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 How to Get a Job On A Land or Offshore Oil Drilling Rig                 

 

Part One of The Oilfield Employment Series: Oilfield Jobs

The oil and gas industry is in the middle of the biggest boom in it's history and there are many drilling and service companies actively seeking employees with job postings in local newspapers and online sites. There are also scam artists out there who want to take your money. Here is an article I wrote based on my personal experience of gaining employment in the oilfield.

Here Are Some Tips on How to Get a Job in the Oilfield.

Types of Jobs

The  many types of  jobs that facilitate the drilling and eventual production of an oil or gas well are multi layered and varied. finding a job in the industry depends on your skills, willingness to travel, etc. If you are wondering about how to find employment in the oil and gas industry here are some tips and advice for newcomers.

If you live in an area where oil and gas exploration is taking place then you already have an advantage in your oilfield job search. Otherwise, if you are considering working in the  oil and gas industry you will have to relocate to such an area. Some areas that are booming right now are the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi Gulf coasts,  the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, Casper Wyoming, Oklahoma, Utah, New Mexico, Alaska, even  the Appalachian basin and parts of New York where  the Marcellus shale gas formation has been discovered. There is a lot of work overseas in all parts of the world but if you are looking for an entry level job you will need experience first before looking overseas.

One of the first levels, before the well is even a gleam in a geologist's eye, is seismic exploration. Seismic companies, or "doodlebuggers", lay out sensitive recording instruments over miles of land, connected by wires, and set off charges or use large machines that thump the earth to send a seismic wave down into the earth. As the waves travel deep through the earth and pass through layers of rock and are reflected back to the surface to the instruments, a picture of what lies below is drawn.

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New advances in 3D seismic, which show greater detail mean that large parts of the country are  just now being explored with the new technology. Companies such as Western Geco (the largest) hire hands to string out the miles of cable, cut paths through heavy brush for the lines. It's hard physical labor and you'll spend most of the day on and off and ATV stringing out heavy cables, connecting them, taping them down when they cross roadways, and setting up the equipment that create the seismic waves. If you have an engineering, electronics or technical school degree you can get a job working  with the instruments that record the seismic waves being reflected from underground. If you only have a basic education you will start out by stringing lines and cutting right of way, and possibly work your way up the ladder. Salaries start in the $10 per hour range with lots of overtime.

First Stages of a Well

The information provided by the seismograph company is interpreted by a geophysicist working for the oil company. If there is evidence of oil and gas in sufficient quantity the oil company will pay the land owner (or government if public lands) for the rights to drill and produce the oil.
A "land man" or oil company agent, will go and meet with the rancher or farmer and offer them a deal that specifies what percentage of royalty they will receive from the oil and gas found on their land. A landowner may get as much as 1 barrel out of 8 that is produced or 1/8 of the natural gas revenue. The job of land man is complex and usually requires a college degree in real estate and courses in oil and gas leasing.

 

Roughnecks

The most important work done on the drilling rig is done by hard working men with strong backs know as roughnecks. The are responsible for making the connections of drill pipe as it is drilled down and more needs to be added, tripping (raising or lowering) the drill pipe all the way in or out of the hole when a bit needs to be changed, etc. Tripping takes hours or even days and is nonstop hard physical labor. Roughnecks may do anything from painting to ditch digging on some rigs where there are no "roustabouts" or unskilled laborers to do these jobs. 

Roughnecks set up the drilling rig at the start of the well, move the heavy equipment and rig it down at the end of the well. They typically work 12 hour shifts or "tours" which are pronounced "towers". Although it is manual labor is is highly skilled labor and it can take months for a person to work his way up from "worm" or inexperienced employee to "hand". If you have no prior oilfield experience it is easier to get hired as a roustabout doing odd jobs and try and work your way up the ladder.

