VFW Magazine — September 2012
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A Perfect Fit: Veterans And The Oil And Gas Industry
Katherine Dawson

America’s booming petroleum business offers recent veterans golden job opportunities now in oil patches from Pennsylvania to North Dakota as demand for energy resources soars.

While many of the nation’s businesses have cut jobs, the oil and gas industry has turned the home front into an employment opportunity for returning vets. Afghanistan and Iraq veterans especially stand to benefit from this unique situation.

The ability to hire an abundance of new employees comes from the recent boom the industry is experiencing. New technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (the use of water, sand and chemicals to free natural gas or oil in shale formations) have allowed companies to tap the full potential of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, for example.

Devon Energy and Chesapeake Energy are examples of companies that have expanded their exploration and production operations nationwide because of these technologies. As a consequence, job opportunities have rapidly appeared in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Pennsylvania.


“There are so many reasons why companies want veterans,” said Mike Harvey, partner at Orion International, a military recruiting firm based out of Raleigh, N.C., that has placed more than 2,500 veterans in the oil and gas industry.

“They were doing flawless work overseas in 120 degree weather and in a hostile environment,” he says. “Just look at their selfless service, wealth of intangible skills, their leadership abilities—it’s never just one thing with these guys.”

Employment with an oil and gas well drilling company requires working 12-14 hour shifts, distancing it from a typical nine-to-five schedule. Workers usually alternate working two weeks on, two weeks o .

“We want individuals who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty,” said John Melia, founder of the Wounded Warrior Project located in Jacksonville, Fla. And energy director at RecruitMilitary in Loveland, Ohio. “A lot of times coming out of the military you might think a skill doesn’t transfer, but it does. Oil companies are huge.”

A wide variety of positions are available, including everything from desk jobs to field service technicians, operators and assemblers—just to name a few. Training is common after being hired. But companies also are looking for veterans who come from various skilled backgrounds.

“We love electricians and plumbers who have an understanding of pipes,” Melia said. “We have plenty of entry-level jobs to help with environmental concerns and rig safety.” Additionally, experience in engineering and construction also are highly valued. Compensation is determined by experience and the amount of traveling a position requires. Entry-level salaries for rig workers typically begin at $45,000 and range up to $110,000.

Because of veterans’ already-strong attention to detail and natural leadership abilities, companies know they’re receiving candidates with a honed skill set. With this in mind, most programs simply require a high school diploma and for their applicants to be drug free.

“It’s an important mission,” Melia said. “The same people who fought in the armed forces are now fighting for energy independence and security.”


A former Air Force electrical and environmental system technician, Craig Dunn has been working for Nomac Drilling, of El Reno, Okla., for more than two years at an oilfield near Mt. Morris, Pa. Discharged in April 2010, he attended ShaleNET, a school with facilities in Youngwood, Pa., and Williamsport, Pa., that specializes in providing free training in natural gas and oil drilling and production.

“I had just gotten out of the Air Force and thought about going back to school,” Dunn said. “I heard about this program and that there were going to be a lot of jobs in the field. So I gave it a shot.”

One week after Dunn completed ShaleNET’s month-long program, he was hired as a rig worker. “It was an awesome experience,” Dunn said. “I was looking for a career in the industry, and I plan to go as far as I possibly can within my company.”

According to Byron Kohut, the western regional director at ShaleNET, classes are offered in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia. But they will only be free for the next three years.

“I’ve found veterans are great candidates for these jobs,” Kohut said about his students who were former military. “Anything vet-related is No. 1 on our to-do list.”

Chesapeake Energy, which hires veterans through ShaleNET and military employment agencies, has some 1,100 former servicemen and women on its payroll. Based in Oklahoma City, Chesapeake is among the top 15 producers of oil and natural gas liquids in the United States.

