Truck drivers who work in North Dakota’s booming oil patch can be a rough business, but outsiders might never know just how rough.
For truck driver Dan Wells, the days start about 4:30 a.m. But on this Tuesday, there’s a lot of waiting at a state-of-the-art dispatch office on the edge of Dickinson, N.D. The summer sun comes up quickly, pouring light through the tinted windows of a building that is more sparkly, suburban office park than solitary, sweating James Dean drilling a well on a godforsaken piece of Texas in Giant.
If you live in North Dakota — where new technologies associated with fracking have unleashed gushers of natural gas and oil — you already know oil work is hard and the rewards can be significant. If you live in Montana, where fracking is just coming on line, North Dakota is like an image of what’s next for the Treasure State.
That future is prosperous and full of opportunity. It can also be unsettling; a growing economy works that way.
Wells drives a big-rig tractor for a local oil company, making $25 an hour regular pay and $37 per hour overtime. You might think that’s a decent wage. Ride alongside him and you might think again.
Wells doesn’t get his first assignment until 11 a.m. He picks up a grainy map from the office and hops in the cab of his tractor. The job sends him through hay country, to a small but cluttered oil patch just northwest of Belfield.
His task is to move 14 massive containers – officially 8 feet wide by 40 feet long – from one side of the oil patch to the other. The containers are critical to fracking. They hold the fresh water that fracking companies mix with a chemical cocktail, a mixture they shoot thousands of feet into the earth to release oil and pockets of natural gas.