Flying frackers bring home bacon to valley families

Randy Peters of Grand Junction takes flights across the country to work on oil and gas wells.

Prashant Choudhary leapt off the Beechcraft 1900 and, grinning, flung his hands in the air like a welterweight boxer who had just felled a light heavyweight.

On Wednesday, Choudhary was home for the first time after five weeks of working on hydraulic-fracturing jobs in Texas. Pay for the fracking work will help Choudhary get through the pre-med program at Mesa State College and then into medical school.

“I worked 18 hours, day after day, in 107-degree heat,” Choudhary, 33, said, savoring the 75-degree temperature of the early afternoon at the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

Not many get to pile up cash as he is doing for long-term, higher-education bills. Choudhary also is trading weeks of hard work on the rig not only for tuition, but for uninterrupted time with his 5-year-old son.

“That’s the whole point,” he said.

For him, joining the ranks of the flying frackers was a stroke of fortune because he lost his previous energy-field work in 2009, when his job and many others withered away.

Back on the job now, “This is pretty cool,” Choudhary said of the energy express he takes to work.

Randy Peters, 52, waited for Choudhary and the Texas bunch to clear out before he hauled his gear to the luggage door of the Beechcraft.

Peters and another crew were bound for North Dakota.

His pockets bulged with Leatherman tools, pocket knives and other necessities for work on the rig, and Peters said he expected to be working on frack jobs for Halliburton on the Bakken Formation in North Dakota.

He’s no stranger to the region, but this trip promised to be a bit more pleasant than the one when he battled temperatures of 36 below zero and was stuck for a week in motel.

North Dakota in June might be warmer, “but it’s muggy, and it’s flooding big-time,” he said.

Peters leaves behind his wife, four sons and several grandchildren in the Grand Valley while he pursues high-paying work wherever the plane takes him. He’d much rather do that than move to North Dakota.

“I’ll ride the plane,” he said, looking to the Uncompahgre Plateau, Grand Mesa and Bookcliffs ringing the airport.

“It’s too flat,” Peters said of North Dakota. “I can’t abide flat.”

Nineteen-year-old Derek Trout was taking his second plane ride ever and first trip on the fracking flight.

Trout, a 2010 Central High School graduate who has been attending classes at Western Colorado Community College, said he plans to put aside as much money for his future as he can from working in the energy field.

“Everybody tells me, ‘Go to college, go to college,’ ” he said. “I tell them, ‘I have to have money.’ ”


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