I am the wife of one of Canada’s oil and gas well site supervisors. Maybe all you need is to get to personally know one of those in the oil and gas sector to understand just where we are at. This is my husband’s story.
Imagine a small poor farm boy in school always looking in at the cool kids, struggling to help his mother feed his five siblings. His dad has broken his back and lost the family farm. So he rides his bike (which he has re-engineered with scrap parts and attached a basket) picking bottles, doing chores before and after school until he drops. He learns to escape into another world with a flashlight and a book…any book. He can hunt and fish well before he is sixteen…it means food for his family’s table, but gives a foundation for his connection and commitment to nature. His father moves the family up to four times in a year following road construction jobs. The kids are changing schools up to four times in that same year. This kind of life is like kindergarten for a man; a lifetime of adapting and invention to survive.
A stern teacher pushes his students to learn, to analyze, to think and not to merely parrot back. He is known to wake students with well-aimed chalk. One day he walks by a boy who is daydreaming, but instead of reprimanding him the teacher said “Blessed are the dreamers for they are the builders of tomorrow!” and pats the boy on the head before moving on. He doesn’t realize he has just set this boy’s life’s creed. This teacher has ignited the boy’s passion of learning for more than grades. His teaching inspired creativity, inventiveness, and application for what was being taught…life skills for students who are daring, intelligent, and awake enough to pursue their dreams.
Now a young man, this dreamer finds an opening with a small operation and when he was laid off at 16 he takes his first unemployment check and starts his first business with his family. They go into treed land and clear out the dead or burnt for a post plant. The family works together and it is a success until a couple of municipalities decide not to pay out their bills. He learns life is like that, yet never has it stopped him, he just adapts and moves on to the next challenge. His mind is now set on how to get the job done, whatever the job is, with the least cost to the planet, the most safety for people and giving the greatest profit for the investment. He is self-made (school of hard knocks) yet personable, adaptable but only within the bounds of his integrity. He is lucky because he is one of a few who know how to hang on and how to get up after a fight and start again. He almost lost his leg to a chain saw while felling a tree, the doctors told him he would be lucky to walk. He left the hospital a week later under his own steam (ok, he used a cane). He got up! He built silos …some are still standing. When that dried up, he sat outside construction sites day after day until they finally took him on… he built on that experience until he was a foreman in a modular plant. In his twenties and thirties he had a dairy farm with family, worked in the oil and gas sector (step-by-step up to driller) and built homes… so close to retirement until the interest rates had him in the line with 70 other farmers handing in their keys to the bank in the early 1980s. You might remember the story of the farmer who blew the bank manager back into his bank with a honey wagon. Ya, my man is the stuff of folk legend! He went into sales and became the lead salesman for the Brick for five years until a back injury wouldn’t let him stand on cement floors. Then started his own carpet cleaning outfit and went on to pursue his dream of becoming an auctioneer. He was in the process of building his own auction dream when his wife of 20 years left him for… you guessed it “his best friend” in 1999. I met him a couple of months later and for reasons I’ll never understand he fell for me and wouldn’t let go (I thank God for it now). He moved away from his home to mine and began again building his reputation in the auction field. We actually did most of our socializing the first couple of years at charity auctions he volunteered for on the weekends. He was a little too good at his job and as a result some difficulties required another job change.
He and his brother worked at building a heavy equipment dealership and 9/11 happened… yes that affected Canadians as well. Loan companies had lost records and financing was no longer available. We were close to bankruptcy but at age 50 my man went out and became a vac hauler in the oil patch. This is no easy job. We sold our home and lived like gypsies for a couple of years as I traveled with him from rig site to rig site. They were good years. I have some knowledge as to what these oil and gas workers endure to make the money they so deserved. Make no mistake they earn…every penny! First there are the courses a rig hand needs — First Aid, H2S Alive, Confined Spaces, WHMIS, TDGS. Now there is even a course to be a rig hand!
