There’s nothing easy about being a welder in the oilfield, but then you wouldn’t expect there to be in a job paying $66,000 a year to the masters of the craft.
Spokesmen for companies in Odessa and Midland and for the Permian Basin Workforce Development Board say it’s a profession that always has openings for the specialties of pipe welding, gas tungsten arc welding, gas metal arc welding, fitter welding, metal inert gas welding, finishing technicians and fabricators who create metal structures by cutting, bending and assembling.
Adam Urrabaz, vice president for fabrication at J&J Steel & Supply, said his shop had a full staff of 20 welders among its 40 employees who build field-erected oil tanks ranging in capacity from 1,000 to 20,000 barrels and make the parts for tanks holding from 50,000 to a million gallons that have been shipped as far as California, Fort Worth and Houston and to a military base on the South Pacific island of Guam.
“We also make gasoline and diesel tanks, frac tanks, small production tanks, pipe racks, supports and solar energy platforms,” Urrabaz said. “We don’t do any aluminum welding. The majority is stainless and carbon steel.”
He said the J&J welders all use arc welders, wearing hoods with dark lenses to protect their eyes, and don’t do acetylene welding with a torch, which is usually for art work.
Asked about the welders who take portable rigs with gasoline-powered engines to drilling sites to join lengths of casing pipe, Urrabaz said, “Rig welding is a broad category where the welder has his own machine to go wherever he needs to go.”
He said the advanced practitioners can work all around and upside down to connect horizontal pipes, which in their profession is called “6G” ability.
“No more than 25 percent know how to lay out things, read drawings and run four or five guys,” Urrabaz said. “As soon as they know that, they start their own companies.”
He said J&J has been called on by big companies to replace three or four tanks in the past four or five years that had burned down after they were struck by lightning.
Odessa College and Midland College have welders’ training programs for which financial aid is available.
Program Specialist Rosemarie Casas of the Permian Basin Workforce Development Board said welders, cutting torch men, solderers and brazers have always been needed in the Basin and always will be.
At the end of June, Casas said, 1,535 welders were at work in the 17-county region and there were 209 openings. “There are probably more working now since the state stopped the extended unemployment benefits,” she said.
Casas said beginners were earning $40,600 a year and experienced men $65,900 for an average of $53,250.
Polar Service Centers Branch Manager Burl Mayberry of Midland supervises the repair of tanker trailers, fuel trailers, acid trailers, crude oil trailers and vacuum trailers.
Reporting that he had one welder and needed another, Mayberry said, “Ninety-five percent of our work is aluminum TIG welding. There is an art to welding aluminum because it doesn’t change colors when you heat it and it can just suddenly fall out on you.”
“TIG” is for tungsten inert gas, or gas tungsten arc welding.
“We can make repairs on just about anything and we can build a trailer from the ground up,” Mayberry said. “Running up and down these lease roads, they crack real bad.”
He said becoming an excellent welder “takes patience and lots of practice.
“We get a young guy to run a few beads and see where he is at,” Mayberry said. “Everybody can be taught, but the test is, will he make it with aluminum?”