The Canadian oil patch is being hit, and being hit hard. While some people feel “Big Oil” can handle being taken down a peg or two, the reality is that families are suffering across the country. Canadians are losing their jobs, their savings, their homes, and their ability to put food on the table for their families.
Chad Miller, of Oilfield Dads, started a Facebook group that has hit 7,500 members in just weeks, and continues to grow at an incredible rate. Chad and some of the members of Oilfield Dads were kind enough to agree to share their stories with us. Please take the time to read the stories below. They provide a real glimpse into how dis-respecting and marginalizing the Canadian energy industry impacts everyday Canadians.
I wanted to share our story….even if it isn’t published, I’m hoping it will be counted as one of the many families being affected. We need to stand up and have ourselves heard and I’m hoping the numbers grow so we have better opportunity to see some sort of change.
My husband has been on the rigs for 6 years. He is a Motorhand with 3 large companies within Sask and AB. We have 3 children under 5 years old. Up until February of 2015 everything was going well for us. We had paid our house off in full, we had two new vehicles and lived an average Canadian family’s income. We had no extra toys, we were more concerned with saving our extra money for our children’s education and retirement.
February 2015 changed everything. My husband called with the typical “we’re shutting down for a while” call. I thought nothing of it because as an oilfield family that isn’t new to this type of thing, it was normal. We did our usual, stocked up on groceries and halted extra spending and hunkered down to wait it out. April came along and every call to the push was the same disappointing answer… “There’s no work, and there’s no sign of a return date.”
We finally gave up in April and applied for EI. We had savings, but we didn’t want to burn through them all. We wanted to keep what we could intact. We made a deal that I would go back to work part time and my husband would be with our kids since daycare in our area is enough to have to re-mortgage your house, and we live an hour from the nearest city, so commuting plus daycare costs for two parents and three kids is not feasible. I got a job with the health region doing what I did before I had my children, nursing assistant. It doesn’t pay near what my husband made, but it was something. Between the EI and my tiny contribution…we found ourselves still using up savings…on just our regular bills and food! Groceries are at an all-time high and my paychecks cover our food alone.
In September I started going back to school to further my career to earn more money, and started a second job to try to fill in what is missing…but even with doing all three commitments every single day of the month, we still aren’t keeping afloat. I am stressed, my poor husband is stressed, and all we can do is pray that this will change sooner than later.
My husband was hauling oil mud for a 3 man trucking outfit and within 24 hours he had gone from about 60 hours a week to no truck to drive. Luckily, because he has been driving all his life, he was able to find a decent city job. Huge pay cut but I was still working so it was good or so we thought.
A month later, layoffs starting at my company (an oil rig service / drilling company) but I made it through the first 2 cuts. I got my notice but had to stay on for 2 weeks to train my replacement in HR and how to do full cycle hiring / terminations in a new database. (My replacement came from the payroll dept.) Pretty pissed.
On March 1 I applied to EI but because my pay out was so “big” didn’t get any benefits for 8 weeks and we just barely made it through those times. Now my EI has run out and we are about to lose our truck because we can’t afford the payments.
I have probably sent on average 15 – 20 resumes out every week and for HR and / or Administrative work. I have talked to EI to see if there is something else they could do for me but the only thing is to teach me customer service or how to run a cash register but as I have been told that is geared more towards immigrants or new Canadians. I COULD go back to school but definitely can’t afford a student loan, if I qualified.
I have never had such a difficult time in landing employment and some days find it hard to leave the house and continue the employment hunt. I have had to lower my salary expectations by about 50% just in the hopes to start bringing something in for income.
I am frustrated, dejected and very worried about what our future brings to my family and to the people of Alberta. Our governments don’t seem to care and to only talk about it and look into it, no longer is a viable answer. We need action now and for our Premier to stand up and fight for the people of Alberta. Get the East Energy Pipeline going, stop royalty payments and see how Quebec and Ontario survives when the money stops flowing.
I was working for (an oilfield services company) when the downturn started. We were on pins and needles when the price started to drop. We often wondered how low that price would drop. But it was never considered that it would drop this low. We left the job site November 21, 2014 and that is when things really started to get tough. Being from Lethbridge, Alberta since the time I was laid off I started looking again for work up north. I don’t know how many places I have applied at but there was never a call back. Not even one. I was down and out, we moved into a house from an apartment building due to the property management not wanting to wait for the EI to start up again. So not even 3 months moving into our house rental, our property owner decided that she was going to put the house into foreclosure. Depression had started to set in. I was and still being treated for it to this day. I am working at a home improvement centre. Income is well below then what it was over a year ago. Hobbled to the finish line to pay off my car loan. We still struggle, we are on our last month in our house. The bank has ordered us to leave by March 1st. It has been a challenge to find a place here in the city. Many landlords don’t except pets. We have 2 puppies and never want to put them in tough situation on finding them a new home. I’m sure we will find a place, but at the same time trying not to end up homeless is more of a goal. Do I want to get back to work? Absolutely, who doesn’t? All of us just want one thing, to get back to work. That’s all.
