You want to know what I do every day? I go rig-hopping. Wherever they’re drilling, that’s where I head. I rent forklifts and man lifts to both the drilling and the completion sides of each operation. It’s like any other sales position. Sometimes you can’t sell something the first time you meet somebody; you have to build a relationship. So I visit the rig sites a lot. This is a highly competitive field.
I get in my truck every morning in San Antonio and head south, usually on Interstate 37, to the Eagle Ford Shale. I spend ten to twelve hours a day out there, driving hundreds of miles, often until sunset. Carrizo Springs, Tilden, Gonzales—I go where the oil and gas are, to see the man in charge, or the men, actually. I see three to eight of them a day, if I’m lucky. These guys work for outfits like Hunt or Texas American, and they are always in the “company man” trailer. They oversee the drilling.
I’ve heard there are female company men, but I’ve never seen one. (The guys on the rigs tell me that 50 percent of the sales reps are women, but I haven’t seen many of those either.) So I call strictly on men. When I get out of my Ford F-150 and walk toward the rig, I’m wearing boots and jeans, and I always bring a hard hat and safety goggles. I’m ready to do business.
People say stuff about these guys. This region has grown so much in the past few years, with men arriving here for work from all over. Some people call them “oil field trash” and say that they’re scummy. I don’t see it. The guys I deal with are respectful. They’re good ol’ boys. They’re polite and funny and work hard and have stories to tell. Okay, some of them can be a little flirty but never in an inappropriate way. They say, “Hey, girl! What’s going on?” “Hey, beautiful!” Not one of them has crossed the line with me. And I’ve met hundreds.
I work with all the big oil names, like EOG Resources and Blackbrush. The supply and demand is so out of whack that these companies can’t find enough people or resources to do everything. There’s a shortage of pipe and forklifts—there aren’t even enough trucks to haul the equipment out here. Often vendors can’t provide everything the company men need. When I call on them, now that I’ve broken into the field, they tell me, “Tracey, of course we’ll work with you. There’s plenty of work to go around.”
The oil field does not rest, so I’m on 24/7. I have a personal cell and a work cell. That’s something I’d never experienced before. As a schoolteacher I was nowhere near this busy. But with this job, if a forklift I provided breaks down at night, I have to get it fixed, because they still have to keep operating. So they call me at midnight. I live with my phones in my hand and sleep with them right beside me. I spent last Thanksgiving looking for a forklift. And just this morning I got a call at five-forty. It’s Sunday. Some of these rigs are way off the main road, like one of my customers near Fowlerton. He’s fifteen miles from Highway 97, on a caliche road. Luckily, I have four-wheel drive. But still, it’s dangerous. I got a flat tire out there one day, with no cell phone coverage. I have a reception booster, and even that didn’t work. It was scary. I’ve never gone down that road again. And I’ve decided never to be on the sites at night. My boss told me, “If you ever get a flat tire again, you drive that thing until you’re safe. Don’t worry about the truck.”
I didn’t even know what was going on in the Eagle Ford Shale when I first got started. I saw a lot of stuff in the news about it, how fracking as a drilling technique is unlocking new reserves of oil and gas and making people a lot of money. Now’s a really crazy time—there are new sites going up constantly, tons of traffic. All these small roads are getting chewed up by the huge trucks speeding through the little towns. From what I understand, there is a lot of controversy with fracking. People are concerned about what it’s doing to our environment, that it’s polluting our water and creating earthquakes. I’ve talked to my company men about that, and they say, “Nonsense.” I don’t have an opinion about it because I haven’t heard enough one way or another.
I’ve never made a lot of money, and I’m not making a ton now, but the oil and gas boom is taking care of my family. I’m divorced with three children, ages 21, 19, and 16. After working as a teacher, I was a stay-at-home mom for fifteen years. When I started working again, in 2005, I sold health care products and magazine ads. The oil and gas industry has given me—and a lot of other people—a good opportunity.
I don’t know when all this will end. I’ve been hearing three to five more years, but one company man says it could go on for twenty. I haven’t thought about the bust or what I’ll do then. I live one day at a time. I’ll go with it as long as I can. I tell my daughter—she’s getting her degree in education too—“Heck, who would have thought this is what I’d be doing after teaching third grade?”
—As told to Jason Sheeler on March 25, 2012.