The new oil boom in America has caused many recession refugees to leave the comfort of their old lives in search of wealth and new direction in the oil landscapes of Texas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
The oil field has always been an elusive world; hidden from the cities and main roads of our country, this world has been reserved for people who grew up around it or stumbled upon it. Foreign terms such as roughneck, roustabout, tool pusher, derrick man, and a myriad of other titles confuse those from the outside. But we now live in a country that, due to technology, has come online as one of the leading energy providers in the world. This new push to drill along with a flailing economy has caused many to head into America’s heartland and seek the six figure incomes that oil provides.
The roughneck is the hardest worker in the oil field. These are the guys that you typically see when the media portrays life out here. Roughnecks work the floor of the drilling rig. Dangerous by necessity, roughnecks are typically young men with little or no physical ailments, and don’t mind being surrounded by thousand pound pipe, chains, tongs the size of grown men, and a patchwork of wire line, rods, and wrenches.
Roughnecks are usually assigned to one rig and follow it from location to location (usually private ranches). They are involved in erecting the rig, drilling the holes(s), and taking it down (called stacking), and moving. If it involves heavy lifting on the rig site, the roughneck does it. This is the reason why most roughnecks are young men. I’ve seen men in their 30’s and 40’s on the rig site, but they started in their 20’s and are simply used to the work.
The roughneck takes on many forms as they progress up the chain. “Worm hand” is the term for a beginner. These guys are brand new and know nothing of rig life. They start out cleaning everything and carrying whatever they are told. This gets them comfortable with the rig. Next step is “Floor hand”. At this stage you are up on rig floor throwing chains (which are not done much anymore), making connections, and attending to anything that involves getting the pipe down hole. “Motor Man” is a roughneck that tendd the floor and make sure the diesel motors and pumps stay working. “Derrick Man” plays a managerial role and works everything, including the derrick. The Derrick man goes up to the top of the rig and works the pipe into/out of the tower for drilling. “Driller” is the man on the handle who guides the pipe down into the earth.
What do roughnecks make? I’d like to put a disclaimer out there: Pay rates vary substantially depending on geographical location, onshore/offshore rigs, country, and experience. I’m using numbers from my experience in Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
How much money can roughnecks make?
Starting pay for roughnecks is usually $24/hour for the first three months. They keep it low because many guys quit due to the rigorous requirements of the job. After three months you should see an increase to $27-30/hour. As you move up to floor, motors, derricks, and driller, add on an extra $3,000 to $7,000 per year. Basically, you’ll make $60-70,000 in your first year, and move up from there. Floor Drillers make over $100,000 easy. There are other factors that add to pay such as tool bonuses, time bonuses (if you hit bottom earlier than expected), and profit sharing with the company, etc. Also, they only work half of the year as their schedules are usually 7 on and 7 off or 14 on and 14 off.
Oil men who start off as roughnecks and move up in the field can expect to do very well financially. Most roughnecks, after moving out of rough necking, never make under $100k again.
Thought of the day: “The luckiest people I have ever met happen to be the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.”