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Your Choice: Roller Coaster or Merry-Go-Round?

As someone who has spent the last 40 years or so handling marketing communications, PR, and writing for the oil and gas industry, I wasn’t surprised by the most recent (and current) debacle surrounding the industry that has put food on my table since the 70s.

It started out harmless and as usual as ever, right after Thanksgiving, when our industry generally slows down until January rolls around. Well, it’s January and I’m sitting here watching both oil and the Dow plummet.

Yeah, I’ve been through it before, as have most of the people reading this. It’s the famous oil and gas roller coaster. But those of us who have chosen it as a career should be used to it by now. There’s an oft-quoted line from the movie “Parenthood” where the 80-year old grandma talks about whether it’s better in life to ride a merry-go-round or a roller coaster. She preferred the roller coaster because, as she said, “it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all at the same time”. The merry-go-round, she said, just went around and around. No excitement, no thrill.

But even though this dip in the roller coaster ride that is and has always been oil isn’t as bad so far as some of the other ones (remember the 80s? or 2008?), it did come as somewhat of a surprise, since the shale revolution had us well on our way to not giving a rat’s patoot about what the Saudis or OPEC did.

But the game has changed, at least for now, until either the Saudis run out of money (it may take a while, but it could happen. I mean, who would have thought Carolina would be in the playoffs?), or the other OPEC countries start going broke and defaulting on their debt faster than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

Venezuela will be first, and that should come as no surprise to anyone. And I suspect that Iran, Algeria, and a few others will follow close behind. Their break-even point for oil is around $100 a barrel. And since we’re sitting in the mid-to-upper 40s right now, it doesn’t take a MENSA member to figure out that the well (pun intended) will run dry faster than a sneeze through a screen door (you can’t live in the South all your life and not use at least some of the expressions you’ve picked up along the way). And Russia, even though not a member of OPEC, is already going the way of Blockbuster Video, WorldCom, and Enron.

So while we are all enjoying the lowest gasoline prices since 8-tracks were popular, it’s not much fun filling up your tank for thirty bucks if you don’t have a job to drive to. Jobs in the Houston area are already being cut, budgets and new projects are being put on hold, and the trickle-down effect of companies that service the oil industry (like freelance writers, for example) are beginning to feel the effects already.

The people who I feel most sorry for (at least until the self-pity starts to creep in), are those college students and recent graduates who, just a few short months ago, were being told of the “graying of the industry” and how going into the oil and gas industry was akin to being a young Johnny Manziel with a world of blank checks in front of you if you just choose the right path (well, perhaps Johnny wasn’t the best example, but you get the gist). So now we’re seeing some of those recent converts changing their majors and going into other fields, which of course, will not eliminate the graying of the industry or “the great crew change” when everything rebounds as it always has in the past.

The best advice I can give them is to stick it out. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in this industry has had their share of steak dinner nights as well as an equal number of Beefaroni nights. It’s just a matter of your preference between the roller coaster or merry-go-round. I chose the roller coaster, because I like working in an industry that makes me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all at the same time.

But a little merry-go-round break wouldn’t hurt every once in a while.

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