Energy Blend: Moffat County oilmen talk of boom, bust times
November 1, 2018
CRAIG — While coal keeps the lights on, the world runs on petroleum.
"When you think of all the products made by petroleum — from fuel to plastic — it makes the world go around," said Jamie Dschaak, a Craig businessman who is following in the footsteps of his father, oilman Jim Dschaak.
Jim Dschaak got his start with Texaco in 1971, working first in Watford City, North Dakota, before being transferred to Montana. Then, in 1989, he was transferred Craig to become production supervisor for the company's Wilson Creek, Maudling Gulch, and Danforth Hills operations.
As production supervisor, it was his job to take care of the entire field and its employees, working to produce about 90 percent oil and "a little bit of gas," he said.
Jamie Dschaak followed his father into the oil fields at an early age, working as a roustabout while still in high school. For a time, he broke with family tradition and went to work for Trapper Mine before returning to work with his father.
Oil and natural gas production can take a toll on both body and spirit.
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"It's a tough job. I call it my oil field body," Jim Dschaak said with a grin, referring to the aches and pains he feels now, in his retirement years.
"Let me give you an example," Jim Dschaak said. "In Wilson Creek, we relied on snowfall to insulate the pipes near the surface and prevent them from freezing. Sometimes, you'd get a section of pipe 15 feet or longer that would freeze, and we'd go get sawdust with oil in it. We'd slid down the hill spreading the sawdust along the pipe. Then, we'd light the sawdust. It'd burn up real fast and usually unfreeze the line."
In 2002, Jim Dschaak retired from Texaco and began a consultancy business. He later started a trucking business and Thunder Rolls Bowling Center.
Sitting beside his father at Thunder Rolls Bowling, Jamie Dschaak grinned and said, "I remember that. Slipping down the hillsides."
The oil business has been good to the Dschaak family, but they had to learn to ride the 10-year boom and bust cycles. Jamie Dschaak's trucking business — Dschaak Trucking, which he took over from his father in 2016 — has been able to shift between oil field work and construction.
"When oil prices go down, construction tends to go up," Jamie Dschaak said.
Not all businesses that serve the extractive industry are diversified enough to last through the lean times, and both Dschaak men have experienced the hardships that comes with a bust.
"All of it was due to oil prices. People get greedy, and that controls the cycles,” Jim Dschaak said. “And, when it's shut down, it's shut down. Just like turning a light switch off.”
Now, he said, he's seeing signs of an upswing, particularly in Texas and North Dakota where oil fields are "coming alive,”
But things are moving slower in Colorado. Both men think that has a lot to do with regulations handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
"The industry has cleaned up a lot," Jim Dschaak said. "We have what I call the old oil field and the new oil field. People need to get educated on how it works, what it's doing, and how safe it is."
Despite improvements in technology and best practices, Jim Dschaak said he's had to start crews late and end work early just to allow for the two hours of paperwork needed.
"There's so much paperwork. Most of it is for EPA and safety, regulatory stuff. They have made it too hard for small people to operate in Colorado," he said.
Currently, Jamie Dschaak is sending his trucks to Wyoming, but he'd prefer to bring all his business to Colorado.
"The worse thing about a boom is that everyone thinks there's so much work there; everybody floods the economy with businesses,” he said. “They buy so much that, when the light switch does go out, they are scrambling for work. That affects the trucking prices bringing them lower. Then, everyone takes the hit. … It's a vicious cycle."
Jim Dschaak said his family worked hard during the booms to pay for the things they had purchased so that, when the boom ended, there would be fewer bills and less stress.
Jim Dschaak estimated the oil field in Craig is supporting fewer than 100 people.
"It's tough," Jamie Dschaak said. “We get into slow times, and we battle. We live on a tight, tight budget. When it slows down, I can't just cut my drivers off. If and when it does pick up, who are you going to look forward to jump in your trucks and get going? There is no win to this game; it's about keeping people fit."
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.