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Page added on September 14, 2017

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Meth, Coke And Oil In The Texas Shale Patch


When Joe Forsythe returned to the West Texas oilfields last year after a stint in a drug rehab facility, he figured he had beaten his addiction to methamphetamine.

The 32-year-old rig worker and equipment handler lasted about a year before relapsing.

“It’s easy to get back into that mentality,” said Forsythe, of Midland, Texas, who said he no longer uses drugs after several stints in rehab since 2015. “I’d work 24 hours … I was just plagued with fatigue and needed something to improve my work ethic.”

Forsythe’s experience and others like it reflect a painful flipside of the nation’s shale oil boom – a parallel increase in substance abuse, drug crime and related social ills.

While drug use is a problem among industrial workers nationwide, it raises particular concern in the oil patch as U.S. production surges to record levels in what is already one of the nation’s most dangerous sectors – with a fatality rate about three times the average for other industries, according to 2015 federal statistics.

Drug use is a significant factor in workplace injuries and crimes involving oilfield workers, according to drug counselors, hospital and police officials and court records in West Texas, the epicenter of the U.S. shale sector.

As the shale revolution has spawned waves of hiring here since 2010, law enforcement authorities have tracked a boom in drug trafficking and related crime. In Midland and Ector counties, home to many Permian Basin oil workers, state and local police in 2016 seized more than 95 pounds of methamphetamine – up from less than four pounds in 2010.

Meth and cocaine are stimulants of choice in the oil patch to get though long oilfield shifts, but alcohol and pain killers such as opioids are also widely abused – often to soften the crash after taking stimulants, drug addicts and counselors said.

Drug charges in the industry town of Midland more than doubled between 2012 and 2016, to 942 from 491, according to police data. In neighboring Odessa, total drug arrests doubled between 2010 and 2016, to 1291 from 756, according to Odessa Police Department data.

The increase in drug crime stretched through two boom periods in the West Texas oil patch, before and after a crude price crash that hit in 2014.

Oil companies typically drug test job applicants and often conduct additional random tests on employees. For truck drivers and those involved with hazardous materials, tests are also conducted under federal programs run by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Several oil firms with major operations in the Permian Basin declined to discuss how they handle drugs in the oil patch or did not respond to inquiries.

Schlumberger NV, Halliburton Co and Exxon Mobil Corp declined to comment. Exxon referred Reuters to its alcohol and drug policy.

Pioneer Natural Resources Co. and ConocoPhillips did not respond to requests for comment.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, declined to comment.

Long Hours – On Meth

Despite corporate and regulatory efforts to curb drug abuse, many oilfield workers regularly use stimulants on long shifts of grueling work for relatively high pay, said drug counselors, local law enforcement officials and oil field workers recovering from addictions.

More than a third of clients at Midland’s Springboard drug rehabilitation center are currently involved in the oil and gas industry, said Executive Director Steve Thomason.

Rising oil prices have brought more admissions for methamphetamine abuse, Thomason said.

“People say they can work on it for 24 hours straight,” he said.

Long shifts are common in the oil industry because expensive drilling equipment, often leased at high daily rates, runs through the night, and workers often have to commute to wells in remote locations. Most oil producers subcontract oilfield services to smaller companies that are not unionized.

Springboard’s admissions of methamphetamine users went up 20 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the last half of 2016, he said. The number of rigs operating in the Permian Basin increased more than 38 percent during the same period, according to data from energy services firm Baker Hughes .

Corporal Steve LeSueur, a spokesman for the Odessa police, said the influx of drugs in the oil patch is stretching police resources.

“The jail has been full,” he said. “A lot of crimes that are committed are drug-related – simple property crimes, forgeries to feed their drug habits.”

Meth And Murder

Some offenses are more severe.

In 2016, Shawn Pinson, an employee of a well construction company, was convicted of murdering an acquaintance following a drug-related dispute.

The murder occurred around the same time he was arrested for possession of methamphetamine, police records show. The victim tested positive for meth at the time of the murder, according to an autopsy.

At his trial, witnesses close to Pinson testified he had become addicted to methamphetamine while working in the oilfield, according to a prosecutor and a defense attorney involved in the case.

Pinson did not respond to a letter seeking comment and his current attorney, Michele Greene, did not respond to a request for comment.

When oil jobs are plentiful, companies desperate for labor sometimes will disregard signs of substance abuse, said three recovering drug addicts who worked in the oilfield.

“These oilfield bosses – they party, too,” Forsythe said. “As long as you’re getting the job done and not making a scene, they won’t drug test you.”

