Oilfield Housing Options

Posted in Boom Town Life

Along with actually finding a fracking job, the biggest concern for most individuals who seek oilfield employment is finding a place to live near the job site. The largest and most productive oil shale plays are also in rather remote regions, far from large metropolitan areas. Because of this, housing has become an issue not only for potential oilfield employees, but their prospective employers as well. Unless you already live near a fracking boom town, you’ll have to consider where you’ll park your work boots in between shifts. Let’s take a look at some of the more common oilfield housing options, and the pros and cons to each:

  • Workforce Housing (“Man Camps”) – If you are able to secure employment with one of the larger oilfield employers, you may be able to get a room in a “workforce housing” facility. Also known as “man camps” (not meant to be an endearing term), workforce housing allows oil and gas companies to offer shelter to employees working in remote locations. Workforce housing generally consists of buildings that have been constructed of prefabricated components, rather like higher-end mobile homes. No nonsense housing for oilfield work crews, workforce housing nevertheless offers a certain degree of comfort and security compared to other oilfield housing options. It’s not always available to individuals working for smaller companies, however.
  • Live in an RV – Because the fracking boom has been so intense in some parts of the country (like North Dakota’s Bakken region or the Eagle Ford shale play in Texas), some workers are living in recreational vehicles as alternatives to more expensive or simply unavailable apartments and motels. RV living has its own set of issues vs. living in more “fixed” locations, of course. However, one can simply turn the key and move within minutes, if necessary. Living in an RV certainly isn’t for everyone, but it may be the way to go if you can spend the money up front for a house on wheels. Once the initial outlay has been taken care of, your monthly parking space rent will be far less than what you’ll spend for an apartment or other type of rental unit.
  • Sleeper Cab on a Semi – If you don’t have a commercial driver license, consider getting one, even if you have a less-than-perfect driving record. Most oilfield employers want their crew members to be in possession of CDLs because the vehicle of choice around any oil shale rig is: a truck. Once you get a CDL, you’ll not only gain employment options, you’ll gain a housing option as well. Some of the firms that seek out drivers to haul crude oil, water, or frac sand have trucks with sleeper cabs. This allows their drivers to sleep in the cabs when they are finished working for the day. Since many workers in the oilfields regularly work 12-hour, 14-hour, or even longer days, there sometimes isn’t much point in spending a lot of money for an overpriced apartment. If you’re in the oilfields to make as much money as possible, then you might be fine using a truck as your “mobile” home when you’re off the clock. Over-the-road truck drivers have been living this way for years and years – and have gotten paid far less for doing so.
  • Rent a Room in a Private Home – You can find “rooms for rent” in any town, but especially in fracking “hot spots”. An older local resident living alone in a home, for example, may decide that it makes sense to rent out the unused bedrooms of his or her oversized house to oilfield workers. The workers find shelter, and the local resident makes a few bucks off of the local oilfield boom. A win-win. Like the other options, renting a room in someone’s house isn’t a long-term housing strategy, but it may provide a certain degree of privacy that you won’t find in other housing situations. In addition, the house owner probably won’t be expecting you to sign a one-year lease or put up an oversized security deposit. You might even find a boarding room type of situation where the owner or landlord offers home-cooked meals as part of the rental fee.
  • Share a House With Roommates – This is an option for those who have a pretty secure, high-paying job lined up, and are very well acquainted with their potential roommates. It’s not an option for someone who’s new in town, or isn’t comfortable with their new oilfield job (yet). In some towns – Williston, North Dakota being the best-known – rents are very high and security deposits well out of reach for most new arrivals. Yes, you’ll have more privacy, space, and creature comforts with your own large house; but you’ll be paying the highest rents vs. the other options. Think about how long you’ll be in town: you could stay with a single oilfield employer for years, but that employer may move you around the country. Don’t sign a long-term lease until you’re sure about your employment situation.
  • Motel Room – Every town, no matter how small, has motels. The key here, however, is finding the least expensive motel that still offers some degree of comfort without also being located in the seedy part of town. While you can use online travel sites to seek out reviews on specific motels, many worthwhile independently owned motels won’t be featured on the web. Checking the chain motels (like Motel 6 or Red Roof Inns) via their own websites is an option also, but the chains are going to be more expensive (usually) then mom-and-pop operated motels, and may not allow patrons to stay for longer than a week or so at a time. Some of the busier boom towns are seeing new motel construction, but the newer motels will be more expensive than older ones, of course. Seek out motels in the town you expect to work near, and call them up. Ask whether weekly or monthly rates are available, then try to negotiate rates with the motel manager before you arrive. Never hurts to ask for a discount, especially in advance!

