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How To Get A Job On An Oil Rig

Updated on March 30, 2013

A land based oil rig

This is a Nomac Drilling rig.
This is a Nomac Drilling rig.

Be prepared!

Want to work on an oil rig in a entry-level position and bring home $80K a year? Well, I’m going to explain some of the techniques I used to get my first job on an oil rig and how to apply them to suit your personal interests.

I may not be an expert but I do have a great working knowledge of the hiring process and the qualifications required for a lasting career in the oilfield. You have some very important decisions ahead of you and you must be prepared to commit to them. There are a broad range of different jobs to be had in the oilfield but this article is aimed specifically at finding a job on an oil rig working for a drilling company. These are demanding careers that will most certainly require you to travel far from your home and in some cases possibly relocate. Most information I have provided is pertaining to land based oil rigs but much of it also applies to offshore drilling as well. In comparison your likely chances of gaining employment on a land based oil rig with no experience is far greater than on an offshore oil rig. Not all but most offshore rigs require 1 to 3 years experience. Or the training programs that they offer can be quite expensive. I am going to list some companies that offer paid training and free airfare to and from these locations. Most commonly the pay rate for the training is substantially lower than the actual starting rate after training is over. Starting pay for these companies range from $20 to $30 dollars an hour depending on the company and the location you choose to work.

About the entry level positions...

There are two floor hand positions: Floor Hand and Lead Tong Hand. Each must daily inspect the tongs, breakout line, snub lines, and tong dies for damage, excessive wear, fraying oil soaks, etc. and keep them safe and in good repair. During normal drilling operations duties include washing, cleaning, mechanical repairs, digging ditches, drill pope connections, drill pipe trips and other manual handling and/or maintenance activities as required by operational needs. While tripping (adding additional pipe to the stand), the Lead Tong Hand must pull and install the busing assembly. This activity will include lifting the tongs and lateral movement of the tongs to attach them to the drill pipe. The tongs are on counterweights and the exertion required to lift them would vary, but is estimated to be similar to lifting weights between 10-30 pounds. The lifting range up or down is 1-2 feet, in the area of the waist. This activity is repeated and could be performed as many as 175 times in a 12-hour Shift. Another activity conducted between tong usages is “pulling the slips.” This activity is performed by 2 or 3 men (depending on crew size) and could be conducted as many as 175 times per a 12-hour shift. The slips weigh between 100 and 175 pounds and the weight would be distributed between the 2 or 3 employees. The slips are located at floor level and would be lifted a distance of 18-24 inches. Racking pipe is another function performed by one of the Floor Hands during a drill pipe trip and involves manually pushing a suspended length of pipe to the area where it is racked. The reverse activity involves restraining the suspended pipe and guiding it across the rig floor. This activity is performed in the standing position and could be performed as many as 100 times per a 12-hour shift. Tripping the pipe string is an operation which involves removing all of the pipe from the well bore and racking it in the derrick. The pipe may be removed for various reasons, but usually is done to replace a drill bit on the end of the drill string. After the operation is complete, the pipe is “tripped” back into the well bore. The tripping operations vary depending on the depth of the well and other factors. Employees may be involved in the tripping operation for the full 12 hours of their work shift. The Floor Hand is responsible for catching and cleaning samples of formation cuttings while drilling. If drilling in gas, he must keep the flare bucket burning. At times it is necessary for the Floor Hand to climb up in the derrick and assist the derrick hand such as bridling up or bridling down. He must also be able to go up and grease the traveling blocks and bridle line sheaves. All hands working together must keep the rig clean, picked up and free of safety hazards. It is necessary that every hand be mentally alert and physically fit during his tour. Activities will be as follows: The ability to push/pull items weighing 50lbs 20 to 175 times in a 12 hour period. The ability to lift items weighing 100lbs from the floor to the waist 8 to 10 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to carry items weighing 100lbs 8 to 10 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to stand up to 100% of the time. The ability to climb up to 35% of the time 20 to 50 steps. (Up and Down @ 12 times per shift) Primary Duties of this position require maximum level of physical activity. The employee must be able to tolerate 12 hours of standing, climbing, lifting, pulling, pushing, and carrying weights of up to 100 lbs. The work is performed outside with prolonged exposure to the environment, both hot and cold. Operations could also involve prolonged exposure to wet or damp conditions, i.e. working in rain, snow, and sleet. Muscle groups include: Quadriceps, Low Back Extensors, Hip Extensors, Abdominal, Latissimus Dorsi, Deltoid, Pectorals, and Hand Grip.

