a how-to guide
As the American landscape opens up to a boom in oil drilling, many citizens have followed what was once known as a closed off world and headed to the oil patch. This foreign world was once the working space of country boys, engineers, and connected people that knew how to get in. Today, with the new technologies coming online, American oil companies have moved back onto our shores and we have a full scale oil play going on now!
For those who are not prone to ‘dirty’ work and have a talent for science, drilling fluids engineer (known out here as mud engineer), provides good opportunity for growth and high pay.
What is drilling fluid? Drilling fluids, or mud, is literally just that. It’s the mud that is circulated down hole to lubricate the drilling operations. Large mud pits are hauled onto the sites and connected together by a 12 inch hose. This marries the pits and allows for them to be churned. Shakers are attached these pits and do exactly what they sound like; they shake the mud. Shaking the mud allows the mud engineer to take a better sample. It’s similar to gold miners panning for gold by sloshing around the dirt, water, and other minerals that were shoveled out of the ground. It’s the same principle.
These pits are then hooked up to the Kelly hose; a hose that run from the pits/shakers to the rig floor and deliver the drilling mud down hole. The mud is then circulated back up and through a series of hoses back to the pits where it is re-circulated. The Kelly hose is one of those ‘cannot do without’ items on the rig. Many things can go down and you will still be operational. If no mud is pumping through the Kelly hose, you’re not drilling. Since a rig costs $5,000 to $8,000 per hour to operate, every minute counts.
A day in the life of a Mud Engineer
There are three different job cycles that a mud engineer works: land rig rotating, land rig dedicated, and offshore. Land rig rotating is when the mud engineer is given a company truck and has 3-4 rigs that he/she must take care of. Their day usually consists of getting up at 4-5am and starting the route. This route could be easy and close together, but not usually. The rigs are generally spaced two hours apart with a one hour stop at each rig to test the mud.
Land rig dedicated is when the mud engineer is assigned to one rig and he essentially ‘babysits’ the rig. He works with the company man to decide what the mud formula will be and when mud reports must be turned in. A typical land rig dedicated assignment comes with a schedule. Seven days on and seven days off is typical of onshore, but 14/14 is not unheard of. The reason for this schedule is many. It prevents burnout, allows the employee to go home and see their spouse and kids, have a normal life, be able to plan around work, and other such necessities of life.
Offshore is the highest paying of the three. Naturally, offshore is dedicated work with a schedule. If you are working in the Gulf of Mexico, you could be working 14/14. But the normal offshore hitch is 28/28. This is referred to as “month on, month off”. Many offshore workers enjoy this setup because when you are home on your days off, they don’t call you to come in. It’s too expensive. So holidays and other special occasions can be planned. When onboard the rig, you work 12 hour shifts every day until you leave. The first and last days are traveling. This way, you really work 26 days.
How to get a job as a mud engineer
The quickest way to get a job, where they seek you out, is to get a degree in chemical or petroleum engineering. These degrees are highly sought after everywhere in the industry. The other quick way is to enroll in a mud school (most of them are in Texas) such as DFE tech, ACE mud school, and Mud tech. These schools range from $6,000 to $12,000 for 4 -5 weeks of training. The reasons companies like hiring out of these schools is simple: it saves them money. They don’t have to send you to school. Which, after they put you in a motel, put through school, and pay you, it could cost $20,000.
The slow ways into mud engineering are to 1) know someone in the industry that can get you in or 2) work your way up. The first reason is self-explanatory. The second way I’ll elaborate on. Many mud engineers started off in different areas of the oil field. I’ve met some who were truck drivers, MWD’s, directional drillers, welders, etc. Basically, anything that gets you into the field and around others is a good way to move up. Even with the explosion in drilling in our nation, the oil field is still a family. Knowing someone is 90% of what gets you in.
How much to mud engineers make?
Like my other oil field articles, I’ll put a disclaimer out there. I’m going off what I’ve heard from fellow mud engineers.
If you get on with a company as a new hire, meaning they send you to mud school and pay you, expect to make $5,000/month your first year. Your second year should be in the $6,000 - $7,000/month range. This applies to college grads with engineering degrees, since the company still has to send you to mud school.
If you go to mud school on your own, you’ll start out in the $6,000 - $7,000/month range since they don’t have to send you to school.
Consultant mud engineers (people who’ve been in the industry for a few years and then farm themselves out as independents) do very well. I have two friends that do this and one charges $800/day and the other $1000/day. The first man is land bases, the second is offshore. Keep in mind that they have to pay mileage, taxes, etc. out of this amount. But both have told me that they’ve never brought home less than $100,000 per year since becoming consultants. That’s after taxes and other costs.
Mud companies that hire and train new personnel