The new boom in American energy has caused many people that were laid off in the great recession to make their way to that foreign land known as the oil field. People ask all the time, “How did this boom happen? What started it all?”
The media has used ambiguous phrases such as ‘The new technology’ and ‘New drilling techniques’. But they never tell you what those technologies entail that makes the boom happen.
Back in the old days of drilling, straight down holes were the norm. Basically, geologists figured out through different scientific means where large pocket of oil were. The name of the game was to find the biggest “Pool” of oil as possible, drill down to it, suck it out, and sell it to the market. But they knew that the lion’s share of the oil was being untapped. This is because oil forms in layers down in the earth. Picture a layered cake in your oven. The top layer represents topsoil, and each descending layer is a different form of dirt, etc. The bottom layer is the oil. Well, if you stick a straw down the bottom of the cake and suck, you’ll only get a little bit of the layer. The question that has been on the minds of oil company executives is “How do we get to the rest of the layer?”
Two technologies have unfolded to help this, directional drilling (which I’ll cover in a different article) and measuring while drilling. Essentially, we figured out a way to slowly bend pipe at 1 or 2 degrees down into the earth until we were drilling horizontally. Once we figured out that we could build a type of pipe that could bend, we had to figure out a way to steer it down into the earth. This is where the MWD comes in.
MWD, or measuring while drilling, is a type of down hole surveying technique that accumulates information and sends this information to the surface. This tool is placed inside the BHA (bottom hole assembly) and transmits information back up hole to be logged and recorded. Here’s how it works:
The bottom hole assembly is a conglomeration of different pipes, motors, drill bit, etc. Within this pipe setup goes the MWD. The MWD tool is built on the pad site by the MWD hands. The tool looks like a long torpedo. Inside of this torpedo are a pulser, gamma log computer, lithium batteries, and other surveying computers. The pulser is just that; a large instrument that the drilling mud is pumped through from the rig that sends the pulser working. These pulses are recorded by the various computers within the tool and the information is sent back up hole for logging purposes. The main activity of an MWD is to take surveys.
This tool is inserted into the pipe that is a part of the bottom hole assembly, therefore allowing the tool to measure the hole as close to the drill bit as possible. Usually the MWD tool is 50 -75 feet away from the drill bit.
A section of pipe, knows as a stand, is about 93 feet long. Once a stand is drilled down into the ground, a connection must be made with new pipe so that drilling can continue. While this connection is made, a technique known as ‘recycling the pump’ is used. Basically, the large pump motors that constantly pump the drilling mud down hole are shut off and brought back up to full speed. This causes the MWD tool down hole to stop and reconfigure. Once the pumping is started back it gets the MWD tool running and a survey is taken. Think of it like turning your personal computer off and then back on to clear out some things you don’t like. Same effect, it’s just that this is done on purpose.
After the pumps are brought up, the MWD computer logs a new survey. This survey shows many details of importance, with two being the most important. Inclination and Azimuth are the keys to drilling horizontally. You have to know which way your drill bit is going. Inclination is simple; is it going up or down? Azimuth is whether it’s going right or left. This way the driller and the MWD hand knows whether they are on course or not.
After the survey is taken, drilling commences.
How to get a job as an MWD
As I’ve stated in other articles about the oil field, an engineering degree is a solid way into any field job. But if you don’t have an engineering background there are two ways to get in. 1) Have already worked in the oil field and network your way into MWD or 2) Be related to or know someone. The second one is nepotism at its worst, but it’s an unfortunate reality of the business. The oil field is still a family and knowing someone is big out here. I’ve seen men who have never stepped onto a pad site become MWD’s because their father-in-law was the coordinator of the rig. This is not to say that perseverance won’t get you in, but you better have an iron will and knock down the hiring managers’ door in order to get hired.
How much do MWD’s make?
This varies from company to company. The good thing about MWD is that you are working for a directional drilling crew, which charges a large amount of money for their services. This money is passed on to you. The income setup is usually a salary, per diem, day rate, company truck with fuel card, and maybe a bonus for finishing the hole early. For a new guy in MWD the compensation package could be:
- Salary: $2,000 per month
- Per Diem: $45 per day
- Day rate: $175 per day
So let’s assume that this new MWD hand is on a 30 day drill job. He would earn $2,000 in salary, $1,350 in per diem (30 days times $45), and $5,250 (30 days times $175) in day rates. Total for the 30 day time period: $8,600 gross. Many companies have health plans and 401k’s as a part of the package. But this varies by company.
These rates go up as you get better and more experienced. Please keep in mind that the lion’s share of earned money is when you are in the field. If you are at home waiting on a rig, then you only earn your salary.