“I feel it in my bones,” Cuellar said. “Something’s telling me just keep the faith. Stay strong.”
Since his layoff, Cuellar receives responses to his job applications outside the oil and gas industry with concerns from employers. Like many others waiting for the next boom, he said employers outside the industry are concerned workers like him will leave their positions, if hired, once drilling picks up again.
Despite gains in the numbers of employed workers, the industry is below its pre-pandemic workforce size.
As of April, the oilfield services sector in the U.S. employed 632,472, according to a report by the Energy Workforce & Technology Council with preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just before the pandemic arrived, the sector employed 706,528 in February 2020 and 785,106 this time two years ago.
As companies are focused on free cash flow and paying back investors, drilling has been limited, said Kevin Broom, director of communications and research for the Energy Workforce & Technology Council, which is a combination as of February of the Petroleum Equipment & Services Association and the Association of Energy Service Companies.
As drilling remains limited, so does the need to bring back workers.
Cuellar has experienced the boom and bust cycles before, he said, but never to this extent.
As a Texas resident, but technically employed in Louisiana for his offshore job as a rig clerk, he said he has not been able to qualify for state unemployment benefits. To try and learn more about his options he said he has called the Texas Workforce Commission, being rerouted to different numbers and left on hold for hours with no answer.
“God gives and the Lord taketh,” he said. “If I don’t get back to work by June 1, life’s going to become very tragic.”
Friends and colleagues of Cuellar’s have fared worse he said, with some even falling off the grid and one not responding to Cuellar’s messages or attempts to help with bills.
“I’m blessed for what I’ve got and I’m thankful,” he said. “There’s people that are worse off.”
Since March 1, Cuellar has found a job cleaning oil equipment in Nordheim. Looking to the near future, he said he hopes to return to a similar job as before that pays more than his current job.
The stagnation of drilling remains for many of the major operators and smaller supporting businesses.
In the Eagle Ford Shale as of April, the rig count was at 35, while nationwide it was at 440 at the end of April, according to data from the Energy Information Administration and Baker Hughes.
Onshore drilling, Cuellar said, usually returns faster than offshore drilling. For the major oil and gas operators, some of this could change following the next OPEC meeting, scheduled the same day Cuellar said he needs to be back at work in the industry — June 1.
“At the time of the Concho transaction, we aligned our staffing levels across the company for expected activity levels,” ConocoPhillips senior analyst Lexey Long said of the Eagle Ford. “We will fill positions as needed, but don’t expect significant hiring in the near term.”
In the Eagle Ford, 1.04 million barrels of oil and 5.54 million cubic feet per day of gas were produced in April, according to the Energy Information Administration. In February 2020, 1.37 million barrels of oil and 6.88 million cubic feet per day of gas were produced.
“Hopefully something comes along, because like I said, what I’m doing now, I don’t mind. They’re paying me a decent wage,” Cuellar said.
Despite this, he said he is looking to get back offshore or work a job that can get him to retirement.
“We’ll see what happens,” Cuellar said of the coming weeks.
Geoff Sloan reports on business and breaking news in the Crossroads region. He received his Bachelor’s in international relations with minors in journalism and French from Texas State University. Reach him at email@example.com or @GeoffroSloan on Twitter.
Read More: Unlike other industries, oil and gas still employs far fewer than pre-pandemic | Business