Charnel Zetsch came to Dickinson State University on a softball scholarship seven years ago.
She arrived in the early days of the oil boom and eventually found herself working in the energy industry.
Today, she’s a district sales manager for Magid Glove & Safety and is among several industry salespeople who are asking questions like this: “Why are you paying for a $10 glove when you could be buying a $2 glove?”
After all, with oil prices hovering around $40 a barrel at best, these truly are lean times in the North Dakota energy industry.
That point was drilled home at the Bakken Oil Product & Service Show this week in Dickinson. The trade show drew far fewer exhibitors than it did last year and, aside from some peak traffic moments, was considerably slower — just like the western North Dakota oil and gas industry.
Zetsch, who didn’t have an exhibit at the show, spent much of Thursday walking the West River Ice Center interacting with other oilfield industry salespeople to get a sense of how their businesses are doing.
“It’s tough right now,” she said. “We’re all kind of feeling this pressure. I think what most people are doing right now is really just ramping up and going back and looking at standard operational procedures. Whether it be inventory or the service side of things, they’re really trying to figure out where they were shorthanded and where they were super heavy-handed and try to balance the two.”
Tim Liston, who works in business development for Industrial Measurement and Control, said his company is looking at alternative ways to increase business. He said he made some good leads at the show and his booth drew attention because his company showed off its customized lease automatic custody transfer unit — a device that accurately measures oil.
As expected, Liston said business on the oil and gas production side has dropped off considerably. However, he said midstream companies — those who work with pipelines, refining or trucking — “are still spending money.”
“We’re looking for companies who still have project money available and they’re still going ahead with projects,” Liston said. “… That’s where I’m spending my time.”
The same was true for Winters Instruments sales representative Peter Chronis, who stood behind a table stocked with pressure gauges of all sizes and tried to make some connections.
The company, which has nine offices around the world, sells pressure instruments on every end of the oil production process. But, because the production is slower than a year ago, Chronis said he’s taking the opportunity to “lock in” to current customers who are still spending money, just not as much as they did during the boom years.
“It’s a double-edged sword, depending on which side of the market share pendulum you’re covering,” he said.
Joe Zayden spent two days at the trade show and called it “the slowest one I’ve been to in a couple years now.”
Zayden is the Bakken region operations manager for Flow Data, a Colorado-based company that manufactures and engineers products for wellhead automation. Though oil production in North Dakota hasn’t dropped off much in spite of the drilling drawback, Zayden said his company is weathering the slowdown by “basically just trying to maintain what we have.”
Zayden said his company is positioned well enough to pick up business from smaller wellhead service companies that are folding in the wake of the drop in oil prices.
And like most of the oil industry workers at the show, he remained confident that business will eventually pick up.
“We ain’t going anywhere,” Zayden said. “We’re not shutting down. We’re staying here.”