Working in the US Oil Industry

In the United States of America, onshore or inland oil and gas extraction companies are found in more than 40 states. The majority of these companies are grouped in California, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. Even though technology has evolved and revolutionized the exploration and expansion of current and new oil fields, opportunities for working in the US oil industry are likely to spiral downwards and predictions are that there will be a decline of between 5 to 7% in 2015. Experienced workers in the field however, need not worry about this, seeing that there is still a great demand for well-trained workers and the industry offers comparatively high remuneration packages.

Factors to consider for working in the US Oil Industry

The main purpose of the US Oil Industry is to meet the ever-growing demand for energy in America. The oil industry currently meets the larger part of the country's energy needs. Even though the large oil corporations are responsible to locate, develop as well as extract oil, contractors working in the mining sub-sectors, which also form part of this industry, are responsible for most of the work.

Numerous methods are used to find geological structures most likely to hold oil and gas. Crews consisting of only a few members use state of the art equipment and computer technology to locate, calculate and pin point areas most likely to have oil deposits. One of the methods that have revolutionized the industry is call seismic prospecting. This process measures the elapse time for a sound wave to travel through an underground formation to the surface. Computer software programs are then used to analyse seismic data and compile a 3D model of underground rock formations - lowering the exploration risk and improving accuracy when it comes to locating underground oil and gas pools. It also highlights the most feasible drill aria. Other methods used to locate oil are the analyses of sand, rock samples and clay form the different layers of the earth service.

Working in the US oil industry demands that workers have a higher skill level. Employers expect workers to be computer literate and understand the more complex operations, processes and intricate machinery used to locate, develop and extract oil form the earth?s cavity.

Extracting oil does not only consist of locating feasible drill sites. Once the science part of the operation is completed the engineering and manual labour start. This is the tuff part of the job and fitness is a prerequisite. After the drill site has been elected a steel structure resembling a tower is erected. This structure supports the equipment used to drill deep into the earth crust until the oil is found. The only difference between offshore drilling and inland drilling is the fact that the equipment forms part of the derrick that floats on the ocean surface and is anchored to the ocean floor or sits directly on the ocean floor.

The US oil industry has had some radical ups and downs over the last few decades and in this time the influence that the oil price has on employment figures can be seen. The ups saw more hands being hired while the contradictory occurred in the down period.

Opportunities for working in the US oil industry

The work opportunities can be divided into six main categories:

  • Construction and extraction workers that make up around 35-40% of the industry
  • Professional and related work groups make up 11-15%
  • Management, business, and finance workers consist of 10-13%
  • Transportation and material moving work group consist of tenth of the industry
  • Production workers make up around 8-11 % of the work force
  • Office and administration workers make up 9-12%

Employment opportunities in this industry consist of highly skilled workers right down to manual labourers.

There are different ways to get into the industry, but seeing that the average age for workers in this industry is between 34 and 56 years, workers either learn the basic skills in other mining sectors or first obtain a university degree. To work your way up the ranks in the oil industry you will start as a roustabout. These general labourers handle maintenance work like cleaning oil tanks, removing equipment, and they do some construction work.

At the inland oil sites, you will find rotary drill crews that usually consist of the rotary driller, the rotary rig engine operator, the derrick operators, and the rotary drill helpers (roughnecks).

The task of finding the most effective way to extract the oil, as well as plan and oversee the drilling process is given to the petroleum engineer. The drilling superintendents assist the petroleum engineer by managing the drilling rigs.

Geologists do the exploration and site selection. Paleontologists, mineralogists, stratigraphers, photo geologists, surveyors and drafters also sometimes form part of the exploration team. Other professionals concerned with exploration are geophysical prospectors. They head up a team that consists of seismic prospecting and gravity observers. These are oil industry 'spies' and they keep a watchful eye on land leasing, scouting and drilling activities of rival companies.

On most oil fields, the following tasks and operations are automated, but are still done manually on smaller sites.

  • Pumpers are responsible for the maintenance of equipment above ground that force and regulate the flow of oil from the underground wells.
  • There are also switchers that open and close regulating valves, they are found on sites where oil is forced to the service through natural pressure.
  • Gaugers are responsible for sampling and verifying oil quality as well as quantify and record oil flow.
  • Treaters remove all impurities from oil after testing for impure sediments and water.

Other skilled workers:

Oil well cementers ? full space between steel casings and well walls with cement to prevent cave-ins.

Acidizers - increase oil flow by pumping acid down the well.

Perforator operators ? pierce holes in the rock with a subsurface gun to permit oil flow into well bore.

Sample taker operators - assist geologist to obtain samples from rock formations and soil to verify if oil is present.

Well puller ? clean, remove and salvage pipes and other equipment above ground.

Off shore, drilling crews also need the following skilled support personnel to work on the crew boats, drilling platforms and barges: sailors, ships officers, radio operators, cooks and pilots.

Earning potential

On average, the US Oil Industry workers earn a lot more than workers in other industries do. The hourly rate paid to a worker that fall in the non-supervisory category of the oil industry is between 16 and 20 USD per hour. Offshore workers also earn more than inland workers because of the extreme working conditions on offshore rigs. The highest paid professions in the US oil industry are the professional (e.g., geologists, petroleum engineers etc.) and technical jobs, mostly because these positions are filled by people that have a university degree, a college diploma or graduated from a technical school.

Working Conditions

The working conditions for oil industry workers differ according to the profession. Exploration workers will see the inside of an office as well as onshore and offshore sites and their job description will include travelling.

Managerial, administrative and clerical positions are required to work in an office setting and are less physical.

Most jobs in the oil industry require workers to work outdoors in different weather conditions and require physical strength and endurance. Standing for extended periods of time as well as lifting heavy objects, climbing and handling tools that are grimy and oily are part of the job description.

The majority of jobs in the oil industry require workers to move from site to site or work on sites far from home for extended periods of time. Offshore workers will spend most of their time on the open sea.

Working hours

This is no nine to five job. Extended working hours are the norm and inland crews usually work six out of the seven days a week, eight hours shifts per day and then have a few days leave. Offshore sites see workers working up to fourteen days none stop, twelve-hour shifts at a time and then they have fourteen days leave. Workers are also required to work different shifts because oil drills operate twenty-four hours a day.


Housing conditions for inland workers are less extreme than that of offshore workers. Offshore workers mostly live on the derrick at sea. If the drill site is quite a distance from the shore, workers will live on the platform in housing units that are specially built to accommodate them or they will live on ships anchored closed to the platform. In the event of a storm, workers are evacuated and taken of the platform and brought to shore.


Working in the US oil industry offers a number of exciting career opportunities for the individual that likes to travel, see the world and have a new challenge every so often. The work may be physical and the working environment extreme, but workers earn exceptional salaries and there is a lot of scope to build a solid career in this field.