Young women are pranking their dads by saying they’re going to work on oil rigs. The responses are heartwarming: ‘Money can’t bring your life back.’

When Jahkira Michelle, a 23-year-old college administration worker, prank-called her dad to say she landed an underwater welder apprenticeship for six weeks, she just wanted to hear his genuine reaction. She knew what to expect and he delivered: “Money can’t bring your life back!” 

“It would be one thing if I said regular welder,” Michelle told Fortune, “but something as dangerous as going deep underwater from the shore, and I can’t actually swim, I was expecting him not to be on board at all.” 

The prank, trending on TikTok, involves dozens of women calling up their fathers, brothers, and partners about landing a six-figure job offer at an offshore oil rig. The women explain that the job entails spending six weeks as an underwater welder or apprentice, and revealing their loved ones’ reactions. Aside from a poignant, confused silence that usually follows the women’s announcement, the reactions sit somewhere between protective, supportive and realistic–much in line with the huge risks of injury and death that oil rig workers face in exchange for a relatively high salary. 

Michelle’s father has been a welder most of his life, she said. He worked at construction sites in Maryland for decades and is more than aware of the pain and bodily stress that comes with the job. “He doesn’t like the profession,” she said, adding that her father describes the labor as something that’s added “10 years” to his life.

“Your body breaks down from all of the heavy labor, using hot metal,” Michelle said. “He wouldn’t want me to have to do that.” 

In terms of her prank, she thinks she lost him at the word “rig.” She was curious about how he, a blue-collar worker, would respond to his daughter, a self-described “girly girl” who “wouldn’t even last for a day of training” on a rig. In his brief, two minute response, users on Tik Tok noticed how much concern and support he showed her. “I didn’t think that people could really see how good our relationship is just from that little snippet of our conversation,” she said. “It made me smile.” 

Another Tik Tok user, Olivia Prewitt, a 25-year-old Kentucky native who is now based in Florida working as a realtor, told Fortune that she discovered the trend shortly after she “had mentioned moving to California on a wild hair” to her father. He told her she’d need a job that would support the high cost of living out there. 

“Once I saw the trend take off,” said Prewitt, she realized: “He might actually fall for this.”  

Her post-graduate life has not been as traditional as some other young adults in her southern hometown, where, Prewitt said, “there is an idea of what a traditional post-grad life looks like.” That life includes “immediately starting a job or family.” 

Her own trajectory was a bit different–she moved to Florida and started work as a realtor at a job that also allows her time to travel. She’s a former Miss Kentucky Teen USA–and now visits her friends who have ended up all over the country in cities like Los Angeles, Boston, and Miami.   

Her father’s reaction was very dadlike. A long pause, and then, “That’s not anything you’d want to do.” She pushed him, saying the pay was $185K for six weeks, to which he replied, “Aw shit, you ain’t gonna do no welding.” 

At first she only planned to share the video with friends, but decided to post it publicly. It has racked up 4.5 million views and inspired a wave of new pranksters wanting to gauge how their family and friends will react. For Prewitt, who also described herself as a “girly girl,” the pranks are funny because of how the “dads, boyfriends, and brothers jump into protective mode.” Still, she said, she knows that if she were serious her dad would be supportive. 

Oil rig work has been garnering interest for months–Google searches for related jobs reached a five-year high, with particular interest from the Southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Arkansas, which are near the Gulf of Mexico and its 6,000-plus oil and gas structures, or rigs. Oil rig welding jobs offer a salary over $55,000 for just half a year’s work, a prospect especially attractive to college-aged men who might be tempted by the high pay minus the  higher education component. 

But, as the women correctly intuited, the pay is high for a reason. Oil rig crews face some of the highest rates of injuries and deaths in the country, according to Arnold & Itkin, a law firm that represents oil industry workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 470 oil workers died between 2014 and 2019; more than 400 of them were on the job and 69 of them died from cardiac complications. The death rate has also been increasing: In 2019, the rate of oil worker fatalities was about 12%, compared to about 6% in 2017.  

The most common causes of injuries include fires, falls, fatigue, machinery malfunctions, and lack of safety culture on rigs. In one Reddit thread, nearly 100 users shared their most terrifying experiences on oil rigs—describing brutal burns, equipment that maimed people, and witnessing entire coastlines degrade quickly. 

Both Michelle and Prewitt were quick to tell Fortune that the work is something they could never do, but they were equally quick to mention that they know other women could–and that they’re curious if the trend will also reveal some incredibly supportive conversations from families. 

Prewitt said that she has “no doubt that there are amazing, strong women fully capable” of oil rig work. But, she added, “I am not one of those women.” 

The demand for oil rig labor is largely based on the “boom-bust” nature of the industry. During booms, or periods of high demand for oil, investors pour money into the industry and trigger overproduction, according to the Colorado School of Mines. Bust periods follow, which sees lower oil prices and underinvestment by the industry, which triggers more demand for cheap oil and shifts the price higher again to continue the cycle. 

Beyond the risks of injury, suffocation and chemical exposure to people, it’s a job that also wreaks havoc on the environment. The oil industry is responsible for 38% of all methane gas emissions in the country, and 3.8% of all greenhouse gasses.

According to WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit that protects wildlife and landscapes in the American West, oil drilling also produces pollution booms in states like Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Texas and more. 

In Texas, the nonprofit wrote, “drilling near schools and homes is releasing toxic fumes,” and in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, drilling threatens to undermine “years of hard-earned progress in cutting air pollution.” 

According to a report by IMPLAN, a provider of economic impact data, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado collectively contribute to over 65% of the total U.S. oil-and-gas production. This year, crude oil production is expected to decrease from 1 million barrels per day to 170,000 barrels, which will result in thousands of fewer jobs available this year.

Oil rig content, though, has been cropping up on social media platforms like TikTok in other forms too–and quite a few come from women creators. One woman documented her gym routine on an oil rig, while another posted old photos of herself kitted up in neon protective gear. 

Other workers have documented their living quarters, with wooden floors, televisions, and sea views, where many people live for weeks to months at a time. 

On her video, Prewitt saw questions flood the comment section, asking if the salary was real and if it was a job they could apply for. “If it is,” she said, “there’s probably a reason and I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

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