Then there is the time that they have to stay away from family and friends, often in camps or hotels, usually trying to save money by bunking up with others or staying in rougher looking beds. This, to do a job which puts them in high-risk situations…people risk death by doing this job! The moving heavy machinery that needs to be operated whether it is 120 above or 50 below and often while soaking wet with either rain or snow. In the springtime, mud can add 10 pounds to each boot as you walk from place to place. Then there is the possibility of wires snapping…taking life or limb; or falls, or the silent killer H2S. Oftentimes these workers knowingly go into these jobs having to wear safety equipment to even breathe. Even outside workers such as the vac and water haulers, tong hands, movers, cementers, safety, EMTs and environmentalists are in danger while on site…never, never think that they haven’t earned or deserve their pay.
To provide for his family my guy worked most of these jobs! Water hauling was next and while watching the comings and goings he would drop suggestions in the consultant’s ear. Until the day the consultant took down a First Line book and told him to study, challenging Ron to do his job. To date I think he is the only water hauler to become a well site supervisor. Imagine the struggle to get a job and break into the club…it was long struggle and never really fully achieved. He was the guy to relieve the main pitcher in the game, he was the go-to guy for problem wells. He was the one to take the hard jobs and deliver the goods. Because of his safety concerns, H2S is now monitored on water delivered to drill. Often swamp type water was dragged up and used: the deadly gas was looming over his rig when he insisted it be checked…with reluctance…riggers never complain over a little discomfort…the surprising results had everyone hurrying to correct the poisonous effect. It was also determined that the foul water was one of the reasons that sweet wells were turned sour by the engineers. None had thought to look at it before this catch. Ron has always and will always take safety and environmental issues very seriously. Yet he was there to promote profits as well. More than once he told head office to hold on for just a bit until a dead looking well turned into a big money maker. He became an abandonment specialist, and never said no to a challenge. His real break never came in all his 10 years as a Well Site Supervisor, he has never been gifted a full season because of his age, time between his on rig experiences (20 years prior leaving his networking limited) and water hauling background.
We did take our gain though and try different ventures: while being a gypsy we started a store in a small town in Alberta; a chance for our daughter and son to maybe make a go… on our days off shopped for it and set merchandise up. It was a failed experiment. A new law in the industry and I couldn’t follow Ron on the rigs any longer, we had two weeks to make me a home. Our home evolved from an old run-down house on leased land on a lake. We did the work mostly by ourselves in the off season with over 160 loads of garbage to be hauled out (carpet as weed killer all over ahhh!) I never even saw the campground site for the 3 years of the Reno and new addition build. While traveling from visiting relatives we stopped in Herbert, SK. We had some school desks from the 1800s and we’re looking to sell them to the antique store there. In the end we met with the Historical Committee and donated the desks to them for the old school house instead. The mayor took us in tow and showed us the beautiful little town just 30 minutes from Swift Current. Hospital, school (K-12), grocery store, library, Co-Op, all the infra structure was there. We had seen the potential …told the town to seek value in the land and bought up what we could, hoping to find developers to help revive and build.
As the local media upsold our story we suddenly became the big developers out of Calgary! Never mind that it was just my husband and I doing most of the work, and we already lived in Saskatchewan! I thought my mother would pee her pants when she read the article she laughed so hard. The effect was a rush to buy in land in Saskatchewan, developers were another matter… that takes resources of money talent and time and boy they are hard to find! Ron Kissick is a man of his word, so we put all of our money into trying to build, unfortunately we partnered with someone who had too many problems to make a go of it and as he left we inherited his left overs and more. My own observation on this venture was that people outside of enterprising schemes think anyone opening shop are loaded… note it takes a lot of hard work and all your money to do even the smallest start up. Many of those who work in the oil and gas have done the same… taking whatever they earned and started up companies, invested in others and many are farmers. Well without the proper back up we ended our bid to develop only shy of a half million in debt. The majority of that being paid back already. So close… we were so close to being out of it all… just another season or two and we could have retired. Finally reaching the 10 year mark Ron now showed as a mature Supervisor on the roster to go out. Then it closed up in the fall of 2014. Not one job since November 2014, in the field where my husband had worked and fought so hard to succeed, against so many odds… not one job! The story is the same for almost a hundred thousand people.
