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How Much Income Do Oilfield Roughnecks Earn

Updated on June 13, 2013

© 2013 by Aurelio Locsin.

The messy, dirty business of cleaning oil-drilling equipment so that the oil keeps flowing falls to oilfield roughnecks, also known as roustabouts. They also repair oilfield equipment, move pipes from trucks using winches and lifts, and guide cranes to move heavy loads. The job offers an income to those without a high-school diploma but who are in good physical condition.


Oilfield roughnecks earned a mean $35,800 per year, as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • The lowest-paid 10 percent made less than $22,720 yearly, while the best earners received over $52,720 annually.
  • They made less than the averages for all construction and extraction occupations, which ran $44,960 per year, and less than the mean $45,790 received by the average U.S. worker.
  • To earn these amounts, roughnecks typically work shifts that last eight or 12 hours, and schedules that may run for seven or 14 days, with an equal number of days off.


With its many oilfields, Texas reigned as the state with the most roughneck jobs, hiring 23,630 of the total 59,320 workers, and paying a mean $32,650 per year.

  • Oklahoma was next, with 4,710 positions at a mean $33,700 yearly, followed by Louisiana, with 4,660 roughnecks earning a mean annual $34,680.
  • The states with the highest pay were Alaska, at a mean $53,030 per year, Montana, at a mean $47,770 yearly, and North Dakota, at a mean annual $46,140.
  • In rural areas, Northwestern Texas showed the most positions, with 4,450 workers earning a mean $30,750 per year.
  • The highest pay was in rural Southwest Alaska at a mean $52,360 yearly.


The type of employers determined the job opportunities and salaries available to oilfield roughnecks.

  • The biggest employers were support activities for mining, which offered oil-drilling services on a contract basis. They hired 45,270 and paid a mean $36,050 per year.
  • Oil and gas extraction was next with 8,260 roughnecks averaging $36,250 yearly, followed by utility system construction, with 3,100 workers making a mean annual $31,270.
  • Ranking first for pay was natural gas distribution at a mean $41,180 per year, followed by industrial machinery rental and leasing at a mean $39,540 yearly.


Jobs for oilfield roughnecks are expected to increase by 8 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is the same percentage growth predicted for all oil and gas workers, but less than the 14 percent projected for all occupations in all industries. Higher prices for oil are prompting many companies to drill in deeper waters and formerly inaccessible environments, which increases demand for workers. However, new technologies can lessen opportunities because it allows fewer drill sites to produce more oil. They also make fewer roughnecks more productive in doing the tasks of many workers.


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      Tracey 17 months ago

      Agree with devin- those numbers are for base salary- what you get based on an 40 hour workweek. Roughnecks work at least 84 hours per week. So they get that base salary PLUS 44 hours of overtime which is time and a half. When my husband was a roughneck he made around 90-100k after all that overtime and occasional bonuses.

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      Devin 2 years ago

      Eh this is a little false. "Roughneck" is actually another name for a floor hand on a drilling rig. Yeah they do some cleaning but their main job is making connections and doing work up on the rig floor. As far as the salary, yeah that doesn't really even touch it. Roughnecks make more a LOT more than $30,000 a year. More like 60-80,000 depending on the company. This may be accurate for a roustabout but not for a roughneck. All the money comes from the overtime the guys get since they work 12 hour days for 14 days straight with 14 off.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I actually thought that roughnecks earned more than that...but I guess for not having a high school education, it pays more than other type of jobs that would be available to them. Interesting hub! Voted that and more.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

      I lived in Louisiana during the last oil boom and salaries were out of sight wonderful -- however, there were lots of accidents back then and some of my friends lost fingers while others lost their lives. The oil patch can be exciting but one of the most dangerous places on earth. Good work here! Best/Sis

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Good article, containing a lot of useful and interesting information.

      Voted up ++ and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Interesting as always. I have relatives in North Dakota right now, and they say the pay is through the roof and they are having a hard time finding enough workers. I think I'll pass on this job. :)