After over a year of massive layoffs, the U.S. oil industry may now be facing a worker shortage as the U.S. rig count begins to climb again.
A survey published by Hart Energy earlier this month found that current demand for well servicing in the Williston Basin has “stalled” year-to-date but operators are concerned there will be a labor shortage when drilling activity recovers.
The basin, home to the Bakken shale play, saw its drilled but uncompleted well inventory climb to 920 wells in March, with less than 60 wells completed.
Well completions rates have been cut in half from 2015 levels, Hart Energy said.
Hart Energy said that efforts to reduce the volume of drilling but uncompleted wells will “soon bump into the reality that there are not enough frack crews in the Bakken to meet demand.”
“Is the Bakken workover market bottoming? Despite stagnant demand, pricing suggests the floor may be at hand,” Hart Energy said.
Of the four oil and gas operators and four well service company managers surveyed by Hart not one respondent reported doing any completion work in the first quarter.
However, one mid-tier operator who responded to the survey said that completion activity “will recover much quicker than drilling and people will be fracking and completing the 1,250 uncompleted wells in North Dakota.”
All of the respondents reported that the vast majority of their first quarter work was for routine maintenance.
Hart Energy said one respondent told the firm “that fracking crews had dwindled in the Bakken area and expressed concern that it would be hard to get the fracking crews up and running when price did return.”
According to Reuters, there were only eight active fracking crews in North Dakota as of May.
Statoil said in May that is planning to resume some hydraulic fracturing work in the Bakken after reporting a 10 percent sequential drop in its North Dakota production levels.
Statoil CFO Hans Jakob Hegge told investors that the company is planning to bring a frac crew to the Bakken and added that the company expects its team “to do some completions going forward.”
Hess said in April that it will add more Bakken rigs once crude prices move closer towards $60 per barrel, according to Reuters.
While oil prices ticked back down below $50 per barrel earlier this week there are signs that drilling activity is recovering.
The U.S. oil and gas rig count posted its second straight week of gains last week as drillers added six rigs.
However, the total U.S. rig count is still hovering around record lows set earlier this year.