Is working On An Oil Rig Worth The Money? (2020)
When you hear about oil rigs, you often get mixed results and opinions on it as a job and a lifestyle. You have those who have worked on the oil rigs for years and couldn’t imagine doing anything else and then those who are more hesitant about taking that step towards this career path due to the problematic way of living and working.
Technology has changed and made significant advances over the years, which has changed life aboard an oil rig. These advances have made things significantly safer, but it is still a difficult, dangerous and physically demanding job which is why it is still generally a very well paid job.
If you are considering this type of career move then there are lots of things for you to consider, including the lifestyle, whether you are able to spend lots of time away from home and out of communication with your family, whether you could enjoy the benefits and camaraderie that often comes with this community and the money.
Working on an oil rig is an absolutely great choice for some people due to it’s high pay and general lifestyle. It’s not a good job for everyone though, so make sure you think it’d be worth it for you before you get your first job on a rig.
The Life Of An Oil Rig Worker - What to Expect
There is no doubt about it, the life of an oil rig worker is a demanding one with long days, nights and periods of time away from your home and family, for many this lifestyle and the monetary benefits it comes with make it worth it and many enjoy life aboard an oil rig.
Each old rig will differ in operation and community-style, and as such, there can be a massive difference in the working conditions between each oil rig. Your work and life will differ depending on whether it is an offshore oil rig, an onshore oil rig or if you are drilling in shallow or deep water, and of course depending on the company you work for, but there’s some things you can expect that we’ll go in detail about below.
Living Conditions On The Oil Rig
Offshore oil rigs are in operation 24 hours a day, every single day of the week, so it is highly likely you would be working shifts and for very long hours each day whilst aboard the rig. These rigs maintain their operation in all weathers too so workers get used to bearing the brunt of all types of weather while continuing to do these physically demanding jobs.
Offshore oil rig workers are expected to live and work on the oil rig and in nearby camp-style accommodation. This means living, breathing and working with the same people day in, day out for months at a time in close quarters. There is often very little opportunity to be alone or get any real privacy, which can be a bit of an issue for some — but overall most folks are quick to adjust to this as living and working with their coworking all the time makes them like extended family or brothers in many cases and that need for privacy goes away mostly. After-all you still have privacy when showering or shitting thanks to stall doors or single-unit bathrooms depending on the rig you’re working on.
Your quarters and food are all provided for you for free and working and living on an oil rig can be a little like living in a mini-city, isolated from the rest of the world. Quarters provided can vary with some seeming almost hotel-like and others providing military-style barracks where you live and sleep with your coworkers in a camp setting — generally you’ll be in a barracks unless you have a lot of experience or hold a more technical high-up position on the Rig.
Cleaning, laundry and food services are often all provided for you as a benefit of working and living in this way, making life quite nice — all you have to do is work when you’re on duty and then everything is more or less handed to you and all you have to do is rest up, relax, and be prepared for the next day.
Offshore oil rig workers often are living in an isolated bubble with everything they need provided for them onboard with little contact with the outside world as most of the time you can’t even use cellphones as there is no signal on board and many choose to forbid cellphones for safety reasons (there’s been fires in the past due to them). This can be a major downside for some as you may not have contact with family very often while you’re on the rig — but at the same time it’s a good excuse/reason for you not to be bothered and be able to have a break from whatever nonsense may be going on in the world or at home and focus on your work and downtime.
The Working Conditions on the Rig
There are a variety of jobs to do and a ranking structure. Most people start at the bottom and as they gain experience on the job move up the ranks sometimes spending years in a position and putting all their effort into the oil rig before being experienced enough to move up to the next rank — although it can happen much quicker if you are particularly knowledgeable and there’s a spot that needs filling.
Even starting out at the bottom as a new rig worker you get treated pretty well and respected — although you might get your chain pulled by coworkers joking with you when you first arrive. The upper folks usually treat you well though, although they are in charge when you’re on the job, so don’t expect to be completely independent — sometimes they’ll tell you what to do, and well, you do it.
The work itself is difficult, dangerous and very physical and the hours are long. Safety equipment and extensive training is provided as everyone working together, safely is important to ensure the safety of everyone. Hours are long often 12-hour shifts that can be a mixture of night and day shifts depending on the schedule. The oil rig needs to keep working 24 hours a day so workers are expected to cover the whole 24 hour period. You may work for weeks at a time with no day off but when your period of work ends then you get the same amount of time off that you worked to ensure you get a break — which really gives you plenty of time to relax or have quality time with your kids or family when you’ve completed your few week term.
Lunches and break times during shifts are included and options for food are available 24 hours a day so no matter your shift you have access to food which is usually of a high standard. As with anything these entertainment and dining options vary from rig to rig. Most rigs have everything laid out for employees but some others have a more basic approach with their crews providing their own cooking and cleaning. If you eat vegetarian or vegan or any special diets you generally can still work on an oil rig and get food, but don’t expect it to be all that great or with much variety.
It might be difficult work and anyone considering this career option needs to ensure it is the right path for them, but there are major benefits as we’ve mentioned. There is often various forms of entertainment onboard, plenty of places to eat, housing, cleaning and laundry included and working closely with people who become lifelong friends, you get a break from family or political drama back onshore, and you get paid a pretty good wage while getting tons of time off including multiple week periods.
The Work You'd be Doing on the Rig
The work of an oil rig crew member can be varied depending on your role but most people start at the bottom in an entry-level position and for good reason. Working an oil rig is difficult and demanding and ensuring you get the experience needed to move up to higher-paid positions is important.
