For shale truck driver shortage, virtual reality could be answer

By Luke Geiver | June 18, 2019

Virtual reality simulators could be the key to maintaining oil and gas production in some of North America’s most prolific—and truck-dependent—shale plays. New commentary from Advanced Training Systems LLC, a high-tech simulator and engineering firm that specializes in driving situations, said that the Permian Basin and several other parts of the country are experiencing a driver shortage. According to numbers provided by ATS, the Permian alone is short 4,000 drivers.

“The health of the entire economy is dependent on trucks,” said John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems. “What’s happening in the oil industry is just the tip of the iceberg. Overall, the U.S. is currently short more than 50,000 drivers, a number that could triple over the next few years.”

In the shale fields of the Permian or the Bakken, 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.

“What is needed are better, more modern ways to train a badly needed cohort of new drivers,” Kearney said. Although traditional and recent truck training methods have included text-book and on-the-road driving instruction, there are more efficient and equally effective ways to educate a new volume of drivers, ATS believes.

Kearney and his team believe those like Basic Energy Services in Fort Worth, Texas, have found a good answer to helping current and future drivers. Their drives receive a combination of textbook, on-the-road instruction followed up by simulator access like those used in aviation training. The simulators are used to helps drivers practice or refresh their skills in dangerous situations such as bad weather, ice, sudden animal crossings or other scenarios. 

“It’s effective not just in the oil fields, and not just in Texas,” said Kearney. “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.”