Saudi Arabia Hiring Away US Oil Workers Amid Mass Layoffs

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company is offering jobs to recently laid-off U.S. oil workers who lost their jobs because of low oil prices.

Crude oil prices have dramatically fallen since last summer, meaning that oil companies have tightened their belts and made huge layoffs — about 75,000 since the fourth quarter of 2014, according to Forbes. Most of these layoffs have happened in the oil service sector, and Saudi Aramco is happy to offer them jobs developing Middle Eastern oil instead.

The Saudi’s have traditionally hired away U.S. workers to develop their oil fields, but in recent months the Kingdom has been aggressively hiring away former shale oil workers — a growing oil source competitor to Arabia’s black gold.

Saudi Aramco posted new ads on the employments sites Rigzone and LinkedIn in February targeting former shale workers, according to Bloomberg. Since the start of 2015, Saudi Aramco has advertised for dozens of jobs that require shale experience.

One ad said “[c]onsider the opportunity to join our team and help shape the future of key global unconventional resource development.”

“Soon, Saudi Aramco will be known not just for conventional oil and gas production, but as a leader in full life-cycle unconventional gas development,” Aramco said in another ad.

But it’s not just that Saudi Aramco is ramping up its U.S. headhunting, it’s that U.S. workers seem to be jumping at the opportunity. And why wouldn’t they? These guys want to work. One LinkedIn listing for a petroleum engineer with shale experience got a whopping 160 applicants in a month.

“We’ve seen people who have historically been reticent to look at Saudi Arabia who are now more accepting of a job there,” head-hunter Tobias Read told Bloomberg in an interview.

For the Saudis, it not only serves as a way to basically buy out the competition, it’s also a way for them to gain experienced shale workers without having to educate them.

“They don’t want to start from scratch,” Michael Webber, a professor at the University of Texas, told Bloomberg. “They have no experience with shale and they have to hire outside workers. It’s a way to leapfrog.”

Wait, does this mean the Saudis are developing their own shale resources? Yep. They are in the early stages of trying to develop their own shale gas. That requires experienced U.S. workers who have spent years developing American shale. Bloomberg reports that “only eight shale gas wells have been drilled in Saudi Arabia, although there are plans for a further 135 in the next three years.”

Shale oil and gas production has soared in the U.S. since 2008 because of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. As of December 2014, U.S. oil production had hit more than 9 million barrels per day — a huge production increase which helped cause world oil prices to decline.

But with oil prices drastically lower than last year, oil companies have been laying off thousands of workers which has stoked fears the U.S. energy boom could be jeopardized. Such fears have been amplified by news the Saudis are scooping up laid-off workers and new federal drilling regulations.

“With President Obama doubling down on his war on fossil fuels, a lot of Americans may find themselves headed to foreign countries and taking their expertise with them,” Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy at the free-market Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“One need only look at last week’s assault on smart drilling on public lands by Interior Secretary Jewell or the President’s budget, which seeks increased taxes on domestic energy production,” Kish said.

Even so, workers heading overseas to develop Middle Eastern oil should be wary of the security risks. The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia issued a warning March 3 cautioning western oil workers that “[r]egardless of where you are, it is always advisable to keep your security and situational awareness levels high.”

The embassy said that “individuals associated with a terrorist organization could be targeting Western oil workers, possibly to include those U.S. citizens working for oil companies in the Eastern Province, for an attack(s) and/or kidnapping(s).”

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