Laid off oil workers look outside the industry

Posted at 3:38 PM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 19:38:13-05

As crude oil continues to trade around $30 per barrel and industry giants lay off workers by the hundreds in some cases, many oil and gas workers could find themselves considering a new career path this year.

Among those in the hunt for something steady is Tulsan Ronald Conaway, who is a veteran.

Conaway, once a project manager for a construction company in Dallas, knew oil was in his blood and went after it when he took a job in New Mexico early last year.

After just seven months in the business, Conaway's employer gave him his notice.

"I had just landed another $15 million in contracts for the company, and I ran in at 4 o'clock in the morning to grab some papers to go meet some of our lawyers to sign, you know, for the new contracts. Took off, had the contracts signed and returned to them to the owner, and he said, 'I need to talk to you for a minute.' Walked into his office, and he said, 'We're letting you go,'" Conaway explained.

With that, Conaway packed up his wife and four daughters and moved to Tulsa, where he owns a home and owes nothing on it. It's a silver lining in a situation that's become a life of working odd jobs and living off a VA pension to get by.

"My daughters were in a dual immersion school in New Mexico. We were really enjoying it, liked the weather down there. My wife just got the hang of the town. It was really a shock, you know," Conaway said.

This week, Conaway attended a job fair at the American Legion Post 1 in Tulsa. It was an event exclusively set up for veterans.

As he and dozens of others compete for jobs, oil industry experts pored over the latest International Energy Agency report, which states that the oil market might not re-balance until late 2017.

"They're looking at production being cut back due to lack of capital expenditures," explains Tom Seng, an applied assistant professor of energy business at the University of Tulsa.

Seng says the IEA hopes cutbacks in production will shrink the world's oil supply to more closely align with demand for oil. That, he explained, would raise the price of oil and benefit the oil industry.

A cutback in production, whether or not it actually occurs, is necessary, according to Seng.

"Demand is not going to all of the sudden magically increase to the point of absorbing the surplus we have. Not just in the United States but globally," he said.

If the IEA holds true, Seng says it's possible jobs like the ones lost in recent months could come back to the industry.

For Seng, the question becomes: Who will fill those jobs?

"People will exit and unfortunately if there isn't a recovery fairly quickly, we're not going to get those people back," Seng said.

Conaway might be one of those people.

"May be time to, you know, redirect. But I've always had an affinity for the oil field. I have a lot of family in it, and so, we'll see how it goes."

To see Ronald Conaway's story, tune in to 2 Works for You at 5.