GJ companies send fracking crews to sites across country

Oil rig workers return to Grand Junction on a Colorado Airlines plane after working in North Dakota. Ron Rouse, owner of Colorado Airlines, unloads the workers’ bags from a Beechcraft 1900. The plane was purchased by several oil and gas support companies that fly workers from Grand Junction to job sites around the U.S. because of their expertise: hydraulic fracturing of wells.

More than a dozen worn-out drillers stepped out of the Beechcraft 1900 airliner onto the tarmac in Grand Junction after as many as five sweltering weeks of drilling for natural gas in Texas.

As soon as the Texas crew cleared out, another crew was waiting to hop aboard the same plane for a flight to the oil-soaked Bakken Formation of North Dakota.

The crews are just the tip of what’s becoming one of western Colorado’s least-known but most-profitable exports: expertise in hydraulic fracturing.

Each planeload of flying frackers accounts for somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million in annual payroll, industry officials and rig workers estimate. The amounts could be higher, based on experience or amount of time spent on the job for the crews, who generally work two weeks on and two weeks off.

Ron Rouse, owner of Colorado Airlines, which flies the Beechcraft across the country from its home base in the general-aviation area of Grand Junction Regional Airport, figures he flies 240 gas-field workers monthlybetween their jobs and their Grand Valley homes. Figuring an average $100,000 salary per individual, Colorado Airlines is flying $24 million in annual Mesa County payroll from energy jobs around the country.

The rig workers he flies to various locations “live here and commute to work,” Rouse said, “What could be better than that?”

Rouse quickly added one thing could be better: more flights. And that’s what he expects to see as demand for drilling and fracking expertise grows across the country.

That would be fine at the headquarters of Crown Supply and Crown Trucking, 380 28 Road in Grand Junction, which sends many of the crews out on the Beechcraft to places as far flung as California, Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.

“When everything collapsed here, we were able to take the best of the best” and send them to jobs elsewhere while allowing their employees to remain in the Grand Valley, said Jeremy Wilson, general manager of Crown.

“Our guys get the best of both worlds,” the company’s controller, David Weaver, said.

Crown will fly as many as 150 employees over the course of a year to energy hot spots.

“We go where the boom is,” said the company’s operations manager Jared Johnson.

Rouse is expecting to see more and more demand for the flights to fracturing jobs.

Rouse started flying small rig crews in a six-seat plane about a year and a half ago and has seen the business grow rapidly as hydraulic fracturing has opened new possibilities for energy across the nation.

The outlook, however, isn’t entirely blue skies.

“We’re under a lot of pressure” to send employees to places such as North Dakota permanently, Weaver said.

North Dakota’s workers’-compensation-insurance program “causes us issues” because Crown deals with the costs associated with sending people there for part-time work, Weaver said.

Moving to North Dakota or elsewhere also would be contrary to the goal Ron Wilson set out when he founded Crown, to provide employment for as many Grand Valley employees as possible, Johnson said.


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