A roughneck may also perform the job of motorman, keeping the engines and equipment on a smaller rig running while working on the rig floor as well, or on a larger rig they will have a separate position of motorman whose main job is to take care of all equipment. The rig may also have a full time rig electrician who is a licensed electrician. The rig boss is known as a toolpusher.  The types of roughneck jobs are, from lowest to highest, derrickman, floor hand, and driller.  The derrickman works up high in the derrick, racking the stands of pipe back against the side of the derrick as it is raised out of the hole or helping lower it down into the hole.  The floor hands make the connections of pipe using the tongs. It can be dangerous work and requires weeks or months of training to learn.  The driller  operates the rig controls and is the supervisor of the roughneck or drilling crew, his boss is the toolpusher. The driller has usually worked his way up from the lowest position. The toolpusher may have once been a driller who worked his way up as well.

Service Companies, There Are Many Kinds.

Once a deal has been made the oil company hires an oilfield services company to blade roadways to the site where the rig is to drill, lay down a "pad" or gravel surface a couple hundred yards across where the rig is to set up. They will often contract the services of a "gate guard" company, which hires people to check in vehicles coming into the ranch or farm. Gate guard companies often hire retired couples with their own RV's and pay around $200 a day.
Lease service companies hire people to run dozers, drive gravel trucks, operate backhoes, etc.
Before the rig sets up a company will come and drill a large hole and cement in surface casing for the rig to set up over.
The rig may hire a trucking company to help transport the rig, tanks and other equipment and set it up.

Once the rig has been moved onto the location and set up the rig (which usually has been hired by the oil company) will have to hire a water and septic company to deliver tanks of potable water and portable sewer systems. These companies may also rent mobile homes for the company men and other workers to live in, satellite internet and tv systems, intercoms and more. The workers who do these oilfield jobs do not live or stay on the rig and are among the lowest paid oilfield workers but on the other hand only a  few skills are needed, (CDL or commercial drivers license is a must) as well as a clean drug test.

The rig will also hire a vacuum truck company to deliver loads of water used in the drilling process, companies to dispose of the drill bit cuttings, companies to provide and deliver drilling mud, mud engineers to formulate and monitor the mud, mud loggers to set up equipment to analyze the rock cutting for productive zones and more.


Companies such as Newpark Drilling Fluids hire mud engineers who formulate the drilling fluid used to drill the well. Usually prior oilfield experience is a must, as is math and science skills and having attended a "mud school". Applicants with enough education or prior oilfield experience may be sent to "mud school" after they are hired as a trainee. The training phase may last six months or more before the mud engineer can work unsupervised.
 

Mud loggers, whose job it is to monitor the rock cuttings and gas and oil that come up hole from the drill bit may be hired by small "mom and pop" companies with only basic computer skills and trained over the course of a few months to do the job. They may start out as a "sample catcher" working for the lead logger to collect and clean samples of drill bit cuttings for him to analyze. Larger mud logging companies will only hire college graduates with geology degrees.

Automation
The rig , which itself has often been hired by the oil company drilling the well, will often hire a company that provides rig monitoring equipment, such as Pason Systems, to come and hook up equipment that monitors all aspects of the rig's performance, weight on bit, drill rate, etc, and displays this information on screens in the oil company offices around the world so they can track the well's progress.

These companies that provide these automation services hire persons with electronics skills to wire up the sensors and systems and hook the to a satellite uplink. Salaries start at  around $10 per hour and up with lots of overtime. Technicians are often on call at all  hours of  the day and night.
The oil company will also hire a wireline company such as Scientific Drilling Controls to come and run a "gyro" down the hole at certain points to keep it drilling straight, or orient devices  called whipstocks that are used to "kick off" the well in a certain compass heading if it is a directional well.
These employees are often hired with only some college or prior technical and oilfield experience.

Other companies provide safety services. Indian Fire and Safety in the Permian Basin provides H2S or hydrogen sulfide detectors that are placed around the rig location to warn of poison gas as well as providing SCBA air breathing packs and fire extinguishers. Employees need a background in electrical wiring and a number of safety courses.

Companies like Stallion rent mobile homes, satellite dishes and communication equipment. Other companies provide septic and trash hauling services. These service employees are at the lower end of the oilfield pay scale.

Companies like Light Tower Rentals provide generators that they hook up to the mobile homes on location. An employee would be on call at all times and be responsible for repairing and keeping vital generators running and for delivering them to far flung rigs around the country, changing the oil and air filters, etc.