If there’s any chance now to go back to work, I would in a heartbeat.
Her name is Natasha, she is a heavy equipment operator who runs her own contracting business. She has had almost nonexistent work for almost a year now. She has two small children: one three one 6 months old. She is no slacker, in fact she worked sporadically throughout both her pregnancies. Even running skid steer at 8 months pregnant around her acreage.
Her oldest son has had medical issues since he was born resulting in him having a feeding tube that he is still fed from to this day. Because she is a contractor she has to pay for her own medical benefits program and with her son having feeding issues food, supplies and trips to both Edmonton and Red Deer for doctor appointments are costly. Despite this she never complains, she is a true super mom.
With no work or very little work, jobs that do become available are very competitive as there are literally hundreds vying for the same job. Her husband has temporarily found employment but it is soon to end as he too is a contractor and the contract is soon to be finished with no new contracting job in sight.
They do what they can to get by but their future is very bleak and as her sister my husband and I do what we can for them but we too are struggling, and it gets harder and harder to find money to pay not only our bills but some of theirs as well (mostly for the kids, as we do not have children of our own).
My husband is still employed within the oil and gas industry but I fear that he too will be laid off soon as he has already taken a pay cut and we have scaled back in order to help my sister and her family out. We don’t mind going without so that my sister and her children have enough.
If things don’t change soon I fear that Alberta is going to crumble and the journey back will be paved with broken dreams and lives. The suicide rate is astonishing, and the amount of vandalism is staggering. What we are left with is a Premier hell bent on breaking the camel’s back and a Prime Minister who just doesn’t care about the one province who carries the country he is in charge of. He is more concerned with his own image than that of the people in the west.
I am sick for worry of not just my sister and her children but everyone in my beloved province. The one person who we should be able to look to for answers has turned his back to us refusing to put his big boy pants on and deal with the situation. Breaks my heart.
’ve been in Fort McMurray 8 years now. Had a bad feeling last Xmas and boy was I right. It was the end of my seven years one job as a contractor for one survey company. When one job was up there was always another to jump to. At times I worked too much but started to like the pay cheques. In the last year I have had three different jobs. I have even been on unemployment. Problem is living in Fort Mac with two kids a wife and a house and vehicle along with all its bills, you can’t afford to live on EI benefits. Not at all.
I have taken jobs with a pay cut of almost $20 less than I’m used to. Problem is doesn’t matter you’d experience right now. Every company wants it done for as cheap as possible. Sadly the hard working residents that made Alberta our home can’t afford to be here. Everyday chancing one more day of losing everything we have that we worked so hard for and for so many years. Can make a grown hard working man break down in tears just thinking about it. What once was a dream come true may be a nightmare!
Prayers and hopes every day that things change around either oil goes up or companies start appreciating the hardworking man trying to provide for his family.
My name is Sarah. I’m 30 years old I’m an certified apprentice welder. I was working as a helper collecting my hours to go back for my pressure tickets when I got laid off. Everywhere I went same story we have work coming just hold on. We need good helpers stick around. In a course of the last year I maybe worked 4 months. Ran out of EI. Ran out of money. Ran out of things to sell to pay my rent while waiting and hoping things would get better. Searching for jobs to be turned away for being over qualified. And unable to find work as a structural welder in a fabrication shop. I had to move back to my parents in Manitoba. Was a low blow.
Very unhappy and depressed. I found a Job barely making it by. Moved out of my parents’ house but I’m not welding or helping. I get a whopping $850 every 2 weeks. I made more on EI when I qualified. I barely make it by. My rent’s $1000 a month (utilities included) car pmts $386 and insurance is $200 phones $85. My budget is tight. I have a whole $30 a month for food. I can’t even afford food. I took a $12/hr pay cut just so I wasn’t living off my parents… Suicide rates are up for a reason. It’s not easy asking for help when you’re down on your luck. It’s hard to go do a job you hate but do it to have a roof over your head.
wish to remain anonymous so you can call us Sid and Nancy Devereux.
When we had our son in 2014 we decided that I would stay home with him and Sid would continue to work in the oilfield. Since we only had one income coming in we cut costs but we felt lucky that he could work a job that would let us be able to raise our son for his first years at home. I have since been diagnosed with an illness that prevents me from working full time. I am hoping that changes soon.
