Meth, Coke and Petroleum: A Drug Boom in the Texas Shale Patch


“All these oilfield bosses – they celebration, also,” Forsythe said. “As long as you are getting the work done rather than creating a scene, they won’t drug test you.”

MIDLAND, Texas (Reuters) – When Joe Forsythe returned to the West Texas oilfields last year following a stint at a drug rehab facility, he figured he’d conquered his addiction to methamphetamine.
In his trial, witnesses close to Pinson testified he’d become addicted to methamphetamine while working in the oilfield, according to a defense attorney and a prosecutor involved in the case.
A letter seeking comment was not responded to by Pinson and his current attorney, Michele Greene, didn’t respond to a request for comment.


The increase in drug crime stretched through two boom periods in the West Texas oil patch, after a crude price crash which hit in 2014 and before.

Forsythe’s experience and others like it reflect a debilitating flipside of the nation oil boom – a parallel increase in substance abuse, drug crime and social ills.

Drug use is a significant element in workplace injuries and offenses involving oilfield workers, based on drug counselors, hospital and police officers and court records in West Texas, the epicenter of the U.S. shale sector.
Some offenses are more severe.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, declined to comment.

“It’s easy to get back into that mentality,” said Forsythe, of Midland, Texas, who said he no longer uses drugs after several stints in rehab since 2015. “I’d work 24 hours … I was just plagued with fatigue and needed something to boost my work ethic.”
Meth and cocaine are stimulants of choice in the oil patch to get alcohol and pain killers such as opioids are widely abused, although though oilfield that was long shifts – often to soften the crash after taking stimulants, drug addicts and advisers said.
Oil companies with major operations in the Permian Basin didn’t respond to inquiries or declined to discuss how they handle drugs in the oil patch.
Law enforcement authorities have monitored a boom in drug trafficking and crime as the revolution has spawned waves of hiring here because 2010. In Midland and Ector counties, home to many Permian Basin oil workers, local and state police in 2016 gained over 95 pounds of methamphetamine – up from less than four pounds in 2010.

Corporal Steve LeSueur, a spokesman for the Odessa police, said the influx of drugs in the oil patch is stretching police resources.

Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (PXD.N) and ConocoPhillips (COP.N) didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In 2016, Shawn Pinson, an employee of a well construction firm, was convicted of murdering an acquaintance after a dispute.
When petroleum jobs are plentiful said three drug addicts who worked in the oilfield.
Reporting by Liz Hampton in Midland, Texas; Editing by Gary McWilliams and Brian Thevenot
Equipment handler and the rig worker lasted before relapsing.

While drug use is an issue among industrial workers nationally, it raises particular concern in the oil patch as U.S. production surges to record levels in what is already among the country’s most dangerous sectors – with a fatality rate about three times the average for other industries, based on 2015 national statistics.

Schlumberger NV (SLB.N), Halliburton Co (HAL.N) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) declined to comment. Reuters was referred by Exxon to drug policy and its alcohol.

Drug charges in Midland’s business town doubled between 2016 and 2012, to 942 from 491, according to police data. In Odessa drug arrests doubled to 1291 from 756, between 2010 and 2016, based on Odessa Police Department data.

Springboard’s admissions of users went up 20 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the half of 2016, ” he said. The number of rigs working in the Permian Basin increased more than 38 percent during the same period, based on data from energy services firm Baker Hughes (BHGE.N).
“I could do a small coke and speed and it would give me the extra stretch,” he said. “It ended up running me to the floor.”

Despite corporate and regulatory efforts to curb drug abuse, stimulants are frequently used by many oilfield workers on shifts of work for relatively high cover, said drug counselors, local law enforcement officials and oil field workers .
Over a third of customers at Midland’s Springboard drug rehab center are involved in the oil and gas sector, said Executive Director Steve Thomason.
The murder occurred around the same time police records show. The victim tested positive for meth at the time of the murder, according to an autopsy.
Long shifts are common in the oil industry because expensive drilling equipment, often leased at high rates that are daily, runs through the night, and workers have to commute to wells in remote locations. Oilfield services are subcontracted by oil producers .
Oil companies often conduct extra tests on workers and drug test job applicants. For truck drivers and people involved with hazardous substances, tests are also conducted under national programs run from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Rising oil prices have attracted admissions Thomason said.
“The jail has been complete,” he said.
One recovering addict, who failed because he works in the industry, to use his name, said he often high during trips drove trucks hauling oil.