Oil Man: Lower Gas Prices Could Be Trouble

Friday, October 24th 2008, 10:03 pm
By: News On 6

By Jeffrey Smith, News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The price of oil has plummeted to a 17-month low. It eases the pain at the pump, but one Oklahoma oil man says it's not good news for our economy in crisis.

For Oklahoma drivers, those numbers can't change fast enough. A gallon of gas 12 days ago was selling for $2.69, five days ago, $2.39, on Friday $2.19.

"We can't stop driving, can we? So, we gotta keep finding oil," said Rig Operator Shelby Saltsman.

At the pump, you might think the fuel free-fall is all good news. But it's not, especially in Oklahoma, where oil is one of the state's biggest industries.

"When the price of the commodity you sell goes down by two-thirds, you begin to look around and see what's going on," said Senior Engineer John Durkee.

John Durkee is a contractor that drills in Sand Springs. At the beginning of the month he had six rigs running for clients. Now, just three.

In that time span, the price of a barrel of oil has fallen $40. Statewide a barrel is selling for just $8 more than it costs to produce.

"You can barely make money at eight dollars, and some operators can't. Basically, it's time to start checking your hole cards and see what happens," said Durkee.

Oil men say their work is steady. But production is down and that means shorter work weeks for people like Shelby Saltsman and no overtime.

"Overtime is a big deal in an oil field. It's time and half; 40 hours, you can live on that sure, but you make the good money if you can work 60 hours to 75 hours a week. When you're making $2,700 in two weeks, it's better than a thousand dollars every two weeks," said Saltsman.

He says all he can do is drill and hope the profits will be there.

The summer spike in oil prices pumped $530 million worth of tax revenue into the Oklahoma economy. That's up 65% from last year. Now that prices are tanking, six Oklahoma rigs stopped drilling for new oil in the past week alone.