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Landman looks for work in Alberta’s struggling oil patch
Douglas Schmidt heads into downtown Calgary almost every day looking for work.
Published Monday, January 14, 2019 2:48PM MST
Last Updated Monday, January 14, 2019 3:11PM MST
"Hi Chris - I'm calling you instead of texting back because I'm trying to save money on my data plan"
Douglas Schmidt is on the phone. He's 59-years-old.
He's a petroleum "landman" - basically, he's an expert on land. Specifically, what's beneath the dirt and how to capitalize on it.
His specialty is finding value for companies.
Surface rights. Conveyance agreements. Crown royalties.
From 1983 until 2014, Schmidt worked for several energy companies in Canada and the United States.
He says over those three decades, through negotiating leases and mineral rights among other things, he found $900-million in value for companies.
But right now, he can't afford to text on his phone.
I get in touch with Schmidt because I'm doing an economy story.
I feel like I'm always doing a story on the economy. At least, that's how the last five years have seemed.
I found Schmidt on Kijiji.
He posted an ad, offering his expertise for $40/hour, with a minimum eight-hours of work. It’s roughly one-third what he used to make.
I meet Schmidt at an LRT station in the south, where he is just getting back from a job interview.
Well, not really a job interview he clarifies. It’s more like an interview for a possible interview sometime in the future.
Before we start the interview, Schmidt pulls me aside.
"Chris, can I ask you one thing? Can you include my phone number in your news story and say I'm available to all oil and gas companies for their land consulting needs? Then, if anyone wants to hire me they can call?"
"The story will be pretty short,” I tell him. “I don't think I can fit it in there. Also, as a rule we don’t put people’s personal phone numbers on TV. Sorry.”
And I am sorry.
"That's okay,” he says smiling. "Just thought I'd ask."
During our interview, he doesn't just talk about his struggle to find steady employment. He talks about his brief time in the military, about living abroad, about his dad and his belief in God.
Schmidt has a wide range of emotions, but self-pity doesn't appear to be among them.
He's only picked up a bit of work over the last few years - enough to keep his head above water, he says. But it's more than many of his colleagues have so they're often coming to him for advice.
"I have to be careful," he says. “I want to help them but I also don't want to create more competition for myself.”
Schmidt says he has friends who haven't worked in five years. Friends who've lost their houses.
One was just turned down for a job at Dairy Queen. Another told him he unsuccessfully applied for 14 jobs, including ones at Walmart and McDonald’s.
Now, they are erasing their university degrees from their resumes.
"They think they're more likely to get hired for those jobs if their prospective boss thinks they just have a high school diploma,” he explains.
Schmidt did not anticipate this at this stage of his career.
Then he laughs. The kind of laugh you have or you’ll start crying.
As we finish, Schmidt grabs my hand and shakes it several times.
"When I got your message, I thought God is using me as a tool,” Schmidt says. "And maybe He's using you as well. You're witnesses to the tough times. You’re witnesses to the poverty and unemployment. What you do is so important."
Tomorrow he'll be back at the LRT station and take a train downtown again — one of the thousands of laid off energy workers trying to get back on their feet.
Oh, by the way - Douglas Schmidt's phone number is 403-852-3981 and he's available to oil and gas companies for all their land consulting needs.