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Earn $100,000 on a Rig
Oil workers average nearly $100,000 per year. How you can get your foot in the door of the oil and gas industry.
By Sara Hodon 

Transitioning military who like to work outdoors and want a career in a thriving field with considerable pay potential may want to consider an entry-level position in the oil and gas industry, known as a roustabout. According to Salary.com, these jobs pay an average wage of $38,855 (not including bonuses and benefits), and employees with a strong work ethic, the ability to take direction well, and a willingness to learn can move through the ranks very quickly. The average salary for rig workers and other industry personnel in 2011 was $99,175, according to Rigzone, an industry information provider. While that number includes big paychecks for highly skilled workers, even for someone with less than a year’s experience the average wage was $66,923. on-a-rig219x292

What’s a Roustabout?

A roustabout is a laborer responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the oil or gas rig. While daily tasks may vary, typical jobs include assembling or fixing machinery, moving equipment on the rig, painting, digging ditches, and pouring concrete for post holes. These jobs require physical stamina, good problem-solving skills, and being a team player.

Even with a still-shaky economy and sluggish job market, the oil and gas industry has been booming. With opportunities available on both on-shore and off-shore oil rigs domestically and abroad, and the new technology being used to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of the northeastern United States, industry experts agree that there are no shortage of positions available, particularly for transitioning military with certain skill sets.

“The military has a lot of highly trained technical people,” explains Louis D’Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA), an industry trade organization. “Both Navy and Air Force operations are very heavily electronics-oriented, and that’s very important in this industry.” D’Amico adds that specialized training with certain electronic devices is also helpful. “Sophisticated GPS devices, for example, are used in a number of ways, like locating well sites,” D’Amico says. “Things that people generally don’t know how to use, servicemen can use.” 

‘I love this stuff’

Working on an oil rig often means working long hours in challenging conditions. Chad Erwin, a U.S. Navy veteran and roustabout with Transocean since July 2011, is working on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico, where, as he says, “it’s hot, then it’s very hot.” Erwin works 12-hour shifts doing everything from using automated equipment to pick up drill pipes from the rig’s floor to power washing the deck to maneuvering a work boat with 40 to 50 lifts coming off of it. “We do a lot of deck management like moving equipment around so that more equipment can be placed on the ship,” he says. Erwin learned about the opportunities in the industry from a high school friend and classmate who worked for a drilling company. “He asked me to apply for a roustabout job, so I did,” he says.

Erwin didn’t need any training or experience when he applied; once hired, he completed Transocean’s TOPS (Training for Optimum Performance and Safety) Program, where he learned the basic functions of the position and how to complete each task safely. He said working on a rig isn’t much different from his military service. “The oil fields must have been built around the military. A lot of how things are run on a rig is also a military way of thinking,” he says.

He recommends the industry for transitioning servicemen, both for entry-level roustabout positions and fields that require different skills and knowledge, such as electronics, nuclear, electrical, and mechanical. Erwin’s enthusiasm for his work is obvious: “I’ve been with the company about 10 months now, and I love this stuff,” he says. 

Industry Experience

Working together to accomplish a task is par for the course in the military, but most drilling operations depend on a team effort to get a job done as well. For a veteran, pitching in to finish a job is second nature. “Nobody has a better understanding of the meaning of the word ‘team’ than a guy or girl in the military,” says Amico. “They understand the notion of teamwork – it’s not just a theory to them. They understand thoroughly that your life may depend on someone else.”

Nathan Ray, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is a floorman (another entry-level position) with Chesapeake Energy’s Nomac Drilling. As part of a five-man team, Ray is responsible for virtually every aspect of operating and maintaining a drilling rig in northwest Oklahoma. The rig can drill for both oil and gas.

“During general drilling operations, I’m responsible for helping to make drill pipe connections and for taking samples of the cuttings coming up from the hole at regular depth intervals. While waiting to make connections or take samples there is plenty of scrubbing, power washing, painting, and rig maintenance that can be done,” he explains.

Another regular job is pulling all of the drill pipe out of a hole and running it back in again after digging a well – a process that involves all of the team members. “It’s fast-paced, labor intensive and can last your whole 12-hour shift,” he says. Ray works seven days on, seven days off, which is one of his favorite parts of the job. He also continues to serve his country, although in a very different way than in the military: “I like that every day I am a part of helping America become energy independent by producing more of our own oil and natural gas rather than importing it,” he says.

After he left the military and was looking for a job, Ray researched some of the major players in the oil and gas industry and felt that Nomac Drilling was the best fit for him based on some important criteria: “Nomac’s safety record, job security, great pay and benefits are all excellent. Chesapeake Energy was also ranked 18th on the Top 100 Military Friendly Employers® list for 2012,” he says.

Ray received a week’s worth of training at Nomac Drilling headquarters prior to getting to the rig. Now, he says, every day is a new learning opportunity. 