About the other positions...

The motorman’s primary responsibility is to take care of all the motors on the rig. He must have a mechanical mind and the ability to trouble shoot and identify and repair minor problems that arise. He is responsible for checking the oil, oil pressure, temperature, fuel pressure and radiator water level and to record his findings in the daily engine report during his tour. He must be mentally alert and physically fit during his tour. Other responsibilities include racking pipe on the racking board when coming out of the hole and fill pipe when going in the hole. He is responsible for operation of the closing unit when shutting the well. Activities will be as follows: The ability to push/pull items weighing 50lbs 20 to 150 times in a 12 hour period. The ability to lift items weighing 100lbs from the floor to the waist 8 to 10 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to carry items weighing 100lbs 8 to 10 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to stand up to 80% of the time. The ability to kneel up to 15% of the time. The ability to climb up to 35% of the time 20 to 50 steps. (Up and Down @ 12 times per shift) Primary Duties of this position require maximum level of physical activity. The employee must be able to tolerate 12 hours of standing, climbing, lifting, pulling, pushing, and carrying weights of up to 100 lbs. The work is performed outside with prolonged exposure to the environment, both hot and cold. Operations could also involve prolonged exposure to wet or damp conditions, i.e. working in rain, snow, and sleet. Muscle groups include: Quadriceps, Low Back Extensors, Hip Extensors, Abdominal, Latissimus Dorsi, Deltoid, Pectorals, and Hand Grip.

The Derrick Hand is the crew member whose work station is in the derrick while drill pipe is being hoisted or lowered in the hole. He attaches the elevators to the stands of drill pipe while the pipe is being lowered into the hole and detaches the elevators and racks the pipe while the pipe is being hoisted out of the hole. Both operations involve the use of the arms and upper body to hold or pull the pipe. This operation could be repeated as many as 80 to 100 times during a 12-hour shift. He is responsible for greasing and inspecting the crown and all sheaves in the derrick. He must be mentally alert and physically fit while on duty. Other responsibilities of the Derrick Hand include mixing chemicals. The chemicals are packaged in paper bags and plastic buckets. The packages vary in weight from 20 to 80 pounds. Lifting and carrying is required to get the materials from the storage area to mixing areas. Manual handling of the packages or bags could require lifting from floor level to levels between 36 and 42 inches high. Unusual circumstances might require the lifting of numerous bags during a 12-hour shift. He is also responsible for watching the mud pits for an increase or decrease of mud volume, mud weight, and changes in funnel viscosity and gas cut mud. He must also watch and listen to the mud pumps to know when there is a problem. Activities will be as follows: The ability to push/pull items weighing 50lbs 20 to 175 times in a 12 hour period. The ability to lift items weighing 100lbs from the floor to 42' 10 to 20 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to carry items weighing 100lbs 10 to 20 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to stand up to 99% of the time. The ability to climb up to 35% of the time 20 to 50 steps. (Up and Down @ 12 times per shift) Primary Duties of this position require maximum level of physical activity. The employee must be able to tolerate 12 hours of standing, climbing, lifting, pulling, pushing, and carrying weights of up to 100 lbs. The work is performed outside with prolonged exposure to the environment, both hot and cold. Operations could also involve prolonged exposure to wet or damp conditions, i.e. working in rain, snow, and sleet. Muscle groups include: Quadriceps, Low Back Extensors, Hip Extensors, Abdominal, Latissimus Dorsi, Deltoid, Pectorals, and Hand Grip.

The Driller (crew foreman) is directly responsible for the rig crew during normal operations. He must be able to perform any job on the rig required of his hands, in order to instruct his crew on the “how to” procedure or to fill in as a Floor Hand as necessary. Refer to Job & Task Descriptions forms on Floor Hand, Motor Hand, and Derrick Hand for position requirements. He must know the safe operating limits of the rig and keep within those bounds. He is responsible for the operation of drilling and hoisting equipment. Actual rig operations involve the use of both hands and feet to operate controls. The Driller must be able to see gauges and dials at distances between 1 to 10 feet. He must be able to see the Derrick Hand at a distance of 60 to 90 feet away. He must be physically fit and mentally alert at all times to the operations taking place and crew participation. Activities will be as follows: The ability to lift items weighing 100lbs from the floor to the waist 8 to 10 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to carry items weighing 100lbs 8 to 10 times a day for a 12 hour period. The ability to stand up to 100% of the time. The ability to climb up to 35% of the time 20 to 50 steps. (Up and Down @ 12 times per shift) Primary Duties of this position require maximum level of physical activity. The employee must be able to tolerate 12 hours of standing, climbing, lifting, pulling, pushing, and carrying weights of up to 100 lbs. The work is performed outside with prolonged exposure to the environment, both hot and cold. Operations could also involve prolonged exposure to wet or damp conditions, i.e. working in rain, snow, and sleet. Muscle groups include: Quadriceps, Low Back Extensors, Hip Extensors, Abdominal, Latissimus Dorsi, Deltoid, Pectorals, and Hand Grip.