One recovering addict, who declined to use his name because he still works in the industry, said he was often high during long-haul trips driving trucks transporting oil.

“I could do a little coke and speed and it would give me the extra stretch,” he said. “It ended up running me to the ground.”


13 Comments on "Meth, Coke And Oil In The Texas Shale Patch"

  1. dave thompson on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 3:10 pm 

    I would blame the management of the rig gangs that expect people to work more then ten hours a day.

  2. MD on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 5:08 pm 

    their doubling arithmetic is wrong. *nitpick*

  3. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 5:21 pm 

    America, land of the druggies
    home of the meth heads.

  4. makati1 on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 6:07 pm 

    GSP, the US is Number One in drug use in the world with a wide lead. And it is only gong to get worse as the economy tightens the debt noose around all of their necks. Deaths from drugs, suicide, obesity and heart failure are going to continue to climb.

    I guess that is better than being in a 3rd world country under their “democracy” bombs as they plunder to keep their greed satiated.

    What goes around, comes around.

  5. mark on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 6:31 pm 

    MAGA baby!

  6. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 8:16 pm 

    We have to make sure there isn’t any
    single-payer health care.
    Bernie and the dem’s are cementing
    in place, Trump’s 2nd term, when they
    talk single payer health care.

    The truth is, we who work,
    don’t want to pay for health care for
    druggies. We want them to die in a
    bathtub like Jim Morrison.

    Or in a ditch. Or clutching their chest.
    Long as it don’t cost the rest of us
    any money.
    Far too much welfare already.
    Trump has yet to tear it all down,
    but he might.

    No more food stamps.
    No more government housing.
    They can all live in the woods for
    free and eat bugs and smoke their meth.

  7. Sissyfuss on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 8:45 pm 

    Organized labor has been emaciated starting with Reagan. The end run of outsourcing manufacturing jobs to dictatorships, countries without environmental laws and worse have given the leaders of the corporatocracy carte blanche to treat laborers as they wish. Increased automation including driving jobs will add to the downgrade. The union’s are hanging on by their fingertips losing more members each year. Yes, they made mistakes and got too fat and happy but they are anything but that today. No one should have to work a 24 hour shift, voluntary or not. I don’t look for Trump and his cronies to do anything but continue to tip the scales in favor of his fellow elites.

  8. Bloomer on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 10:01 pm 

    Drugs are an epidemic everywhere thorough our society and not just in the States but up here in Canada as well. We had the war on drugs, but like the war on terrorism war it hasn’t solved the problem.

    People dying of fentanyl overdose by the scores, it’s the Opium wars all over, this time staged in the Western world. More attention is needed to solve this issue The suppliers and dealers need to be rooted out and brought to justice.

  9. TommyWantsHisMommy on Thu, 14th Sep 2017 11:06 pm 

    Work 24hrs straight? That is pushing it. After about 12hrs i would think productivity would plummet. Amphetamines might be a short term solution, but long term..nothing good can come of it. Oh well. In the history of the planet..this oil age will be but a blip.

  10. DerHundistlos on Fri, 15th Sep 2017 2:20 am 


    Historians will mark 1981 as the beginning of the end for America. Reagan’s election ushered in the belief system that greed is good- I’m going to get what’s mine by whatever means necessary and screw anyone who dares get in my way.

  11. Apneaman on Fri, 15th Sep 2017 2:47 am 

    DerHundistlos, if Reagan remained a B-movie actor and Maggie Thatcher remained a MP, it would have all went down the same, but with different POTUS & PM puppets. It was finalization time. That or a decline in standard of living and there was no way that was going to happen with tens of millions of Boomers backing them and cheering neo liberal capitalism on. Why reduce our standard of living when all we have to do is sell out the next 3 generations and assure the 4th won’t be born? Do you think it was worth it? “I think it was worth it”

  12. Twocats on Fri, 15th Sep 2017 7:39 am 

    The failure of modern industrial civilization writ large. Even those ostensibly “cashing in” are losers. The spoils are shrinking but I imagine people will work for food drugs and camp girls.

    Fury road indeed

  13. rockman on Fri, 15th Sep 2017 9:50 am 

    No established companies overwork their hands or allow drug use. And it has nothing to do with concerns for the personnel. It’s based on lawyers and insurance companies. Druggies on location? My engineer doesn’t allow pony tails or ear rings. LOL. Seriously.

    But working the drill floor can be tough if you spend the entire 12 tour (we pronounce it “tower”). But with the new rigs not nearly as tough as 30 years ago. OTOH if the rig is drilling for the entire 12 hour tour the floor hands aren’t doing much of anything.

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