Laid-off Oklahoma fracking employees may need retraining

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Laid-off Halliburton Energy Services Inc. employees could get retrained to work in the same industry.

An increase in drilling is expected to lead to demand for those laid-off workers. But the work they do on well sites might not look the same, said Oklahoma City University economist Russell Evans.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission announced recently that Halliburton workers in Duncan whose hours were cut or who were laid off last year could be eligible for a federal assistance program. The Trade Readjustment Assistance Program provides additional unemployment compensation for those who are receiving full-time training through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, according to The Journal Record ( ).

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Jon Eller said that means laid-off Halliburton workers don’t immediately get more benefits. The Employment Security Commission re-employment services target populations director said those workers must be accepted into an occupational training program that the U.S. Department of Labor has approved.

The approved training program must also be available in the same area where workers are looking for jobs. And those new jobs must be at the same wage or higher than the job from which a worker was laid off, Eller said.

“The Department of Labor doesn’t want people to have to go to a lower-wage job,” he said.

Stephens County had the highest jobless rate in the state in October at 9.6 percent. Stephens County’s unemployment rate was up 3.5 percent from October 2015 when it was 6.1 percent, according to data the Employment Securities Commission collects. Duncan is the county seat of Stephens County.

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Cimarron County had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.8 percent.

Oklahoma oil and gas executives said in November quarterly earnings calls that the downturn has led to advancements in completion design. Horizontal wells are hydraulically fractured after drilling is finished. Chesapeake Energy Corp. is one of a few drillers that changed its frack design, forcing open dense shale rock with more sand, more water and more chemicals.

Some companies pumped 1,000 pounds of sand per lateral foot within a wellbore for some wells in the STACK oil play in north-central Oklahoma.

Those changes mean workers will need to learn new formulations, which change how wells are fracked.

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Eller said if the training needed to learn how to frack new wells is substantially different it could qualify for the Labor Department’s program.

“If there is new technology available, even in the same industry, it would probably qualify,” he said. “I couldn’t say for sure without reviewing it.”

Evans said in his discussion with drillers they also echoed how the science and engineering have evolved for fracking design in the last few years. The lateral wellbores are longer and there are more small segments, known as stages.

Drilling activity won’t reach boom levels soon; it could take more than a year, he said. But when the industry recovers, the work might not look like it did leading up to the peak in 2014.

That could mean more work for sand truck drivers or more employees on fracking crews.

“As it becomes more common to drill multiple wells from a single location, a return to activity may not look like it did in 2011,” Evans said. “Looking back three years from now, I will be curious to know if this is a different paradigm.”