One company prepares for a second major round of layoffs. Another sells out to a large competitor based outside the state. And so continues the struggle for survival in Kern County oil fields.
Local authorities learned this week C&J Energy Services will soon let go as many as 64 full-time workers in Bakersfield. A layoff notice made public Tuesday came just months after the Houston-based oil field service company shed as many as 82 employees at the same location.
Meanwhile, Technical Wireline Services Inc., a Bakersfield oil field service company founded 40 years ago, recently announced it has joined forces with a company looking to establish a foothold in the Central Valley to prepare for what it sees as better times ahead.
“It gives us another bullet in our gun belt,” said Craig Smith, director of new ventures at the acquiring company, SageRider West LLC, part of Stafford, Texas-based SageRider Inc..
Both developments are the latest fallout from the collapse of oil prices since mid-2014, a global shock that has claimed more than 2,500 jobs in Kern. They represent the opposite extremes to which service companies are going as they cope with shrinking demand from financially pinched oil producers.
C&J is a large company that performs well cementing, hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling, among other services. Its layoffs warning included a hopeful note that any workers let go might eventually be rehired.
“The planned layoffs are being classified as permanent, although the company hopes to rebuild its work crews whenever orders for services warrant additional staffing,” C&J’s regional senior vice president, Sterling Renshaw, wrote in a notice to local and state agencies.
Industry observers say Technical Wireline’s decision to join with SageRider was a positive move that, though unsurprising in light of market conditions, will save local jobs. But they agreed it won’t necessarily lead to lower prices for oil well services.
Bakersfield oil producer Ken Hunter called such marriages “a matter of survival,” saying these unions don’t typically result in greater pricing competition but that this particular deal could be different.
Oil executive Gene Voiland viewed the acquisition in terms of the threats and opportunities bound to accompany any major disruption in a business sector. Oil’s ongoing shakeout may lead to overall productivity, he said, but there will also be “fits and starts.”
“The weaker players may exit, stronger players may grow and the market should become more efficient,” Voiland said by email.
Technical Wireline co-founder Phil Keeler, who has owned the company since 2002, said a slowdown in work orders, combined with rising costs related to personnel, made it hard for the small business to carry on.
When SageRider approached him about selling, he said, it seemed like a good fit. Technical Wireline uses conventional instrumentation to provide downhole data on oil wells for a list of local clients, while SageRider, which entered the local market last year, employs more advanced technology involving acoustics and fiber optics.
He said the purchase agreement helped him avoid laying off anyone on his six-person crew.
“Their company is very solid,” he said. “We’ve picked up more work than we had before.”
Smith at SageRider West said Technical Wireline bought Keeler’s because the company does quality work, it’s well-respected and the price was right. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Besides all that, the deal will help SageRider establish its name in a market it believes will become increasingly interested in its suite of services as new and upcoming oil regulations take hold at the state level.
“They fit with our plans out here,” he said of Technical Wireline, adding SageRider is “always looking“ for partnerships that make sense.