January 31, 2018 0 Comments Experience Working in Alberta's Oilfield

From the Shores of BC to the Oilfield of Saskatchewan


The now-distant yet somehow still fresh melody of the BC waters still ring a song through my head. Now they are echoed with the symphony of roaring diesel engines plus the clashing iron further in the colder east. The venture for a new life and to reverse my fortunes back in early 2013 has tied me down in Alberta and Saskatchewan to this day. Once I said I’d just work the rigs, make some money, and go back home. Somehow I am still here.


This is southern Saskatchewan. Well, one of the numerous drilling rigs exploring its oil and gas reserves at least. Like last winter, the oilfield brings me further east here once again. I had no intentions to come back to the oilfield. Nevertheless being offered work 6 times this winter, and with my dwindling finances due to a poor 2017 hit by work slowdowns and large sudden expenses, I finally gave in.

The first misfortune to deliver a blow to my morale and finances has been a sudden 1-week slowdown in work earlier this month. Our company lost the piece of Frac work it has been on, due to workplace politics. On those days off, I’ve cleaned my home, and sat down in coffee shops to revise financial plans and develop new business and accounting strategies. The primary positive about any given month nowadays is being hit with no sudden expense. I’ve had terrible luck with sudden major misfortunes. I’ve had terrible luck with work – though I always find more than I can do, it always fails to meet my consistency and earning power expectations. Other truckers or electricians always see to pull the good straw. Not only I pain to become something better everyday, but I rejoice when I’ve made it through a month without falling down.

Saskatchewan reminds me of a more deserted variant of Alberta country- very flat fields that seem to roll on forever, riddled with snowfall that produces an almost endless sheet of white. This is a even more extreme contrast from the green, mountainous, water-riddled terrain of BC. It almost is an eerie sense of emptiness like that you feel when you walk into a large, pure-white empty room. Sometimes the quietness is comforting and provides a piece of mind, where you can close your eyes and calm your soul. Sometimes you can’t help but have it remind you of how lonely life really is.


I’ve been provided the task of staying with a drilling rig during its operations. In the
past I’ve usually just been sent to them to help with the cement jobs. One truck is run with 2 people- each on-call for a 12-hour period. While we are on-call, we sit in the rig shack (a larger-sized camper trailer) and wait for one of the members of the rig crew to assign us a task. Most days are very busy, where sometimes one of us works all 12 hours continuously, especially if we are flocking, or hauling displaced mud from a cement job. Flocking involves removing the clay and concentrated shale flowing out of the shaker box as the rig drills, and removing the sand that collects at the bottom of the flock tank. The concentrated shale and clay is too thick to be loaded onto the truck tank directly through the suction hose; it must be broken apart and diluted with pressurized water. The sand collects at the bottom from circulating water between the rig and two of the flock tank compartments; it is to separate the sand from the water. After a cement job, or upon a rig move, the rig mud and water tanks are emptied with the truck(s). The shale, clay, sand, and water is then spread over a wide area in an empty field using high pressure from the vacuum truck. Sometimes we get the odd slow day where we may work only 3-4 hours out of 12. They have us vacuum truck operators on a 20 days on, 10 days off rotation out here.


On some days I just feel like changing my number, saying goodbye to the oilfield forever, and living a normal life, and learning how to live it frugally. So far this week in this rotation, on this truck I’ve had:

  • A windshield wiper get torn off by the wind.

  • A valve rip right off the tank.

  • A driver’s side window no longer roll down.

  • The steering partially fail; turn the steering wheel all the way one way, and I’d turn the truck 20-30 degrees only.

  • The primary valve repeatedly not open unless smacked hard with a hammer.

  • The primary valve leaking due to a poor seal and/or inability to completely close.

  • The truck failing to hold revs above 900rpm right before a cement job.

  • The truck coolant sensor glitching and automatically forcing the truck to shut off, right before a cement job too. When you turn it back on, the revs don’t stay stable and sometimes the truck shuts off again.

  • In about 45km/h wind, as I opened the valve to land spread shale, the wind blew it over me head to toe.

  • As I climbed down from the flock tank, I slipped on ice and fell backwards on my back and head.

  • Two hoses crack open as I’m unloading oil to a 400 barrel.

When something goes wrong, often the operator is blamed for neglect – especially by the client the trucking company is working for. It makes the operator look unpunctual in his duties, and a fool for failing to perform the client’s tasks.

At this time of writing, the work has ended – the site did not want me there anymore, and the client and I no longer on good terms. Immediately my hands went to the phone, and mouth talking to other trucking contacts. The twin-turbo V8 sings its mighty roar as the course oilfield slurs blear through the speakers inside the X5’s dark cabin. I then arrive home in Edmonton at 1:30AM, wake up again at 5AM, and in another office and on the next vacuum truck and flush-by unit by 7AM.

After the end of March, I have one glaring problem to potentially wipe out all my savings this winter – my school. To finish my 3rd year electrician schooling, I require approximately 8 weeks of undisturbed studies- 5 if I work hard and my body decides to cooperate. The standard time allocation per academic year is 320 hours. At 70 hours/week, this will take 4-5 weeks – providing my body cooperates and performs enough. But then, work will be scarce during Spring Breakup, so I may not even incur much downtime cost. Another consideration I’ve had is to just purposely drop out of the course, and challenge the AIT exam, upon my previous instructor’s recommendation. This way I do not have to sacrifice my finances and I can build my investment portfolio quicker. It also reduces the risk of not being able to close on my new condo upon completion.

I try my best to plan everything out, but life still seems to be so difficult, and the uphill battle grows more difficult the higher I climb. At first, finding work has been the hardest, then consistency has been the next struggle. Then the long battle against bankers to secure my first home has been my next. Then my second has been the next struggle. Then finally, my completed education, financial freedom from a self-sufficient, self-growing investment portfolio, and my Ferrari.