As oil and gas work in Canada evaporates, Alberta oil patchers are seeing the rise of a strange new opportunity: working the oil fields in northern Iraq. “We’re seeing day rates from US$400 upwards and, apparently, it is much safer in the north in Kurdistan,” Calgary recruiter Margi Storey wrote in an online ad for seismic surveyors last fall. “The fighting is all in the south, around Baghdad. All work is done in compounds and employee safety is ensured at all times.”
Despite the dangerous locale, Storey was inundated with queries. She has since placed almost 200 workers, mainly from Alberta, on crews exploring the oil fields of Kurdistan. Though she compares the terrain there to Alberta’s Rocky Mountain foothills, “this is not like working in Canada,” she says. “They’re always under guard and there’s land mines—so it is Iraq.” Still, “jughounds,” “vibe techs” and “party chiefs” can earn anywhere from US$500 to US$800 a day—almost double the Canadian wage. “They really have to have a lot of moxie,” says Storey, who stresses the challenges of running mixed crews of Kurds and Canadians, and negotiating with local authorities.
The small seismic firm Storey recruits for isn’t the only Canadian outfit active in Kurdistan. Partners WesternZagros Resources and Talisman Energy are also in the region, reportedly drilling with Romanian crews. And Niko Resources is conducting seismic surveys in the area with Vast Exploration. Ahmed Said, Vast’s president, says there are a handful of Canadians on his team, although they’re mainly global operators with Canadian citizenship recruited from abroad.
The fact that Storey’s ad targets surveyors in Canada, rather than veterans of the international scene, triggered much reaction. Most praised the high wages. But others cautioned against being too sanguine. “I’m in Kurdistan right now,” wrote one. “Not worth it—ran over a land mine last week.” Storey says she more often hears another complaint. “The only negative is the food. It’s goat and sheep,” she says. “We like our Alberta beef.”