There are several levels or ranks of oil rig worker, these are:
• Derrick Hand
• Tool Pusher
There’s also some other opportunities, but these will require you to have went to university, which some oil companies will pay for if you work for them awhile and you’re interested in moving up into one of these positions — these pay absurdly good:
• Wellhead pumpers
• Petroleum pump operators
In order to get started on an oil rig you’d of course need to meet the requirements, which the easiest one to meet would be the Roustabout position. This requires you to be:
• Be 18 or older
• Be physically and mentally able to work 12-hour shifts daily
• Be physically fit (Moderately, you don’t need to be athletic)
• Be a non-smoker (Can’t smoke on the rig)
• Be able and willing to not consume alcohol for long periods
• Have a high school diploma or the equivalent
• Be able to work at heights
• Experience in construction, oil rigs or manual labor helps
As a roustabout, the type of work you would be doing would be maintenance roles such as providing oil rig maintenance, transporting tools and supplies to the places they were needed, preparing and repairing tools, cleaning and handling. This is a demanding job, often messy, dirty and exhausting so you need to be fit enough to carry about 50 pounds and lift around 100 pounds – no small feat!
The benefit of this entry-level position is money. You could expect to earn around $40,000 a year (Average taken from 2015 studies — Can be up to $70,000 now depending on location of the rig). This is a great starting wage for anyone and with the right work attitude and commitment, you can raise through the ranks to earn even higher wages than this.
Generally the first contract’s pay is more around that 2015 average, often a bit less, but you should move up in pay quite quickly as you get real-world experience and don’t need as much guidance/assistance on the job.
Is It All Worth The Money?
Absolutely — if you’re the type of person that would be okay with the description of the working and living conditions I outlined above. It’s one of the best jobs someone can get who couldn’t afford to or didn’t want to go to university and can really set you up for life if you spend your earnings wisely — after just a few years you could easily be making $4000-4500 per month with no real expenses for the time you’re on the rig (as food’s included and a place to sleep), and you could easily buy yourself a nice home or plot of land with that money.
I would say if you want a more city-life and aren’t a good ol’ boy who enjoys the simple things in life and nature it might not be the job for you, but if it’s a great way to bootstrap yourself after a hardship or in your youth to get some capital/money saved up to buy a home, Rv/Trailer, some land, or simply get some money to start a business down the road when you are more independent and well-off.
Is Working On An Oil Rig Safe?
This a super common question/concern — particularly that family might bring up to you. Physically demanding and manual jobs always come with some risks and working on an oil rig comes with all the risks of any manual labor job or a job working with heavy machinery.
Luckily, with the advancement in technology, techniques, training and working conditions have helped to make working on an oil rig much safer these days and whilst the odd accident may happen it is much rarer. If an accident does occur it tends to prove more serious or even fatal though, which is why so much emphasis is put on safety whilst working. Extensive safety training and safety equipment is provided to crew members and this is what helps to make working aboard an offshore oil rig largely safe.
Hearing loss and hearing damage are some of the more common issues that can occur while working on an oil rig and this is largely down to the huge machinery and the close proximity workers are to these machines. With the right safety equipment, much of this hearing loss can be minimized, but you may still have a bit of hearing loss if you work on oil rigs for many years — mind you this isn’t full hearing loss or even close to it. Nothing more than you’d get from firing guns often — even with ear protection, or what a cop may suffer from if they had to discharge their firearm a couple times over their careers. It’s still something to keep in mind though.
As mentioned previously, when an accident does occur then it tends to be highly serious or fatal and as such the compensation claims can be high. These claims and injuries are rare but they do happen and some claimants have received in excess of $500, 000 in compensation. This is an industry that often accepts and acknowledges the dangers (even if they are rare) of their industry and has developed safety procedures and knowledge over time to help combat this — because accidents mean huge payouts, huge loss in revenue, and potentially bankrupting fines for smaller operators.
They’re strongly incentivized to keep you safe as a result — which all in makes me conclude it’s safe to work on an oil rig — in fact I’d say it’s a safer job compared to working many construction jobs.
Onshore Vs Offshore Oil Rig Working
The major difference between onshore and offshore oil rig working is obviously the drilling and the location where workers are living and working — this may seem obvious and non-important but if you’ve ever worked on a rig and spoken to people who work in the other sector (onshore if you’ve worked offshore) you’d know how absolutely different the conditions are.
Onshore oil rig working is still a demanding job and the physical requirements still need to be met to be able to do this type of work but there are a few benefits that offshore colleagues don’t have such as cell phone signal to enable you to be a little less isolated from home and family. The work-load is a little less demanding and the environment a little less dangerous to work in.
While living conditions often stay the same with camp or barrack style accommodation unless you choose to pay extra for your own accommodation, and working hours are still long and difficult, you have a little more opportunity to see your friends and family or simply go to a bar or restaurant and see people who aren’t your coworkers.
Being on land means you have access to amenities and facilities that just aren’t possible on an offshore site such as a gym or, well, ground to do some sports or exercise on beyond physical labor on the job — and all combined this adds up to being a little better for you physically and for some a lot better mentally. These benefits come at a cost however, which is normally about a $5000-12000 pay cut depending on your position on the rig as well as less done for you and included in your contract — not to mention you’ll be more tempted to spend money when you have access to things to spend money on.
Overall I can’t say which is better for you, as it really depends on you, although I’d say offshore work is generally the better option in my view. If the pay was the same, then maybe I wouldn’t say that, but it’s not the same and I just couldn’t see myself picking onshore if I had the chance to do offshore. Maybe if you’re terrified of heights or the ocean onshore would be better, but I’d rather go wit offshore personally.