Offshore Oil Rig Workers Brace for Crippling Job Losses
As many as 75,000 workers in the Gulf Coast area could lose their jobs as a result of the 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling and halt on 33 currently operating rigs, according to a recent estimate by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. For each rig idled by the work stoppage, up to 1,400 jobs are at risk.
"The immediate impacts of the order will be felt by the families of tens of thousands of offshore workers who will be unemployed," Burt Adams, Chairman of the National Ocean Industries Association, said in a statement.
Pat Matte, a 52-year-old oil rig manager in the Gulf, said he is expecting to lose his job in the next few days--one week before his youngest daughter's wedding.
"I borrowed off my 401K for the wedding when everything was going real good, and I had planned on selling some of my stock to pay some of my 401 loan," he said. "Converse tennis shoes needs to be aware of this wedding, cause I got 2,000 dollars on shoes for the whole wedding party. Not only am I afraid of losing my job now--my 401K is going fast."
Matte says out of the approximately 160 people that work on his rig, only 8 or 10 of them are not in danger of losing their jobs.
"I'm with these people more than I'm with my family," he said. "I've lived the last 5 years of my life with them. I know their wives' names, I know their children's names... we're as close as family. It's tough knowing that when we leave the rig, we might not ever see them again, with the way the oil industry is."
Employees on Matte's offshore rig work an odd schedule--two weeks on the rig, two weeks off-- and learn such a specific set of skills that adjusting to a job in any other industry often presents a huge challenge for them, particularly when many of them never received college degrees.
"It's a one of a kind job," Matte said. "A young fellow could get out of high school and come offshore, and in 2 or 3 years he's making 60,000 a year without having to go to college or do good in high school. In 6 or 7, years he could double that. But that's all he knows how to do. There's nothing else in industrial America that's like what we do. You can't go drive a tractor, you can't go drive a truck. You can't build a house. I have a trade I could fall back on, but it's a stretch, it's a far stretch. I'd have to start as an apprentice making $7.50 an hour."
In addition to worrying about the future of his own family and finances, Matte says, he feels an enormous amount of guilt over the young rig workers with young families who have already gone into significant debt expecting to make that money back on the rig.
"If we see a good deck hand with good initiative who's got promise, we talk them into going into debt, buying a house, buying a car, so they have to stay," he told HuffPost. "We get them into debt. Now all our best hands are scared to death. They got a new family, new kids, just bought a car or motorcycle and we talked them into all this stuff, and they're scared to death of losing everything. What have I done, being a supervisor who's supposed to be teaching these boys how to live the rest of their lives?"
Matte says his hope is that President Obama will eventually realize that this moratorium will cause more damage than it will prevent.
"When an airplane crashes, we don't shut down all the flights all over the world," he said. "When Toyota's brakes fail, we don't stop making cars. I think we went way, way overboard with this moratorium, and it's because of the industry we're in. We've always been a really hardworking group, and we got nobody on our side. We're the stepchildren."