Making best of rough living in Permian Basin

William shows off a photo of his children during dinner last month at a man camp cafeteria in Carlsbad. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

CARLSBAD — It takes a woman like Rocio Delgado to manage a man camp.

The general manager of this temporary workforce housing facility in Carlsbad goes the extra mile to keep hundreds of male oil workers in her lodge happy. But she’s also tough — and doesn’t take nonsense from anybody.

“They have respect for the entire staff here,” she says while finishing up dinner one recent evening at the facility’s cafeteria. “If you’re the troublemaker, I’m going to take it up with your supervisor.”

Indeed, when guests bring dogs that chew up the mattresses, she has to tell them that’s not allowed.

When the men get rowdy while drinking on their porches, she zips over in a golf cart to have a word. The tomfoolery stops.

And when men tried to sneak women into the camp overnight by dressing them up as oil workers, Delgado was wise to the ruse. That, she points out, is not allowed, either.

“At the beginning, we’d see a lot of prostitutes and I’d have to throw them out,” she says. “They would dress their girls in uniforms and hard hats, so when they’d drive up we’d think it was one of the guys. It’s just hilarious what they put us through.”

All this is par for the course at Permian Lodging’s Carlsbad camp, one reflection of the local impact of the massive oil and gas boom in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. Some of the well-paid workers spend their nights drinking or chasing women at nearby bars, while others just focus on making money from their grueling shifts so they can bring it home to their families.

Either way, the huge influx of out-of-town workers here and at other camps and RV parks is changing the complexion of Carlsbad.

“Bless your heart,” Eddy County Manager Allen Davis says after hearing a newspaper reporter has spent time at a local man camp.

“They’re one of those necessities you don’t really want to have for the rest of your life,” adds County Commissioner Ernie Carlson, referring to the camps. “But right now, what would you do without them?”

The Carlsbad camp was opened in December 2018 and by February it was completely full. It’s stayed that way ever since, constantly at its capacity of roughly 400 residents.

The company is planning to add 12 more buildings with 80 to 90 more rooms to meet the demand. There isn’t even enough room for the staff; some of them have to live in a nearby RV park.

Another sign of the boom is the fact that almost no one here is from Carlsbad. Even most of the staff is from other cities like El Paso.

That includes Delgado. Her background isn’t in the oil industry or in lodging. The former El Paso resident managed a T-Mobile store before this. But when she was offered the job, she took it and found she had a real knack for running the place.

She deals with all sorts of complaints. Some men accuse staff of not giving them clean towels. Others have alleged staff members stole their socks.

Delgado also has to deal with a lot of men just being too messy. She shows pictures on her phone of the inside of several rooms that look like a bomb went off — clothes and blankets all over the place.

“You see what I mean?” she asks. “We see a lot of dirty people.”

Giving a tour of the camp in a golf cart, Delgado points toward one collection of rooms that has a grill on the deck and a cornhole game set up on the grounds.

“Those are the guys who can get loud,” she says.

It often comes back to the issue of female visitors. When men want to bring their wives to stay with them, Delgado tells them they can’t.

And after Delgado brings up the subject of prostitutes, staff member Joanne Young, standing on a balcony outside the cafeteria, points at a nearby street off in the distance. She says sex workers hang out there at night, close to the man camp because they know these men make good money.

“There’s a lot of money here,” she says, adding she’s heard prostitutes charge a minimum of $200 an hour. “So the girls follow that.”

The camp consists of rows of hauled-in prefabricated buildings with around a dozen rooms each. Carpenters constructed wooden decks along the entryways. The single and double rooms have a mini-refrigerator, a microwave and full bathrooms.

Attached to the main office is a weight room, cardio machines and a room with pool tables and pingpong.

The double rooms have signs on the walls above the beds. The one closest to the window says “Day Bed” and the away from the window says “Night Bed.” That’s so the night shift workers can be further away from the window and more easily sleep during the day.

“They never see each other,” Delgado says.

It isn’t just oil workers here. The camp also houses Walmart employees who are hired from other cities, such as El Paso and Alamogordo, because it’s so difficult to find enough workers in Carlsbad.

For all the discipline she needs to ensure, Delgado also says the staff and the guests give each other companionship that is hard to come by.

After all, pretty much everyone is far from home. The staff works at the lodge every day for four weeks straight before getting two weeks to drive home to see their families.

As for the oil workers, most of them come from Texas, Louisiana and other states, and some treat the staff as if they’ve been friends for a long time.

One resident even brought a cake to the front office to celebrate his birthday with the staff, Delgado says.

“This,” she says, “is like a family.”

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Reporter

Jens Erik Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

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