We have always tried to save enough to get us through spring break up and it always worked well until 2015.
Sid ended up only working for around a month in January/February and then he was laid off. We used our savings, tax-return and it still wasn’t enough. His parents had graciously given all their kids money and that just got us through the last 2 months of the 6 months he was unemployed. All the while applying for jobs and looking for work. He was SO LUCKY to go back to work in July as I know so many people still haven’t. It was patchy work but he was still working so we didn’t complain. Then in November we got the same news again—no work. He managed to get a couple weeks through Christmas and New Years and we were so thankful to be able to buy our son a couple gifts to put under the tree for when Daddy got home.
He has tried finding a different job since September but no one will hire him because he works in the oil field and employers think he won’t be reliable or long term. My husband is the hardest working man I know, and all he wants to do is provide for our family. He has looked into re-educating himself (but without help from grants or Alberta Works). We have looked into remortgaging our house (that is projected to be worth 20% less than we bought it for) to get him into a different trade or line of work. Unfortunately it isn’t a possibility.
He managed to get work near the end of January doing something else for a lot less pay up in Grand Prairie for a month. It is 2015 all over again except much worse—we don’t have any savings for break-up, small tax return, and I believe his unemployment will run out. And this time I don’t think his rig will back in July.
Neither of us sleep well. We both feel trapped without a light at the end of the tunnel and every door we try to open is locked. I am trying to find work for him and sending resumes while he is working. I try not to eat as much to help keep the grocery costs down. Our next step is to try to sell the house and one of our vehicles—I have a hard time believing either will sell but trying to stay positive. We just never thought we will probably have to start back at square one as we are coming up on our 40s with a young one to raise.
We are thankful we have each other and our families. My heart goes out to those who have struggled more because I know that our story isn’t even close to the worst.
The story of my struggle started towards the end of the fall of 2014, I was working for a seismic survey firm at this time and slowdown in the patch was already starting to become evident. The owner of the company cut back our 3 day travel pay from New Mexico to Calgary on the De-mob back home. Right away I knew things were beginning to go on the down turn as this was just UN heard of not paying for your people to get home. When I got home I sat and waited and waited and was constantly told work is coming up next week. Well next week never came I waited almost 2 months being lied to at a time when I could have worked somewhere else.
Call it loyalty or stupidity I ran out of all the money I had saved up and was hard pressed to find employment. I spent the next 3 weeks putting resumes out with no luck and ended up having to sell all my prize guitars that I had collected over the years along with most of my valuable items of sentimental value of mine to pay the mortgage, truck payment, bills and food.
Finally in late fall I managed to land a job with a legal survey firm which kept me busy until break up of 2015. This is when things really got bad—I again waited a month and a half until I got a letter from the owner of the company saying that 70 percent of the employees are officially laid off which of course included me. Once again because I sat and waited so long most of my money had evaporated and I was on the ropes once again trying to make ends meet. I applied for EI right away and was told that my first payment was to be in 6 weeks, I frantically began to look for work everywhere. I must have put out 75 resumes out in the first 3 days, I called everyone I knew and drove all over the city looking for help wanted signs.
For another 2 months I could find only small jobs enough to put food on the table, We begged and borrowed from family to help pay the mortgage but had not enough to make the truck payment or any of the credit card or utility payments. We strictly payed for food and mortgage and that is all we could manage. Soon enough we received a notice from the law firm of the Bank saying they wanted the full payment for my truck by a set date or they would take legal action and put a lean on my house. I went to several debt councilors and brokerage agencies to see what I could do, but since my credit was so bad now and my consumer debt so high my back was against the wall.
I managed to find a construction job the rest of the summer which basically fed us and payed for the mortgage but that was it. I continued to put out resumes out for what seemed an eternity. The day that hit us the hardest when I answered a knock at the door and a large legal envelope was handed to me from a garlic breathed chain smoking weasel that said you have been served. I opened the letter and was informed that my house officially had a lean on it. It was at this time I knew I had to sell my house in order to at least try and get some equity out of it before it was too late, I knew that my mortgage renewal which was up in May of 2016 would not even be considered by my bank and it was either sell the house quickly and get some equity out of it or claim bankruptcy which was the worst option.
My heart was broken, all the hard work I put into the house over the years, the home we raised our only wonderful boy, the home we had friends, family and shared so many good times and memories was now being taken away from me and my family over a truck. I felt numb every day I woke up but with the strength and support of my wonderful wife Tami I shook off the depression, anxiety, and stress and we managed to get our act together and put the house up for sale.
