High wages make oil field rigors worth the effort

By JASON BERG/Montana State News

Working on an oilrig is by no means an easy job. It takes a high level of competence, physical endurance and ability to remain calm under pressure. It also has an unconventional schedule, where the work and time off are blocked separately.

However, the rewards do pay off in the end, with an average wage of $30 an hour. Working on the rigs also has a way of hardening a person. If someone has experience on an oilrig, they typically have a high work ethic and a do-it-right attitude.

John Meyer, a Montana State graduate as of last May, has had numerous jobs. He worked for a local construction company framing houses until he applied and successfully worked on an oilrig. Based off his experience in this line of work, the common stereotypes of being a roughneck are quite true.

When asked about how he got the job, he said he simply emailed the company his resume, and his employer liked what was on it. He also attributed his work experience in construction as a key factor in his hiring. He also had to take a certain competency before his initial interview. After his interview, he had to take a hair follicle drug test, and then he was hired.

He spent approximately five months (late August to mid January) as a roughneck in Williston, ND. He worked for Ensign U.S. Drilling and said emphatically that the work “sucks.” The pay, however, does make the high-stress environment worthy of the effort.

“You have to work very long shifts and be fully alert the whole time,” he said. It turns out that he did not have much of a lunch break, and he had to make do with stuffing rolls of Ritz® crackers in his overall pockets.

“I would work two weeks of 14 hour shifts, starting at 4 in the morning and getting off at 6 at night, or starting at 4 in the afternoon and getting off at 6 in the morning. I then get the next two weeks off.”

The work was exhausting as he described it. In his starting position as a floor hand, he would “trip pipe.” “Tripping Pipe” is when the floorhand will pull the drill pipe out of the wellbore and then run it back through again. After two months of being a floor hand, he moved on to motor hand. He operated several types of machinery, including a boiler generator, operating cranes for pipes and pumps as well as loaders.

John worked in a “scared” mindset. He describes it as almost a constant adrenaline rush, which helped him keep up with the other roughnecks.

“You have to follow the instructions of your job perfectly to the letter. Otherwise, you’re bound to get seriously injured.” According to John, the danger in the job is unpredictable, even if a worker is paying full attention the whole time.

“I saw a guy lose a finger and another guy lose his leg.”

The pay was evidently worth all of the extremely labor intensive work.

“The only thing that kept me awake and alert during the shifts was saying 30 dollars an hour in the back of my mind.”

The living conditions were not ideal either. He had to live in Man Camps, which were like huge trailer parks filled with doublewides.

“It was worse than a dorm,” He said. “I lived in a double-wide with eight other guys, and I shared a bedroom with three others. So there were technically two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen area.”

The rigs were noisy day and night, so he had to wear earplugs to get a suitable amount of rest.

He said that tensions between the workers did fluctuate somewhat here and there. Living in a double-wide with seven other men naturally made coworkers argue and yell at each other.

“But in the end, we were all there for the same reason,” he said. “We all had each other’s backs and we all were there to help one another when a problem came up.”

John is currently on-call with the rig. Since the winter made the demand for gas and more specifically oil decrease, John is more or less laid off from the job. However, he can still get by with the money he made from his last schedule.

“That is the one thing that I really like about the rigs.” He said. “You really only have to about work half of the year and still make a good living.”


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