Building an oilfield hauling business on a resilient safety platform has carried Prairie Field Services through a decade of success
The booms and busts of the oil and gas industry are legendary, especially for the many service providers that support energy companies. When prices fall, those that lack the intestinal fortitude or financial stability for cyclical work drop right along with them. Conversely, entrepreneurs that outlast the blues can become producers’ most vital partners. Just ask Pat Hughes, the founder of Prairie Field Services.
In 2011, when North Dakota’s Bakken shale play was a significant source of recoverable oil, Hughes founded an oilfield hauling operation there with a value proposition rooted in right action, and a refusal to put profitability over safety. Hughes built Prairie on that pledge, gaining loyal customers amongst the biggest names in the energy business. As a result, the company is celebrating 10 years of success.
In 2018, Prairie moved their crude hauling operations to the massive oilfields in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Today, Prairie employs roughly 150 people and has a pair of satellite locations in Wyoming, operations in South and West Texas, and corporate headquarters in Minnesota. Hauling capabilities include liquid oil and gas products and byproducts as well as their newest market entry: over-the-road dry-van freight (OTR).
Prairie found a silver lining in the massive challenges of 2020, launching the OTR business unit, leveraging surplus equipment and their existing support infrastructure to hit the ground running. Steve Youngquist, a 30-year veteran of the transportation and logistics industry, joined the firm last October to lead the group. “I greatly look forward to working with Steve and growing that division in the short and long term,” said Auston Butt, Prairie’s COO.
“Our business model is to bolster our OTR fleet to 20 trucks by the end of the year with continued growth throughout next year,” he added. “Having started that division from scratch back in October, we’ve been pleased with how fast we’ve been able to move in the last 10 months.” Offering one-way, dedicated, and power-only services, the OTR division serves the Lower 48, with an emphasis on moving freight west of the Mississippi.
The OTR division is opening up a multitude of satisfying career options for haulers. “Our crude and water haulers can make a very nice living and be home every night,” Butt said. “Our OTR drivers benefit from having newer, full sleeper semis, a flexible schedule and the most competitive pay package in the area and industry.” Referral and sign-on bonuses, as well as paid training, are designed to attract the best drivers in the business.
It’s also helpful that Prairie’s new HR manager, Shantel Moore, is applying 20 years of industry experience to help hire, train, and retain those workers during a time when demand is rising but there is a massive shortage of drivers. As Butt put it, “She’s definitely been there and done that and knows how to solve the challenges of a compressed labor pool.”
In addition to their main business focus, Prairie leadership seeks out niche opportunities. With a severe fire season predicted for the region, they are exploring a solution that will provide onsite, high volume water and fuel options for wildland firefighter’s relief efforts. “Through a partnership we’ve established with a local tank company, we can provide up to a half-million gallons of water, strategically placed close to the fire to cut down on travel time for water and fuel for both helitack and truck engine crews,” said Butt.
Oilfields are often remote, desolate, and challenging to reach, which is the case with the Powder River Basin, which stretches roughly 120 miles going east to west and 200 miles from north to south. Drivers face a great deal of dangers, from driving on privately leased roads that don’t have speed limits, navigating long stretches of barely passable terrain, to handling hairpin curves and steep climbs and drops — and that’s before they get to the highways.
In a strategy that’s unique amongst most haulers in the sector, Prairie employs a team of field supervisors that provide driver support, working with company trainers during a driver’s first 90 days and performing spot audits on seasoned drivers to help reinforce Prairie’s commitment to safety. Considering that the company operates 24/7/365 in every kind of weather, the field supes are indispensable.
“Because our territory is very isolated, our supervisors are a vital link in communication from the field back to the office and also to our customers,” Butt explained. “We’ve had several examples of our drivers arriving on location to find a spill caused by another company, and our supervisors respond to location, clean up the spill, and leave the location actually better than it looked before we arrived. We’re happy to offer this next-level of customer service as we realize the challenges that our customers face.”
Effective communication in these tough environments is crucial. Butt added, “Our ability to communicate with our customers and come up with solutions to problems caused by things like road closures, high tank levels, and hazardous conditions helps keep our people and the customer’s product safe.”
Prairie also relies on state-of-the-art technology to keep drivers safe. Their AI powered In-Vehicle Monitoring System has outward, inward, and sideview cameras that help the drivers maintain awareness and help with remote support. The platform’s AI recognizes if a driver loses visual awareness, falls asleep, is not wearing a seat belt, or other safety lapses and will notify the driver with an audible alarm. The system also recognizes speeding, harsh cornering, and hard braking in real time. A geofencing feature makes drivers aware of dangerous stretches of road and gives Prairie the ability to set speed limits on roads where none are posted.
With most of Prairie’s staff living and working in Casper, it’s no surprise that love of the outdoors and a desire to protect the environment runs deep. The company works closely with government agencies, producers, and the public to constantly consider and often craft and adopt industry best practices.
“On a more micro level, we love our community and show that with solid volunteer work,” Butt said. “At the end of May we organized a group of about a dozen PFS volunteers to clean up a 2-mile stretch of interstate north of Casper close to our office. We intend to not only make this an annual event, but to make it a fun, competitive program to include more businesses in the Casper area.”
Above all, Prairie recognizes the tremendous value that their drivers and mechanics bring to the business, and to the American economy as a whole. “Transportation is such a dynamic piece of so many businesses, big and small, and these workers are the lifeblood of that industry. They work so hard, driving through the night, working in the most adverse weather conditions, under a piece of equipment for hours every day, out in the snow and mud. Within those groups, we have such a diverse team of dedicated employees who genuinely care about the massive impact they have on so many downstream effects,” Butt said. “We have an amazing culture of high energy, hardworking, safety-focused professionals at every level of our organization, and I’m so proud and privileged to be able to work alongside them every day.”
We operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in America’s most important and productive energy-producing regions: Powder River Basin (WY) and the Delaware Basin (TX).
We believe in doing the job right and getting each and every one of our drivers home to their families after every shift.
And it’s not just the words, we put this belief into action with rigorous training, accountability and weekly bonuses for drivers with a commitment to safety — not just for themselves, but everyone out on the roads.
Prairie Field Services
3019 Salt Creek Hwy
Casper, WY 82601