There are some industries that are more dangerous to work in than others, and perhaps one of the riskiest jobs on earth is working on onshore and offshore drilling. Adding insult to injury, the growing rate of addiction in America, especially in the workplace, is making working in the oilfield more dangerous than ever. Although they are heavily regulated and drug-tested, many oilfield workers have become expert at beating drug tests, finding themselves addicted and operating dangerous and heavy machinery under the influence.
The transportation vehicles that work in the oilfields have demanding hours, often working as many as 36 to 48 hours at a time. That puts a lot of demand on those driving to keep moving, and they are finding a way to do so by juicing themselves up to stay awake. Earning more than six figures, they drive 35-ton trucks in a straight line from one drilling site to another.
Many working in the oilfields insist that they have the money to burn and the time to kill, so they fill the time with drugs and booze, being careful about timing to avoid positive drug tests. The boom of the oil industry and the increase in wages and high-paying salaries has increased the market for illegal drugs on oilfields across the nation. Law enforcement officials and an oilfield injury attorney, claim that there has been a severe spike in drug abuse and crime due to the rising rates of addiction in the oilfield workers’ industry. The worst-hit area appears to be West Texas, where the number of addicts continues to grow as the oilfields turn and burn.
It isn’t just prescription drugs making oilfield workplaces dangerous; there is a rash of meth, cocaine and everything in between. Drug dealers have found a niche market in oilfields where the money flows as quickly as the oil. Making runs to the oilfield can bring them two to three times the income, and the demand just keeps increasing. Along with the increase in drugs are an increase in the number of oilfield injuries.
In West Texas, the drug of choice appears to be methamphetamine, or crystal meth, which helps those wanting to stay awake and alert. It is a highly stimulating drug that helps them work overtime and get overtime pay. As it is supplied by the drug cartels that penetrate the border, getting drugs has not been a problem in West Texas.
The Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes, in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety, found that as the boom in oil began to increase, so did drug addiction and drug trafficking. Between 2009 and 2016, the seizure of illegal drugs (like crystal meth) has gone up exponentially. The number of raids from 2009 to 2014 jumped by as much as five times during the peak of oil drilling. State trooper seizures also increased — from 3 to 73 in the same timeframe.
The number of oilfield workers who tested positive for meth has increased substantially as well. The biggest problem for the oil industry is that as the demand for workers increases, there are fewer non-addicted workers to fill the job slots. When they try to transfer out of West Texas and work in some other area of the country, the transplants from West Texas have a higher drug test failure rate than anywhere else in the US.
It’s not just affecting workers in the oilfield; the oil and meth boom has created an entire community that is addicted and dangerous. With employers having to recruit from outside the Permian Basin, which encompasses West Texas, there are barely any applicants from the surrounding communities that can pass the drug test to get hired.
With money booms there comes some good and some bad. For the oilfield industry, big money equals big-time addiction. In such a dangerous occupation, taking drugs while working is nothing but a recipe for disaster. It’s not only about being unable to find anyone to man the operations; those who are tricking the system and passing drug tests are bound to fail at some point. And it probably won’t be the drug test they fail; it may instead be an accident that will cost numerous lives.