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Oil Rig Worker

The Real Poop

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Everyone uses crude oil. Sorry to those of you riding your bikes in Critical Mass—it's a fact. You're lookin' good in those Spandex shorts though.

Crude oil is used in detergents, paint, ink plastics, shampoo, and cosmetics. In fact, there is a good possibility that you are wearing crude oil right now. It looks good on you.

How do oil companies find oil? No, they don't use a Magic 8-ball or genie. To find massive reserves, oil companies use specially equipped airplanes to find small variations in the earth's gravitational and magnetic pull. These variations are caused by hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons naturally occur in crude oil. When the earth's tectonic plates move up, heat and high pressure turn a soupy mixture of silt, water, marine life, and plant life into hydrocarbons. Gas and oil reservoirs are birthed when hydrocarbons become trapped under porous rock. It's the job of the oil rig worker to drill through impervious rock to tap into Texas Tea (oil and gas reservoirs). The stars at night may be big and bright…but probably not for long.

Once they find oil, the rig workers deploy a semi-submersible drilling vessel to the sweet spot (adds 20 yards to your drive) to drill test wells. A semi-submersible drilling vessel sort of looks like a miniature Eiffel tower stuck in the middle of a construction site. How romantic. If the location seems like it has brewed the good stuff, a permanent platform is installed.

A platform is a bad way to describe these floating cities. Oil rig companies provide their workers with 5 star accommodations. Workers get private rooms that rival those on cruise ships, recreation facilities, gyms, saunas and 24-hour cafeterias. Why do oil companies roll out the red carpet for their workers? For starters, there is nothing else around them. We are talking about the middle of the ocean. You will not be able to run over to the dry cleaners or catch a baseball game on your off hours. Secondly, this is a dangerous job. Removing hydrocarbons from rock layers can cause their formation to collapse. In addition, oil rig workers have to deal with bad weather conditions, dangerous machinery and working at great heights. According to CNN Money, an oil rig worker has one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. In fact, 4,340 people died on oil rigs in 2008, which was actually a drop in numbers. Ironically, it seems the industry is hardly a well-oiled machine.

Not everyone on an oil rig wears a hard hat. Chefs, radio operators, and medics are not forced to suffer from hat hair. However, most jobs on an oil rig do involve maintaining the pipes. Some of those jobs include:

Roustabouts — Duties include cleaning equipment and work areas, operating electronic detectors to make inspections of the flow lines, dismantling or repairing oil field machinery, fixing steam engine parts and boilers, and guiding cranes. Want to find out more about this position? Watch There's Somethingbouts Roustabouts. Netflix should have it.

Derrick operators — Your name need not actually be "Derrick," although it can't hurt. These guys (and ladies) inspect derricks, repair pumps, ensure that drilling fluid is flowing, align derrick elements, guide lengths of pipe out of elevators, and maintain rig equipment. If you are afraid of heights, avoid this position. Derrick operators swing around the oil rig like a community theater’s production of Peter Pan.

Engine operators — They are the ones in charge of the engines that provide power. Their role is extremely important for those who do not like to take showers in the dark.

Pumpers — As indicated in the name, these people maintain and operate the equipment that pumps oil out of the hole.

Rotary drill operators— Those in the oil rig biz call these people "drillers" for short. Drillers train crews, enforce safety procedures, oversee maintenance of the drill rig, operate gauges that monitor the well flow, and keep drilling fluids consistent. They also recover lost casings, drill pipes, and broken drill bits. Be careful when asking one of these dudes to drill down. They’'ll really do it.

Service unit operators — If you take on this role, expect to remove rods or tubes from holes, install pressure-control devices into wellheads, operate pumps, raise derricks, and drive truck-mounted units to well sites.

You can't just wander onto an oil rig, slip on a jumpsuit, and go to work. Employers look for people who have a high school diploma and some sort of experience working with heavy machinery. Generally, people who go to a vocational school for welding, heavy equipment operations and basic mechanics are on the top of their hiring list. Don't know a thing about operating a derrick? Companies provide training for their workers. With the amount of danger on these oil rigs, companies are not about to send out untrained workers.

Pshaw. Looks like a piece of cake.

Where's the payoff? Besides getting to stay at a dangerous floating resort, of course. Basically, you can make some major moolah. Oil rig workers can make an average salary around $100k. Don't expect that kind of pocket change your first year. Those with less than a year's experience make between $65k-$70k. Getting to that salary bracket takes years of experience. However, those who work hard and learn skills quickly rise up in the ranks.

Sometimes, people hit it big. Thomas Boone Pickens, Jr. (T. Boone) worked as a wildcatter for Philips Petroleum. A wildcatter is someone who drills exploration wells. T. Boone wasn't a "good ole boy." In fact, he had a degree in geology from Oklahoma State University. But he worked with the rest of the rough-and-tumble guys on the rig. In 1954, T-Boone borrowed $2,500 and formed an oil and gas firm called Petroleum Exploration. It was a risk, but T. Boone felt pretty confident about his chances. Needless to say, it paid off. Today, T. Boone is worth over a billion dollars. Play your cards right and you could be pumping in the dough.

Ready to sign up for a life on the open seas? Good, companies are desperately looking for workers. Houston's Rice University had to deny oil companies access to their career fair, because they didn’t have enough room for all of the companies. If you like crazy environments, hard work, catered food, long periods of intense loneliness, and working out to the sounds of the crashing waves, an oil rig worker career path could be for you.