I work derricks on a drilling rig in North Dakota.
How would you describe what you do?
It’s really tough to explain to someone who has never seen a rig before. We drill holes, but it’s more than that. It ain’t for everybody, especially not the faint of heart. But I will say its possibly the funnest career out there. Knowing that the gas in your truck could be coming from a well that you drilled. Or the look on people’s face when you tell them what you do.
What does your work entail?
Basically, we’re hired by companies like Exxon/Mobil and Shell to drill holes in the ground to get to fossil fuels buried in the earths crust. There’s a thousand other details that go into making a 22,000 ft deep hole, though. But these details are for the driller to worry about. The heirarchy of a rig is the toolpusher at the top, he keeps the rig supplied with what we need to keep it and us running and makes final decisions if one can’t be made by the crew or driller.
Below him is the driller, he is kind of like a crew leader. He sits in a chair and runs the rig how the ompany man and directional drillers want him to. He’s just there so they have someone to blame if something happens. Then, my job, derrickhand, he monitors the pits, shakers and mud pumps. Makes sure they are functioning right and fixes them when they don’t. He also treats the mud (drilling fluid) with the chemicals the mud engineer tells him to. Then comes the motorhand. He is the toolpushers slave who does anything and everything the pusher or driller tells him to. He takes care of the paperwork, the generators, and he lines out the floorhands. Which is the next position, at the bottom of the totem pole. Floorhands do it all. They help the derrickhand and motorhand with anything and everything that needs done and alson keep the rig clean aand orderly while drilling. It is at times the dirtiest profession out there. If you’re afraid of a little mud, you definitely need to stay away from drilling, because you won’t last five minutes.
What does a typical work week look like for a Derrickman?
Well for starters, nowadays the typical work week is two weeks long. You work for two weeks, then you get two weeks off. I know it sounds too good to be true, but trust me. Spend 14 days on one 5 acre location with ten other dudes in the middle of no where, work on a rig 12 hours a day, lose a bunch of sleep at night and tell me if you don’t need 14 days away from it.
Knowing that the gas that is heating yours and everyone else’s homes, the fuel in yours and everyone else’s trucks, it comes from what you do. Heck it could even come from a well that you drilled. Knowing that the world literally revolves around your job.[is what’s most rewarding]
Anyways, you never know what to expect when you come back to work. The other side may have busted their butts and got stuff done and got the rig moved. Or they may have not. Now you’re stuck with another 1,000 ft to drill and stuck with a 3-4 day rig move. Coming to the rig on the first day or night, you should be able to map out what your hitch is going to be like. But you’ll never know until you get there.
How did you get started?
I was working in a shop for a small contract company in Houston, Tx building rigs for the drilling company I work for now. I had a really good friend that worked for the drilling company as a safety rep, so he talked with all the pushers for every rig before it left the yard. I asked if there was any way I could get on a rig, and the first one going to North Dakota had an opening. Here I am now.
What do you like about what you do?
The one thing I love the most about my job is goin up in the Derrick when we trip pipe. Standing on the board 80 ft from the rig floor and about 130 ft from the ground, and no one around me, no bs, it’s clean, I can listen to my music up there. It’s just awesome compared to the floor. It’s dirty, oil base mud everywhere, driller yelling at you from the doghouse. It doesn’t really suck, but it sucks. Tripping pipe is when we pull all the pipe out of the hole, 94 ft sections at a time, change out a bit or a tool on the bottom, then put all the pipe back in the hole. The drill pipe is all standing up in the Derrick, and I’m the guy that puts it there and takes it out.
There’s really no way to explain it other than to show you or let you try it. If you’re on this site, that means you have Internet. Go to YouTube and look up tripping pipe on an oil rig. That’s the best way I know to explain it. Another thing, like I said earlier, is some of the reactions you get when you tell someone what you do for a living. A lot of men you meet are jealous, or curious about the industry. Everyone wants to know how you do it, what you do out there, how do you “make hole.” And women always love roughnecks. They’re always interested in what we do and a lot of other things. You’d be surprised at how much attention you’ll get at a party or a bar when someone mentions what you do for a living.
What do you dislike?
There’s only one thing I hate about my job. Okay, there’s a number of things, but the one I hate the most is the fact that I have to spend over half my life 1600 miles from my home. My family, my friends, my town. Other than that I can deal with anything that rig can throw at me. I don’t necessarily enjoy getting covered, and mean literally, dripping wet from head to toe with oil base mud, or getting choked out of the hopper house because a floor hand likes to dump sacks of chemicals in the hopper too fast, or dealing with pump problems or valve washouts or busted shaker screens. But it’s all part of the job. It’s what I signed up for and I knew it when I did. When everything’s running smoothly, everything’s clean and working right, it’s probably the most laid back easy going job out there. And I love every second of it. Wouldn’t trade it for the world. Unless a job at home with more money and more time off came up. But you’d be hard pressed to beat this job for money or time off.
How do you make money/how are you compensated?
Ahh yes, compensation. Money all depends on where you work at. Not job title, I’m talking about what part of the country, or the world you work in. I’ve found that the further north you are , the more money there is. There is A LOT of money to be made in the oilfield. Anywhere from $50,000 a year to well into the six digits. Everyone has to work their way up tho, and it’s not a cakewalk.
How much money do you make as a an oil Derrickman?
As a derrickman in North Dakota I make $32 an hour. My rig does get some bonuses, and we get a few extra hours a week due to safety meetings. My W2 for last year says $104,782. I’m 22. This is definitely something you want to get into while you’re young.
How much money do you make starting out?
In south Texas, floormen (the entry level position) make from $18-$22 and hour. Where as in North Dakota floormen make from $26-$31 an hour. And we get at least 84 hours a week. But it’s only for two weeks a month. Starting off can be anywhere from $50,000 a year to $80,000 a year. Also you get mud pay. If there is oil base mud in your pits for five minutes of that tour, you get an extra amount of money for that day. Usually about $25-$50, not much but it adds up. And let’s not forget bonuses. If you drill a well faster than predicted, or use less materials, or just do it safely, you get bonuses depending in who you’re drilling for. Some rigs get them, some rigs don’t. But bonuses range from a measly $50 Walmart gift card to a check for $2,000 out of no where. And the wages just go up from floormen. Where else can you work half the year and make almost six figures starting out? That’s right, no where. I told you it’s an awesome job.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to be a Derrickman?
In all actuality, you don’t even have to have a GED to do this job. In fact a lot of the industry never finished high school, or middle school. There is no educational boundaries for drilling. All you need is a strong back and a lot of common sense. If you’re good at taking direction, you’ll excel as a floorman. And if you can show a knack for getting things done, figuring stuff out on your own, using what you have to get it done, good planning, quick learning, stuff like that, you’ll shoot straight to the top.
What is most rewarding about this job?
Knowing that the gas that is heating yours and everyone else’s homes, the fuel in yours and everyone else’s trucks, it comes from what you do. Heck it could even come from a well that you drilled. Knowing that the world literally revolves around your job. Without oil and gas, there would be no economy, no industry, no production, no progress. Without the oilfield, the world would collapse. Plain and simple. The brotherhood of your crew, your rig, and the entire batch of oilfield trash in the oil patch. There’s nothing like it, you could be from east Texas and meet someone from Billings, Montana. Never seen them before. But if both of you work rigs, you’ll have instant common ground. Because they know what it’s like. They know what you deal with and vice versa.
What is most challenging?
There’s times when it’s challenging to figure something out, or to get something built, or to get something just to work. Sometimes it’s a challenge to keep yourself from hitting someone. Especially when that someone almost just got you and the entire rig burned to the ground. The entire job is challenging. To learn it, to know it, understand it, and to do it. It’s not easy. It takes a special breed of human to do what we do day in and day out. But it’s one of the funnest careers other than being a pro athlete that I can think of.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
First off, I’d say good luck getting in. I know how hard it is to get hired. Second off, I’d say abandon all your fears. You can’t be afraid of anything on the rig. Respect everything, but do not fear it. Once you fear something, you’ll hesitate to do it. And if you hesitate, it could kill you or your coworkers. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. No matter what the task, no matter how minuscule, dirty, confusing, or or down right hard it is, be willing to do it. Volunteer to do it. If you see something that needs doing, don’t wait to be told. Take initiative, it’ll help. Don’t be afraid to take orders. And most of all, don’t let no one, I mean no one, walk all over you or push you around. It’ll be the death of you and your career.
How much time off do you get/take?
The set schedule on US land is usually either 7 days on, 7 days off or 14 days on, 14 days off. Forever. Off shore and international it’s either 14, 14 or 28, 28. Unless you’re asked to work over, which you can accept or decline. But I’d do it every time they ask because you never know when you might need the money, and after the first time you decline working over, they’ll never ask you or let you work over again.
What’s a common misconception people have about what you do?
That we all do meth and get drunk on the rig. While we’re on tour. And out here a work shift is called a tour, but it’s pronounced tower, I know it’s weird. But it’s just an oilfield thing. There’s a lot of stuff like that out here. Anyways, we don’t do meth, or get on drunk on tour. At least not on the rig I work on. Some rigs are still like that, but you don’t find it hardly ever anymore. And a lot of people think that we pump the oil out of the ground and send it to gas stations. All we do is drill a hole. That’s it. Other people come in and set up production equipment, pump jacks and tree valves and what not. The big horse head looking things that go up and down in corn fields ARE NOT CALLED OIL DERRICKS. Those are pump jacks.
THE SHOW BLACK GOLD IS NOT REAL, I REPEAT THE SHOW BLACK GOLD IS NOT REAL. Some of the stuff they do is possible, but it’s mostly a caked up Hollywood dog and pony show. Real roughnecks laugh at that show the same way loggers laugh at the show axe men. It’s reality tv at its best, and it sucks. I could go on for days about things that people think they know about the oilfield, but there’s not enough room here and I dont think I can use that kind of language on this thing.
What are your goals and dreams for the future?
My dreams are long gone, after I got hurt in college I gave up on my dreams and went to work. My future goals are to be a company man one day. Sit in a trailer on the side of a location, tell people how I want my hole drilled and make $2,000 a day.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
This job, this lifestyle, will change you. Once you are imbedded in it, you will not be the same person. If you’re looking to get into it, just be ready. Because whether you’re ready or not, it’s probably going to slap you in the face and be the rudest awakening of your life when you get there.