Some folks might decide to throw their life’s possessions into their car or pick-up and simply drive to a fracking boom town, expecting to find work and a place to stay as soon as they arrive. If this is you, remember: not only do you have to find a job, but you’ll need shelter, also. In some of the busier fracking regions, the housing will be harder to find than the work. And that idea you had about “camping” at a Wal-Mart? Nice try, but some Wal-Marts in some of the busiest oil boom areas are no longer allowing overnight parking or RVs of any kind. So try to plan things out in advance. If you have no oilfield experience or a CDL, simply getting in your car and showing up at a boom town is extremely risky these days. Yes, it can pan out, and has for some, but you better at least have a healthy bankroll to tide you over for motel and food expenses before you get your first paycheck. That is, assuming you line up a job that will get you that first paycheck. There are plenty of stories about folks who showed up in a boom town, couldn’t find work right away, couldn’t find or afford a place to stay, and then a downward financial spiral takes place. The next thing these folks know, they’re sleeping under a bridge in freezing temperatures with no money and no home. Don’t be one of these folks! Have a plan.

On the other hand, don’t let some of the “hard luck” stories now circulating around the web from various poor souls deter you from pursuing an oilfield job. For all anyone knows, these folks either didn’t plan things out, had unreasonable expectations, had substance abuse problems, or simply had nothing to bring to the table for a potential employer – except personal problems. No employer wants your issues, whether they are desperate for employees or not.

Below is a summary of the pros and cons of the oilfield housing options outlined on this page:

Pros: sometimes paid for by your employer, most facilites offer meals on-site, little or no maintenance concerns, usually close to where you work

Cons: limited privacy (if any), close quarters and limited space, not available in areas where fracking is just getting underway or there is less oilfield activity than the “boom” regions, can be expensive if your employer doesn’t cover housing costs

Pros: complete freedom to pick up and move across town (or across the country), more privacy than workforce housing, completely self-contained, RV space rent usually cheaper than apartment or motel costs

Cons: need funds up front to buy the RV, ongoing maintenance and repair costs, showers and running water can be an issue, not the best or most comfortable option for colder climates, must have a way to transport water and fuel (like propane) to your RV

Pros: no apartment or hotel costs, newer tractors have adequate space for sleep or rest, more privacy than workforce housing, maintenance costs are employer’s concern (except for owner-operators), pull over and sleep when your workday is done, then fire up the ignition and start your workday as soon as you roll out of the sleeper

Cons: not an option if you don’t have a commercial driver license or you aren’t interested in a truck-driving oriented oilfield job, lacking basic creature comforts like shower or full bathroom, can be pretty cold or hot depending on time of year and how much you are able to idle the truck engine to supply power, only an option for single folks or those who are working away from families

Pros: usually more space and privacy than what you’ll find in workforce housing, creature comforts like heat or air-conditioning are available, some degree of convenience and local “connection” if building owner lives on premises, potential for home-cooked meals with some rental situations

Cons: security could be an issue if you’re forced to leave valuables in your room while on the job, other tenants will be somewhat transient contributing to security concerns, rents could be significantly higher vs. sharing a home or living in an RV, locations may not be as convenient to oilfield vs. other options, might not be an option if building owner requires extensive background checks or large up front deposit

Pros: offers the most “home-like” atmosphere with space and comfort to match, can split rent with friends or co-workers and save some money, or simply rent your own apartment and have a high degree of privacy, might be the best or only option if your spouse and/or family are living in town with you

Cons: not an option if you don’t already have significant funds available for deposit, may not be located conveniently to your job site, not as easy to pick up and move quickly if you signed a lease and/or furnished with expensive appliances and electronics, a great roommate early in the rental period could turn out to be problem roommate down the road or may get transferred out to another shale play leaving you scrambling to find a new renter

Pros: allows a new arrival in a boom town to find a place quickly without having to sign a lease or get roommates, no need for expensive RV equipment or your own furniture, some independently owned motels offer rooms with kitchenettes and wi-fi, no need for an oversized security deposit

Cons: likely to be located in “shady” parts of town so security and safety could be real concerns, could be too expensive for a longer term housing solution especially compared to renting an apartment with roommates or living in an RV, inability to supply your own furniture and appliances might be an issue over time, might be difficult finding lodging that offers long-term stays, potential for problem patrons in adjoining or nearby rooms is a real issue