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ATS: Prospects for oil boom dimmed by driver shortage 

Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, calls for simulator-assisted training to help provide a needed army of safe, qualified new tank truckers.

Citing a report on how a shortage of tank truck drivers in the Permian Basin could constrict US shale oil production, John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, says his company can help alleviate the issue through better training.

The Houston Chronicle story claims future shale oil production could be reduced by as much as 40%, from the up to 1.5 million barrels per day expected by some analysts to between 600,000 and 900,000 per day.

“The health of the entire economy is dependent on trucks,” said Kearney, whose company is a designer and manufacturer of virtual simulators for driver training. “And what’s happening in the oil industry is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Overall, the US is currently short more than 50,000 drivers—a number that could triple over the next few years.”

The situation in west Texas is aggravated by the boom-and-bust nature of the oil business itself, Kearney says. The price of a barrel of oil dropped 45% in 2014 and another 31% in 2015, disrupting drilling operations across the entire Permian Basin. Truck drivers were among the hardest hit by the price collapse. Rendered unnecessary by the slump in output, they were fired in scores. Now, with oil prices inching back and production in the Permian Basin soaring, drillers want the truckers back. Goldman Sachs estimates that, to keep up with demand, another 4,000 drivers are needed in the region.

Unfortunately, the 86,000-square-mile Permian Basin lies in one of the most thinly populated parts of the United States. The largest town in the area, Midland, has an unemployment rate of 2.1% and no drivers to spare, Kearney says. Compounding this recruitment challenge is the fact that oil companies need drivers trained to deal with the difficult and sometimes dangerous requirements of the oil industry.

There are five primary types of tanker hauling, each with its own set of specialized skills, hauling styles, loading and unloading techniques, and hazardous material handling requirements.

John Kearney, ATS CEO

What is needed, Kearney says, are better, more modern ways to train a badly needed cohort of new drivers. Truck driver training traditionally included a mixture of textbook study and on-the-road instruction in an actual truck. Recent research, however, indicates that the most efficacious approach is to combine textbook and behind-the-wheel instruction with the use of simulators like those found in aviation training.

One large Texas-based provider of trucking services to oil and gas companies, Basic Energy Services of Fort Worth, has been using the devices not only to train new drivers but to provide refresher courses in dangerous situations—bad weather, ice, a sudden animal crossing—to experienced ones, Kearney said. The results have been good: rollovers, says a company spokesman, have gone down since the introduction of the simulator, and there has been a lower level of accidents.

“It’s effective not just in the oil fields, and not just in Texas,” Kearney said. “For a number of compelling reasons—cost, effectiveness, and above all, safety—simulator training is becoming an essential component of training truckers.

“As the industry’s simulator technology leader, we are delighted to be able to help both solve a major problem for our economy and provide a solid career path for thousands of urgently needed new drivers.”

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