO- “Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea” Not unlike the gold rush of the mid-1800s, our modern day black gold is creating quite a stir throughout the country, both good and bad. Despite all the differing opinions, everyone agrees we can’t live without clean water nor can we function without oil and gas.
The Bakken Oil Formation, the largest domestic oil deposit right here in America, has the potential to make the country energy independent. In North Dakota (ND) where most of this oil boom is taking place, unemployment hasn’t touched 5% since 1987 while Colorado is hovering between 8-10% and Huerfano County is sitting right around 25%. This windfall has created a ND state budget surplus of $1 billion where Colorado faces a $60 million deficit. Where America has been supporting unfriendly countries through oil imports, we now have the ability to change that.
Because of the black gold rush happening in ND, Huerfano County has been affected. Huerfano men have left their families to increase the family income and better the family lifestyle. Grant Olson, a family man from Huerfano County, is in it for the long haul. He sees this as an opportunity to put his financial future in place, retire by the time he’s 58 and break out of the cycle his father was caught in, living paycheck-to-paycheck. He doesn’t feel social security will be there when he retires so he needs to create his own security.
These men leave their families for weeks at a time, coming home for short stints. While on site, they live in “man camps,” which are very similar to dorm rooms. The company Olson works for provides its workers with 8×10 rooms which include normal amenities such as TV, DVD, internet access, bed and desk. They share a bathroom with someone in an attached room.
There is a huge cafeteria, a recreation room with pool tables, a workout facility and a full-service laundry. It costs nothing to be there and the fellow receives an extra $225/month for expenses. The rooms are cleaned once a week, complete with clean sheets and vacuuming.
A worker’s pay exceeds anything this part of the world may have ever seen. On top of their normal pay and the $225/month expense check, they receive a well completion bonus as much as $2,000 and if that well completes on a holiday, that $2,000 turns into $4,000. Not only that, but all expenses to travel home are paid.
Olson said the hard part is missing his family birthdays, holidays and special occasions. All of these events were missed this year because of the way the rotation fell, but next year he will be home on one child’s birthday and Christmas.
From the spouse’s perspective who stays home, they have to make sure everything is running properly and the lifestyle is bittersweet. While the income is nice, having the family apart so much is very hard. These women have to take the role of both parents. That job is often very challenging, and they face the same difficulties as a single parent when things go wrong with a car or in the home.
Olson pointed out something worth considering: the infrastructure and economic boom happening to the small towns in ND. The oil companies spend big dollars to make sure roads are well-maintained and employees are well paid. This translates to money pouring into the local businesses, municipalities and school districts. There are jobs, jobs and more jobs available in ND.
No matter which side of the fence you’re on, the fact remains we have families who have found a way to sustain themselves financially at the cost of being split apart. It begs entertaining the idea of oil companies in our area while maintaining the safety of our precious water reserves. This would bring our families back together and bring economic growth to an area long depressed because of no jobs.