Luckily it only took total of 3 days to sell it. We immediately weighed our options and decided that we would find a place to rent in Wainwright where Tami’s family was. We rushed out to Wainwright and after looking at half a dozen shit holes we found a nice place we could be comfortable and got our Son into a nice Catholic School. When we got back I received a call from a survey company and off to work I went once again. My poor wife was left with the task of packing everything up by herself the whole time I was out at work. The possession date was Jan 6, 2016 so my poor wife had to get all this ready in very little time while I was away from home. I had 3 days off for Christmas and spent half a day hacking off part of my deck because of an encroachment on the property line of my… neighbor that would not waive it over 13 centimeters… really. Anyhow back to work I went and the day I left it really hit me hard, this was the last time I would see this place and the tears started pouring out. All the stress and hell I went through finally hit me, I fell to my knees and wept like a little boy and it felt so good to get it out and after I stood up and wiped my eyes I got in my truck and did not even look back.
I worked right through the moving date and again my most amazing wife was left at home alone with my son to deal with the moving company. The day of the move I got a call from Tami and she informed me that the moving company wanted to gauge us for another $600 for overweight charges. I could hardly contain myself when I called the owner of the moving company and quickly reminded him of the flat rate quote he gave me. After I had mentioned that I would call the BBB he retracted his demand and another hurdle was jumped.
I worked until the last week in January and again was laid off. I finally arrived at my new home to see that my wife had already unpacked pretty much everything and made the house comfy and cozy. I looked out at the front of the house and seen a mountain of boxes and looked at the wife and started to say: why did you leave all these… boxes here and not…..
I looked at her face and could see her eyes glazing over and immediately I bit my tongue and said I will break these down tomorrow and get them off to the dump Sweetie. She smiled, laughed and said that is what I thought. We hugged kissed and looked at each other and said we did it we have finally moved on.
I am still currently out of work and still looking, I have a couple of ideas of starting my own business to get back on my feet again and I am trying to take it one day at a time and not stress too much, I am very lucky to have the support of my wonderful wife and son and all the friends and family that have helped us along the way. My wife has consoled in a fantastic website called Oilfield Dads and has turned me on to it as well. It is great to be able to talk to other people that have gone through so much and stuck together and supported one another and there are so many heart felt stories on this site that just prove that family values are strong in the patch and bond us all together.
Here is my story:
I am a 3rd Class Power Engineer by trade prior to a promotion to Supervisor, Production Engineering (for Operations Project Coordinator) that I took in 2014. I have been in industry for some time, working Oil and Gas in the late 80’s and early 90’s (huff ‘n puff from 89 to 91 to be exact), then working the service industry for a couple of years until I saw the big drops in 93/94 effect my family (parents) which caused them to relocate to Northern BC. A few months later my brother and I followed suit as our father told us there was a lot of work up there.
We did some Pipelining for a couple of years moving into the new OSB mill that started up in Fort Nelson. I continued to work in OSB until laid off in 2001 due to the change in market. Went back to school to get ticketed as a certified 3rd Class Power Engineer getting employed with 3 different SAGD plants during the time of 2005 to 2015 (not including time as a coop student prior to that). Climbed my way through the ranks to getting into supervisory roles, committees, as well as external board committees.
After being laid off in Oct of 2015, I have struggled to find work. The company I was with had contracted an employment firm for 3 months to help laid off workers find employment. This firm was great for P. Eng’s but found they had nothing to cater for an actual Power Engineer. I had sent out well over 100 resumes during the time my lay off and continue to do so today. With no real hits and a couple of phone call conversations, it seems that I was under-certified (with my experience in supervising they were looking for 2nd Class P.E.’s) or over qualified (I had more experience than they were looking for in the form of a plant operator). To add to that, I did not hear from any industry outside of oil and gas that I had applied to (Food, Manufacturing, Power Plants, etc.).
This lead to some very low moments for me which also affected my family. I had always been a worker who has a high standard of productivity and expertise as can be reflected in my yearly performance reviews through work. My wife and I had some fights that we managed to push through and turn around. I feel today it has made us that much stronger as a couple.
We have now come to the realization that we must sell our house while the market is still viable rather than lose it to the bank. Once we made the decision, I finally got a hit on a very good position with (an energy company) as an Operations Coordinator (think Supervisor). I am in the final processes of this application having to have my D&A test this week, with no worries on this as I have not fallen to any vices even in the high stress of unemployment that I should get my official start date in the next couple of weeks.
I find it ironic, that yet again with the low market in Alberta that I am returning to Northern BC where I first met my wife. It seems our life together has come full circle.