A small pump like one you may use

Transfering drilling fluid from holding tanks into the system can be tricky. You have to check and recheck your path of flow and valves to insure the material is going where you want it.
Transfering drilling fluid from holding tanks into the system can be tricky. You have to check and recheck your path of flow and valves to insure the material is going where you want it.

Let's Begin

I can provide you the all the information you need to get started and links to set the process in motion, but you will have to do your part as well. Beginning with a great resume.

Your resume must be well written and professionally laid out. Listing work history you think would be closet in relation to the oilfield and the similar tasks you may have preformed associated with the operation of an rig.

Maybe you’re a Mechanic? Or a Electrician? Maybe you’re a Factory Worker?

Try to get an idea of what your responsibilities on the rig are going to be. Any knowledge of plumbing or fluid transfer would be great. Any knowledge of chemicals or trucking would help as you may be mixing chemicals or unloading tanks and trucks. You may be operating heavy machinery such as forklifts or pipe spinners.

Do additional research...

There are a lot of different types of rigs out there with a lot of different equipment available. The rig in the picture above has a Top Drive. It also has an Iron roughneck (ST-80) which will sure make things easier on somebody.(Not shown in photo.)
There are a lot of different types of rigs out there with a lot of different equipment available. The rig in the picture above has a Top Drive. It also has an Iron roughneck (ST-80) which will sure make things easier on somebody.(Not shown in photo.)

Put in the work!

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you put work into that resume to insure you get that call. And remember to be persistent. Send your resume to all companies your interested in to increase your chances.

Some of the leading companies in the industry are hiring right now for North and South Dakota with some of the highest starting pay rate. Including Cactus Drilling and Nomac Drilling. These companies are also filling positions in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico.

Apply to as many as you can.

Horizon Drilling has their central office in Ballinger, Texas. They offer employment in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Fill out online applications.

Precision Drilling’s main office is in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It has over 150 rigs in the United States and is one of the contenders for sure.

Go get 'em

Be ready to comit to not just a new career but lifestyle as well and know what you are getting into before making any big decisions. I hope this information has helped you get started or at least pointed you in the right direction.

Good luck!

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    • profile image

      SS 2 years ago

      With $55 oil, the situation is changing, but six months ago, the best way to get a job on an oil rig in the Bakken was to show up.

    • moonfroth profile image

      Clark Cook 4 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

      Thorough, well-researched, well-written hub. Very helpful for young people. I worked on the rigs in norther BC in--are you ready?--1955. Most of you weren't even a gleam in daddy's eye at that time. Anyway, VERY hard work, long hours, primitive conditions by modern standards. I know a young fellow in BC who is working on his welding ticket in Trade School. When he has his level I ticket, he's been virtually assured of a job on the Alberta oil Patch, starting at about $70,000, full room and board included in the camp jobs. Not too bad for a 19-yr-old prepared to put up with a little hardship and isolation. This kid doesn't drink and he does not GAMBLE, a vice that has destroyed the financial plans of many a lad in camp jobs. Thanks for the Hub!

      PS -- If the huge pipeline proposal to carry Canadian oil from Alberta to the eastern US is finally approved, there will be a massive demand for oilfield workers here. We have--as do you guys--a Canadians-first job policy, but with our labour pool 1/10 the size of yours, a forward-thinking young American who wanted to check out opportunities in Canada should be checking out the industry, getting a passport, checking with the Canadian immigration dept. etc. etc.--just to maximize options.

    • Tom Schumacher profile image

      Tom Schumacher 4 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      Informative hub! West Virgina is another state with several oil and gas companies that are currently hiring lots of workers - both entry level and experienced.