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Oilfield Charity Helps Energy Workers in Tough Times

Oilfield Charity Helps Energy Workers in Tough Times

Houston Chronicle

Giving back to communities where we live and work is an unwavering core value at Impact. The Houston Chronicle recently featured one of the charities we help support Oilfield Helping HandsOur President & CEO Rodney Uchytil was interviewed as part of the article. 


The biggest help for those laid off from the cyclical oil and natural gas industry often comes from those who have been through the same experience before.

Launched in 2003, the Houston nonprofit Oilfield Helping Hands provides financial assistance to industry employees and others coping with unexpected medical expenses, natural disasters and other emergencies. Generous donations from the industry and annual fundraisers have allowed the nonprofit to give out more than $5.1 million to more than 700 people over the past 16 years.

Applicants receive generous support but must go through extensive screening and develop a recovery plan to get themselves back on their feet.

“We don’t give a hand out, we give a hand up,” said Oilfield Helping Hands Chairman Gene Pate.

The past year has proved a tough one for the oil and natural gas industry as prices remained low, capital became hard to get and companies cut back. As thousands in the industry find themselves out of work during the holidays, many are finding the most meaningful help comes from their colleagues.

Cancer struggle

After more than 25 years of making control panels for offshore oil rigs and other industrial facilities, Sharon Roark was laid off from her assembly job at Siemens Oil & Gas in June — one month shy of her 65th birthday and a couple years short of her planned retirement age.

Roark got severance and six months of health insurance benefits, but the money didn’t last long after she paid off her bills. Then she went to the doctor and learned she had cervical cancer. Although she has been responding well to chemotherapy and other treatments, Roark is scheduled for a hysterectomy in January.

Roark has used her Social Security check to pay rent, but with insurance and Medicare only covering so much, cancer treatments rapidly depleted her savings.

She applied for assistance from various programs but received the biggest support from Oilfield Helping Hands. The exact amount is confidential, but Roark said the group’s check will help with living and medical expenses through her recovery and get her back on her feet.

“It’s a big help to me,” Roark said. “I was down on my luck and down in my spirits. It’s a hand up to better yourself. I want to go back to work.”

Roark is not alone in finding herself out of work over the holidays. Stuck in the $50-per-barrel range for most of the year, crude oil prices were just below the break-even point for many companies operating in shale plays across the United States and Canada. The resulting cutbacks in drilling and completion activity meant thousands of layoffs, particularly in the oil field service sector, which has shed 10,000 jobs in Texas over the past year, according to Texas Workforce Commission data.

‘Some tough choices’

Rodney Uchytil, CEO of Impact Fluid Solutions, said his company, which makes chemicals for drilling and completing wells, knows the boom and bust cycle of the industry all too well. During the last oil bust, which stretched from 2014 to 2016, the company froze salaries, cut hours and laid off workers.

He also knows the impact that support from family, friends, co-workers and charities can have during tough times. His company employs only 50 people but has donated more than $1 million to Oilfield Helping Hands and other charities every Christmas over the past 7 years.

“We faced some tough choices in 2015 but even in those tough times, we never stopped giving to charities,” Uchytil said.

With the prospect of a full recovery in the new year, Roark plans to spend Christmas Day at her brother’s home in Conroe, where she’s bringing deviled eggs and other treats for everyone to enjoy.

“All eight of my grandchildren will be there,” Roark said. “I’m so grateful for my family.”

While Roark enjoys the holidays with her family and prepares for her surgery, the industry is adapting to lower crude oil prices and moving toward digitalization and automation. Those who were were laid off over the past few months are making tough financial choices over the holidays and trying to fit back in.

Laid off from his job as an engineer with the San Antonio office of the pipeline company Williams two weeks before Thanksgiving, Stephen Conroy said he and his family are eating out less and cut monthly expenses for cell phones, cable television and streaming services. Purchases, he said, are divided into wants, needs or those that can wait.

Doing more window shopping than actual buying, Conroy said his three daughters will still have Christmas gifts albeit not like before. Still keeping the holiday spirit, he and his wife plan to do some regifting for others on their list. And while enjoying the extra time with family over the holidays, Conroy plans to draw on his social and professional networks to find a job in the New Year.

“I believe that if you help other people up the ladder, they’ll pull you up,” Conroy said.