Companies like "Rain for Rent" rent large water storage tanks and spools of water pipe and pumps. A rig may require a large amount of water for drilling fluid, etc and companies like these lay miles of pipe to a nearby reservoir or river and pipe it across country to the oil rig. These companies hire manual laborers and also mechanics and mechanically inclined people to keep the pumping equipment running. A commercial drivers license is a must.


The oil company will also hire "casing crews" that come out at certain points in the well's progress and set heavy pipe or "liners" as the hole is drilled deeper to protect the walls of the drilled hole. For persons with a strong back and muscles, a casing company is a good entry level job to get a foot into the door.   Workers typically start out in the $10 dollar per hour range and there is lots of overtime but the work is hard.

As the well is drilled through layers of rock suspected of holding oil and gas, the oil company will hire a logging truck to come out and run and instrument down the hole which checks the rock layers for conductivity, resistivity, gamma rays, etc. Geologists use this information to tell if the layers hold oil or gas or it is a dry hole. Logging companies such as Schlumberger (pronounced slum-ber-jay) hire mostly college graduates with petroleum or geology related degrees but there are occasional exceptions depending on the persons work history and resume.
This is a brief description of service company jobs and is by all means not all inclusive of the jobs that are out there. My apologies for anyone I  might have left out.

Getting Started in Your Search

Try the local papers from areas where there is oil and gas drilling and production activity. Often you can find the classified section available online by doing a search like "Tulsa newspaper classifieds". Write down the numbers of all the oilfield related companies including service companies, oilfield rental companies, site preparation and lease service companies, etc.  Before calling, find out what the company does. Do an internet search of it's name and learn what kind of employees they hire and if you may qualify for an entry level job. Then start calling and ask the secretary if they are hiring. Be sure and get her name since the secretary is often your best ally in getting a foot in the door. Ask her if there is anyone that you may talk to about a position and tell her how interested you are in working for them and get the address to send your resume to as well as the name of the main boss to put on a cover letter describing why you would be the perfect employee for them. On your resume be sure and highlight any mechanical and blue collar labor experience you have. Military service is a big plus with many companies.
 

My Background for this article:

I started out in the oilfield, in the production side of the business, 26 years ago at age 17 when I went to work for a "pumper" or well gauger. At first my duties were just to ride with him on his rounds, through a Texas oilfield and open ranch gates for him and climb the stairs to the oil tanks and drop a gaugers tape with a plumb bob attached to the bottom of the tank, reel it in and note the reading on the tape for him to record in his books.
Eventually, over the course of a year he showed me the ropes, which included learning how to start pump jack engines, gas compressor engines, read natural gas production charts and calculate well output, change  "chokes" or regulators that determine how much oil or gas flows out and more.
While still in high school I worked as his relief gauger so that he could have the weekend off. Gaugers that are independent contractors are married to their wells. The only time they get a break is when they hire relief workers that they can trust to take over for a few days.
Eventually I began to get my own contracts and work on my own and also provide relief to other pumpers.  Pumpers must pay their own expenses and vehicle payments plus a "million dollar umbrella insurance policy". Although pumpers were making up to $350 a month per gas well at that time, even with a couple dozen wells, it could be hard to turn a good profit if your vehicle kept breaking down on the rough roads.
I eventually quit the industry and returned to college where I took courses in geology. I returned a few years later and  worked for a while as a mudlogger  for a small company offshore in the Gulf of Mexico  an in the swamps of Louisiana.   I analyzed samples of the muddy cuttings that are transported up the well bore or hole in the drilling fluid.

After working as a mudlogger or mud logger for a couple of years I  then went to work for a company that provides LWD or "logging while drilling "services and directional drilling at wells in many far flung and remote places around North America.
There are possibly more types of  specialized jobs in the oil and gas industry,  both on and offshore than perhaps any other industry.
Like the layers of rock the drill bit goes down through, the layers that make up the industry are as diverse as  from cooks to geophysicists and everything in between.

  Helpful Links: Rigzone.com  Rig Count Page   Schlumberger Dictionary   Baker Hughes                                   

     

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