Industry Boom

Bud Montang, U.S. Air Force veteran and director of operations at Rigzone, a website targeted specifically at the oil and gas industry, says most of the companies that post openings on their site have a strong veteran presence.

“Almost all of our customers appreciate the veteran experience. The standing instruction on résumé reviews is that all vets go into our database after they’re reviewed by hand. No other group automatically gets into our database without real experience in the industry,” Montang explains.

Besides their individual skill sets, Montang says the commitment and dedication veterans have shown also speaks volumes to a potential employer. “What hiring companies like is that veterans have showed a willingness and commitment beyond their years. Vets go into military at 18, 19 years of age and make a commitment. That level of commitment is extremely attractive to employers in any type of industry,” he says.

Other important areas in which servicemen tend to shine are discipline and character. D’Amico adds that the drug-free lifestyle servicemen must adopt carries over to the oil and gas industry, where it’s critical to remain observant, alert and responsive at all times. 

Breaking New Ground

Besides oil, the natural gas industry has seen huge growth in demand, which has meant adding more jobs. This is due in large part to the development of sophisticated technology that has made it possible to extract natural gas from far below the Earth’s surface. Areas like the Barnett, Haynesville, Bossier, Marcellus, and Pearsall shale regions and their deposits of natural gas have meant big business for energy companies in recent months.

Aegeda Riggins, military relations coordinator for Chesapeake Energy Corporation, headquartered in Oklahoma City and the second-largest producer of natural gas, a Top 15 producer of oil and natural gas liquids and the most active driller of new wells, says the company is making a concentrated effort at attracting more veterans.

“For 2012, we have received a top-down directive from the company’s senior leadership team to target and hire up to 500 veterans by the end of the year,” she explains. “We have a newly created five-person Military Relations Team to execute our military recruitment strategy. The Military Relations Team is busy recruiting at military bases and job fairs, and building partnerships with other organizations that have a pipeline of veterans looking to transition into civilian work life at Chesapeake.”

Entry-level roustabout positions provide a solid foundation of learning rig operations and other specific skills that can be applied to other areas of the company. “On the corporate side, we have successfully hired drilling and reservoir engineers, facilities engineers, engineering technicians, and business analysts. Field positions range from drilling rig hands and truck drivers to pumpers, field technicians, pipeline technicians, equipment operators, and more. The result of the continued success of our military recruitment program is that today we are looking to add military veterans in Chesapeake locations across the country.”

Because of their recruiting efforts, Chesapeake is a top industry employer of veterans. “We have found that experienced military professionals have the behavioral characteristics that are core to the success of the company. Military professionals are team-oriented, detail-oriented, disciplined, dedicated and used to working outside in safety-sensitive environments – all characteristics we seek in our employees,” Riggins says. 

Mini  Deployments

Both Ray and Erwin would advise any transitioning veteran to explore opportunities in the oil and gas industries. “Drilling rig crews work and live closely together for seven days or more at a time. There are many hazards and you have to watch out for your teammates and they watch out for you. Essentially your work weeks are mini deployments,” Ray says.

From Erwin’s standpoint, as job-specific technology evolves even further, the opportunities for growth at Transocean are better than ever. “The oilfield is growing larger and larger every day. With technology growing so rapidly, and new oil fields being found, this is a great place to be right now.” 

Occupation Snapshot


What They Do   

Roustabouts assist in manual labor tasks, including loading, truck driving, lifting, and operating machinery. May require a high school diploma or its equivalent with 0-2 years of experience in the field or in a related area. Has knowledge of commonly-used concepts, practices, and procedures within a particular field. Relies on instructions and pre-established guidelines to perform the functions of the job. Works under immediate supervision. Primary job functions do not typically require exercising independent judgment. Typically reports to a supervisor or manager.       

What They Earn

According to Salary.com, these jobs pay an average wage of $38,855, not including bonuses and benefits. Employees with a strong work ethic, the ability to take direction well, and a willingness to learn can move through the ranks very quickly. The average salary for oil rig workers and other industry personnel in 2011 was $99,175, according to Rigzone, an industry information provider. While that number includes big paychecks for highly skilled workers, even for someone with less than a year’s experience the average wage was $66,923. 

What They Need

Workers in oil and gas occupations usually must be at least 18 years old, be in good physical condition, and pass a drug test. A high school diploma is not necessarily required but is preferred by some employers. 

Job Outlook

Employment of oil and gas workers is expected to increase by 8 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand for oil and gas workers, however, will depend on the demand for the products and services of

two industries in particular: oil and gas extraction and support for mining activities. Many companies in the industry recognize that military veterans are a great fit for

oil and gas jobs because military personel are trained to work safely in a hazardous environment, in all weather conditions. Veterans also are used to being away from home. 

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