We are luckier than most consultants, because Ron had been a water hauler and still had his Class 3 with air. It meant a summer job to see us through 2015, that with one house sale and a move back to the lake property. Then winter 2015 and spring 2016 Ron worked in construction until his knee required surgery again. We sold our retirement scheme off, little snowbird unit in Yuma and a fishing boat and have maxed our line of credit, and credit cards to stay alive. My dear husband has five jobs and is not working. He has two in the oil patch should it go again? As a spic operator where he followed pipelines to reclaim land (programs cut), carpentry… jobs drying up there too (who has the money to build and now his knee and back at 62 is just too much). Ron is trying to start a septic service for the area but we don’t have the capital (Oh to have just that little bit back that we invested in so many others) to buy the equipment needed to haul crap out of tanks around home and finally a job clearing corals if the weather ever permits… The government owes us money according to a bookkeeping firm and we have interest in commercial land on the #1 HWY that has east/west access. Hanging on, Hang on is the oil patch mantra… but to what now!
Every day we wake up and wonder what else can we do!! Are we alone… no not by a long shot… as Ron tries to network he hears the same story of livelihood and retirement lost. Very soon Mr. Trudeau you will feel the full brunt of these loses. Two years has cashed in all the RRSPs, sold off all the toys and extras any of the oil and gas employees. We are your victims… because we chose to work and work hard… To live, to laugh to share and build… we are hungry not for handouts and bailouts. All we have repeatedly called out for is the right to work in our country where we have paid taxes and invested our hard earned dollars. Even those toys we bought gave jobs to others and helped the bottom line for government. We can no longer fund outreaching programs for three world countries. (I have been a donator to CCF for over 30 years and am looking at having to stop that small donation because I can’t afford to spend what I myself cannot make).
How in this land of plenty and opportunity have we been left to hang like this by our own country. Many of us don’t have EI because we were the employers. These proud men and women of the patch who worked the field and offices… those who invested many years and dollars to become the high demand professionals of the patch. Every one of us who proudly worked so hard to see us become the world leader in environmental practices for the oil and gas sector are soon to fall on our country’s social system en masse as welfare recipients, depression and depression related health victims. All this while even in our own county some choose to purchase cheap dirty product from countries with agendas to break us. We have the knowledge, we have the people, and we have the product… now we need a government to put resources funded by Canadians into developing options to see Canadians back to work. We are not the blue-bloods of the Ontario and Quebec founders but we are HERE in Canada, and deserve the acknowledgement and respect of our government to lead us as you were voted in to do! The job you have isn’t just about giving away money to third world countries, and bring in more people who will also suffer this economy (once they are weaned off social systems). We need leadership not showmanship! We need solutions not talk and disrespect. We need people in government to hear us, to care and to find solutions to encourage and set this right. We are Canadians in the West! We are workers without jobs, men and women with families and responsibilities who only seek the opportunities to meet them. We don’t want charity, we are riggers and don’t cry easy. I hear my husband’s sorrow at a life of hard work, personal integrity (matched by few) now struggling to look again at what stone is unturned to provide fo r us. I see the fear and feel the disappointment with him as we are let down time after time… After all this will your government be the one to bring him and others like him down! The job now isn’t ours it’s your governments’ as elected leader. We need you to take Canadian money accumulated on our backs and invest in us
We are in the West…we are Canadian…Canadians that want to work hard, and play hard, Mr. Trudeau are you there? Mr. Trudeau can you hear us, really hear us?
I am the wife of one of Canada’s oil and gas well site supervisors.
~ Janice McDonough