We are both saddened that we have to leave the beautiful Hamlet of Langdon, Alberta as we have both set up very deep roots here… more so than any other community we lived in prior to the move here in Oct 2014. Volunteering for community events, clubs, as well as I had applied to be a member on the Recreation Board for the County of Rockyview as I felt that my last year of employment working closely with projects that I could provide value to the board.
I have been in the patch for 34 years. Most of my work has been driving, moving rigs and service. I did a stint of dispatch, sales and construction for a maintenance company. I then got into spill cleanup and reclamation for 3 years. I went back driving bed truck on ice roads the winter of 2012 and reclamation in the summer of 2012. The winter of 2012/2013 I went back driving on the ice and stayed driving year around. In November of 2014 I was laid off by the trucking outfit. I tried highway hauling oversized loads and was getting cut hours and working for below minimum wage due to bidding loads too cheap and quit in August of 2015. I have not found a job since. I have sent in resumes and found out that there is unto 6,000 resumes on a posting. The worst part is maintenance enforcement took my Driver’s license in September of 2015 and won’t work with a person when they are supposed to work with both parties according to the lawyers. Hard to get a job with MEP wanting to garnishee wages before you get the job. I went from a 6 digit figure a year to 36,000 a year.
This was a particularly dark time in my life, I was recently divorced from the mother of my two beautiful daughters. My ex-wife was and still is a great person, but we were married young with two small children, the pressure was too much to have a normal family life and decided to part ways. (So this is my story how the Oilfield made me who I am today).
When I originally began to work in the Oil Industry, it actually happened by total accident. Back in the mid 80’s a friend called me at home and asked if I was interested in working as a temporary Delivery Driver for a U.S. owned Supply store with offices in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan. In between jobs at the time I was certainly intrigued with the opportunity to expand my working knowledge and of course money for my children.
The driver position was in Edmonton and I began the next day, delivering valves, flanges etc. to other supply companies around the city etc. Apparently I must have been doing a pretty good job because I continued to work for several months without any indication when the job would end. Then one day I was called aside and asked if I would be interested in a permanent full time position, which of course was great news. Shortly after that I was moved into the warehouse pulling material orders and shipping to the out of town Field Stores. This position lasted a few more months and I was eventually moved to the Order Desk position, taking orders and sending them to the warehouse for shipping. Within the first year with this company I was then asked if I would be interested in transferring to a Field Location as a Salesman, which turned out to be Slave Lake Alberta. This was good news for me, but I had hesitations due to the fact that this would be the first time being away from my kids for weeks at a time. Reluctantly I accepted the new position to advance myself for my family.
A couple of years went by in this position and I was learning something new each and every day. By 1987 I was promoted to Field Store Manager with several great people working under me. I was now in the position to tackle a whole new set of skill sets I wasn’t even aware I had, budgeting, sales forecasts, inventory control, interviewing etc. By this time I had found a purpose in life, I enjoyed the work and put in as much quality time with my daughters as much as I possibly could, which was limited due the added responsibilities.
In 1992, I was asked if I would accept another transfer to a new field location, which turned out to be Provost Alberta. At the same time after conversations with my ex-wife I was granted custody of my girls on a one year trial basis, which was by far the best news possible. Suddenly becoming a single parent in an Oilfield environment proved to be somewhat of an adjustment. The advantage though was I was home every night and great support of family and friends. This turned out to be one of my proudest accomplishments, and lasted until their adult years. As a matter of fact my oldest daughter still remains in Provost married with four children. My youngest daughter moved to Vancouver to continue her education after high school and is now a published author. I’m very proud of them both.
By 2002 my further advancement with this company was slowing and I felt it was time to branch out and pursue more aggressive business interests and opened a Pilot Car/Hotshot business in Edson, Alberta. This area was ripe for expanding and very active in Oil and Gas Exploration. My company grew rather quickly, employing up 10 people during peak season.
Unfortunately with the down turn in 2008 and 2009 I was forced to cut back operations and decided to downsize, releasing all the employees and eliminating most all of my equipment to survive. I elected to go with one truck and for additional work as the area picked up again, I chose to hire Contract Operators to fill the void of employees.
Over my years in the Oil and Gas Industry I have seen many ups and downs, but for the most part there was always a light at the end of the tunnel, but this time, it seems that the light has been shut off. Now I am a Grandfather and Great Grandfather who with no regrets dedicated myself to the Oil and Gas Industry. It seems like I am in a crossroads, too young to retire, too old to look for a new path with employment. Currently I am in the position of feeling like I should dissolve my company, or pinch the pennies and try and ride out this latest storm. Although the ride could be a long one.