“In 2012, we expect our most aggressive hiring of veterans to date,” Chesapeake Energy Field Recruiting Manager Mikel Lucas said. “Our company’s senior leadership asked us to target and hire at least 500 veterans for positions we have across the country.”

Halliburton, a top oilfield service company with 70,000 employees worldwide and a main office in Houston, is another prime employer. “Halliburton is a good fit for men and women transitioning from the military,” said Brian Wilson, district manager for the company’s North Pennsylvania operations. “We invest heavily in both on-the-job and structural leadership training.”

Wilson, an Army veteran and current reservist, compares Halliburton’s training course to many in the military.

RecruitMilitary’s John Melia points out that working in the oil and gas industry isn’t that different from military life. “Camaraderie, teamwork, working outside— it’s all directly transferable from just that,” he said. “It’s not working in a cube, 75% of the positions are outdoors.”

Melia’s analogy is applicable to Dunn’s situation and experience. “I was a jet mechanic—it made things easy to transition from the military to the civilian world,” the former airman said. “I work with guys from the Army, Air Force and Marines—we all came from different services, but working together is really easy because of the military.”

While veterans find employment in the oil and gas industry, the recruiters who place them there genuinely believe in their product.

“There’s this amazing look of awe on the employer’s face when one of our veterans steps out of the room because of the great candidate they just interviewed,” Orion’s Harvey said. “So I can say this; we know what veterans are capable of doing.”

E-MAIL kdawson@vfw.org

Petroleum Industry Full of Potential

This is one industry that contributes to three pressing issues—national security, fiscal solvency and employment. Because of technology—horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (using water, sand and chemicals to free natural gas or oil in shale formations)—entire formations such as the Bakken in North Dakota, Marcellus in Pennsylvania and Barnett in Texas are being fully tapped on state and private lands.

The oil and gas industry currently accounts for 9.2 million jobs, equaling more than 5% of total U.S. employment. It created 9% of all new jobs in 2011. If allowed to realize its full potential both on and offshore, the petroleum business holds bright prospects for workers for years to come.

Energy independence, besides enhancing security, could produce 3.6 million new jobs—cutting unemployment by 2%—by 2020, according to a Citigroup study. Two-thirds of the positions would come from multiplier effects, as 550,000 new employees in fossil-fuel related jobs spend their incomes.


Nowhere has this upbeat employment trend been better demonstrated than in North Dakota, now the No. 2 oil producer in the nation.

The state has the lowest unemployment rate at below 3%. Williams County, the center of the Bakken oil boom, has the lowest jobless rate in the country—0. 7%. North Dakota’s per-capita income has jumped nearly 79% in the past 12 years. Its petroleum workforce presently numbers 30,000. Just in the last three years, jobs are up 172% in this state’s oil and gas industry.

“This is more than oil,” Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council told Associated Press, “it’s opportunity.”

Pennsylvania, where the oil business was born, is again on center stage. Exploration and production in the Marcellus Shale formation supported 140,000 jobs in 2010 alone. By 2020, projections put the total at 245,000 jobs.

Drilling rig laborers can earn $90,000 a year with overtime.
Professionals, such as petroleum engineers, bring in well over $100,000 annually. Welders working in the oil patch make $60,000 to $85,000. Companies like Chesapeake Energy Corp., Consol Energy, Devon Energy and Range Resources make many of these opportunities possible.

Texas, synonymous with oil, continues to boom. “You can go straight to those fields and get a good-paying job,” Scott Tinker, Texas state geologist, told Time. “The demand is there.” The Lone Star State offers added incentives to veterans. Since 2008, the Texas Workforce Commission, through its Texas Veterans Leadership Program (TVLP), has been linking job-seeking vets with potential employers. All of the TVLP’s 22 resource and referral specialists are Afghanistan and Iraq veterans themselves.

“Sometimes [businesses] don’t know how to hire or find a veteran, and we can be that link,” Bob Gear, TVLP’s director, said to USA Today.

Contact Information for Companies

Orion International: