The People Behind the Oil Industry
By Brady Tucker
Companies involved in drilling and other related industries employ people all over the world, from all walks of life. These people drill in the sweltering heat of the Texas plains, they brave sandstorms in the deserts of the Middle East, and endure the bitter cold of drilling on ice, and leave their families for months at a time, to work on offshore platforms for months at a time. Searching for, and extracting oil and gas is very demanding work. From research and development, to getting roughnecks on the ground, the industry goes on 24/7, no matter the weather or the circumstances. The process of drilling is so complex, that individual companies are not equipped with a diverse enough resources to execute all of the necessary work. As a result, there must be a multitude of individuals, specialties, and companies involved to fully support the industry. Different companies include drilling contractors, research and development companies, service/ supply companies, and of course the operating companies themselves.
An operator (or an operating company), is more often than not what we consider the oil company. Their primary interest is working with oil, or petroleum, and natural gas. Whether independent or major, an operating company can be a huge conglomerate or just a small organization. Major companies have up to thousands of employees, with many different departments and divisions. Independent companies, on the other hand, may only have hundreds of employees, or even less. The utter size difference of major and independent companies is the most obvious distinction between the two. Their size is directly proportional to what they can achieve as an operating company. Generally speaking, smaller, more independent operators only produce and sell crude oil and natural gas. Conversely, a major company will not only produce crude oil and gas, but they will also transport them from the field to a refinery, where the oil and gas is processed, and also sells the finished product to the consumers. In order for a company to even begin the drilling process, they must acquire the rights to operate at a particular location or prospective site. They must either buy or lease the rights to drill for and extract oil or natural gas from the landowner and the mineral holder. Once the rights have been established, the operations can begin.
After all of the paperwork and legal issues are settled, it is time for boots to hit the ground, and time for drill bits to meet the earth. Even with the expensive rig and other equipment, you cannot run a drilling operation without a skilled group of people. Experienced professional personnel operate the rig and keep it running until they reach their production objective. The drilling crew is the heart of the operation, and they are the ones who make the rig run properly and efficiently. The person in charge of the crew is referred to as the ‘manager’ or the ‘superintendent’, and controls the management of personnel and logistics. Under the supervisor, there are additional workers who perform special operations particular to each rig. Most rigs require a derrick-man when crews run a drill pipe into the hole (‘trip in’), or when they trip out. The derrick man handles the upper end of the pipe from a small platform in the mast. They often use special safety equipment in order to prevent any falls. When not in the derrick or mast, the derrick men monitor the condition of the drilling mud. They must make sure it meets the specifications for drilling a particular part of the hole. The derrick man is an integral part of the drilling process.
Based on the size of the rig, and amount of equipment, contractors will usually hire a couple floor hands to work the rig each shift. Two or three ‘rotary helpers’ (or floor hands) can properly and safely perform the duties required on a given rig. The name ‘rotary helpers’ comes from the fact that most of their work happens on the rig floor near the rotary table. The rotary table is the traditional device which turns the drill pipe and the bit itself. Still sometimes referred to as ‘roughnecks’, the floor hands pride themselves on being rough and tough. Without these men and women, the million dollar operations and elaborate equipment would be completely useless. From office worker, to geological scientist, to the roughneck on the rig, it takes a multitude of personalities to get the job done. These people are the backbone of the oil and natural gas industry; an industry which is absolutely integral in the modern global economy.
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