Life on a Drilling Rig
It takes a lot of people to keep a drilling rig working 24 hours a day. Because rigs often drill in remote locations, the men and women who work on them spend weeks away from home, working long hours. However, their hard work is balanced with an abundance of time off, good salaries and generous benefits. Moreover, a job on a drilling rig can be the beginning of a rewarding career. In this module, employees share their experiences living and working on a drilling rig, and how they achieve a work-life balance.
A drilling rig is a complex piece of machinery designed for a single purpose — to drill oil, gas or geothermal wells.
The men and women who work on drilling rigs put in long hours, and spend weeks at a time away from their homes and families.
When they’re on the job, drilling rig employees work 12-hour shifts – or tours, in industry parlance, which is spelled like “tours”. They then get another 12 hours to sleep, eat, exercise, read, or call loved ones back home.
Rig schedules can vary depending on the drilling contractor, but it’s common for offshore rig workers to fly out to the rig for 28 days of work, followed by 28 days off.
Del Manning has been with Rowan Companies for 12 years, and currently serves as a Driller. He’s worked as far away as Malaysia.
“Normally when I go out, we’re gone for 28 days. We’ll get out there by chopper and we’ll have a safety induction. I go to a pre-tour meeting about 11:30 or so. We have our pre-tour meeting and we discuss the day. At midnight that night, it will be the same thing. Another driller will come up, he’ll make relief. Then we try and get some rest.”
On the onshore side, workers typically spend 14 days on the rig site, followed by 14 days at home. Mark Hanks has worked for Precision Drilling for over 20 years. He’s currently as a rig superintendent.
“I’ve been floorhand, derrickman, driller, rig manager and I’m now a drilling superintendent with Precision Drilling. Currently I’m working 14 and 14. It’s a pretty good schedule. I really like it because you can find that balance between work and personal. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me and a lot of others.”
Safety is a paramount concern. Each individual on a rig plays a critical role in ensuring the rig operates safely. While the drilling industry has always been dedicated to ensuring personnel are safe, the industry’s safety record and focused has only improved over time, according to James Howard, an offshore installation manager for Rowan Companies.
“As an offshore installation manager, first of all, my responsibility is for every man and woman that comes on the rig, their safety first of all. And then also I oversee operations.
The work has changed over the years. There’s a lot more safety than there was, it’s a continual progression to more and more safety. I’ve seen so much safety culture that’s been incorporated into the industry now.”
While offshore rigs and onshore crew housing may not resemble a cruise ship or a five-star resort, they are equipped with amenities from cafeterias – where employees say the food is surprisingly good – to exercise facilities to pool tables.
“It’s a 24-hour city; it’s it’s own little community.”
It can be a challenge for the men and women working on a rig to be separated from their families for weeks at a time, but modern technology has made it easier for them to stay connected with loved ones back home.
“Now with Skype and all these things to where you can actually see your family, see your loved ones…You get to keep up with exactly what’s going on at the house. 20 years ago, 15 years ago, maybe a call once or twice a week. So it’s improved so much to be able to keep up with your family. And to be able to keep up with friends – Facebook, FaceTime, all the things that we have nowadays. I get up at like 8 in the morning that way I can go on my walk, but then 9:00 there is 6:00 at night here so then I can call my kids and my wife and check on them and see how everybody’s doing.”
Though being away from loved ones can be difficult, it’s not uncommon for people working side-by-side on a rig to develop close bonds and lifelong friendships.
“A lot of the guys I’ve worked with through the years are people that I knew and a lot of them are still friends today. We know their families, I know their kids. We kind of grew up together in the oilfield.”
“Your first day on the rig, everybody’s a stranger, but by the end of that two weeks, maybe the end of your first hitch, second hitch, everybody’s a family. When you’re home and your wife or kids or at school or work, that kind of stuff, you’re going fishing with them, you’re going hunting with them, you’re going to picnics with them. Everybody’s getting together. It’s your second family.”
All of the hard work on the rig and time away from home is rewarded with good benefits, great pay and time off, employees say.
“I love the time off, because you get to spend so much time off with your family. We’re gone for a lot of time but when we’re home, I’m fully involved with my family and I really take advantage of that. That’s the number one perk for me, is being off and catching up with my family and being with them. Being able to go on trips – we can go on two week trips, no problem. Not many people can do that.”
There are also ample opportunities for hard-working employees to turn their first job on a drilling rig into a lifelong career.
“There’s a lot of opportunities. When you start off as a roughneck on the rig, it opens the door to a lot of different things. You can go into mud engineer, directional drilling, even company man or consultant. You have a lot of opportunities. You just decide on what direction you want to take. Or you could stay with the company like I did, and move up within the company.”
“It’s a very rewarding job. I would recommend it to younger people just getting started in life and just getting into the workforce. It can open the door to a lot of opportunities. It doesn’t just have to be a job, it can be a career.”
A drilling rig is a community. Each and every person on the rig looks out for their colleagues, who become their closest friends. The work and isolation can be difficult, but the lifestyle, career and financial rewards make it worth it for those in this line of work.
"I’m very satisfied with this industry, the career that I’ve chosen. It’s been good to me, it’s been good to my family. If I had to do it all over again, I’d still do the same thing."