Getting an Oilfield Job: Do You Have What it Takes?

By Sid Pranke

What do you get when you cross more than 500,000 barrels of Bakken oil per day with a bazillion oil producers, contractors and investors? Answer: That would be our oil überboom, gushing with plentiful oilfield jobs available to the right people with the right stuff. That was the easy question. Now for the trick question: How do you get one of those jobs?

Another whole industrial subculture has popped up trying to help you answer that question – including a host of websites, a semi of seminars, centers, staffing agencies, not to mention the advice of your next-door-neighbor at the RV park, your relatives back home or that guy on YouTube or behind you in line at Walmart.

You could go straight to the big operators. Some of the largest oil producers in the western North Dakota and eastern Montana include Hess, Marathon, Oxy, Whiting Petroleum and Continental Resources.

Oil producers typically hire experienced workers to oversee and maintain oil wells, but contract out work for the drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) phases of the oil production process.

Drilling contractors in the oil play include H & P, Patterson, Nabors, Ensign, Precision, Nomac, Cyclone and others; Bakken’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) companies include CalFrac, Baker Hughes, Halliburton, Sanjel, Weatherford and others.

Drilling & Fracking Contractors

Jobs with drilling contractors usually require workers to have training and experience for positions such as rig managers, drillers, assistant drillers and derrick hands, but entry-level jobs sometimes are available.

“After we contract out to drilling contractors, they typically have a lot of the entry-level jobs — they have roustabouts and helpers that move the rig, set up the rig, crane operators, welders,” said Ray Gonzales, vice president of human resources for Continental Resources.  “They’ll (contractors) actually drill the well on our behalf. We may have a drilling foreman there on site.”

Once the vertical drillers and the rigs complete their work, the hydraulic fracturing/pressure pumping crews come into play. These fracking companies often hire entry-level crews to haul water and help in other ways, Gonzales said.

Is it a myth that entry-level workers can start out making more than $80,000 a year? “No, it’s not a myth,” said Mike Davis, president for U.S. land pressure pumping at Baker Hughes. “They’ll work long hours, and they could be making six figures in a few years.”

Davis said Baker Hughes has its own months-long, in-house training program, but he recommends that applicants get their  commercial driver’s license (CDL) before applying. The company had a grand opening for its new Dickinson facility on Aug. 16; Davis said they’ll be adding lots of workers and are completing a new 209-bed crew camp.

Requirements can vary among companies, but fracking/pressure pumping jobs that demand more training, certifications and experience generally include fracturing supervisor, HSE (health, safety and environmental) coordinators and maintenance mechanics.

Frac operator positions, as they’re often called, can include a whole subset of operator jobs such as iron/sand truck, frac pump/iron trailer, chemical unit and blender operators. Multi-level requirements for these positions can range from zero to five years of experience, a high school diploma or GED equivalent and above, a CDL (commercial driver’s license) permit, as well as a strong mechanical aptitude.

Production

Once all the rig work is done and the well is drilled and it comes on production, then lease operators take over.

“They are basically monitoring to make sure that wells are running like they’re supposed to, keeping track of how much oil is coming out of the wells,” Gonzales said.

Continental Resources, like other oil producers in the region, hire many lease operators, production foreman, superintendents, production managers and production techs for oilfield operations. Typically, these jobs require experience and training.

“People who call, send in resumes or stop into field offices, we’ll ask them to get on our website,” Gonzales said. Potential candidates for a lease operator position at Continental Resources are screened for at least three years of experience, preferably in field operations, and perhaps for working on a drilling rig with one of their contractors, he said.

“We prefer someone who’s been through a winter or two, that understands what it’s like to work there (in the Bakken),” Gonzales said. The company performs the increasingly standard background checks, drug testing and also check for clean driving records if candidates will be working as a driver.

There is usually no shortage of candidates — Gonzales cited an example of three recent lease operator openings in Killdeer, N.D. that had 318 applicants.

To set yourself apart from the field of applicants, it’s a good idea to research the industry and individual companies you are targeting for interviews, said Laura Matthews, human resources advisor for Oxy. “Prepare in advance, be as organized as possible with extra copies of your resume, and present a professional image,” she said.

Another big oil operator, Hess, produces oil in the Tioga, Keene, Fryburg and Newburg areas of the Bakken. A recent search of area jobs on Hess’ website showed 22 open positions, including lease operator, rig supervisor and measurement technician.

Contracted positions the most dangerous

Contracted positions for big oil companies, including drilling and fracking, are considered the most dangerous of the oilfield jobs, Gonzales said.

“The drilling operations is where most of the activity occurs that is potentially dangerous. Once it’s on production, typically it’s the monitoring-type job,” Continental Resources’ Gonzales said. His company looks at the safety records of companies that are contracted before hiring them.

“And during when we’re working with them, we keep stats on them,” he said.  They have a reporting system when any event occurs that alerts most of their managers and corporate field operations, and then safety trainers provide retraining as necessary, he said.

“We even track what we call near misses; these are incidents that could have occurred, no one was hurt, but they could have occurred because an operation didn’t exactly go as planned so those things are shared so others are aware of it in a different drilling operation in the field,” Gonzales said.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), the oil and gas industry holds a fatality rate of 27.5 per 100,000 workers, more than seven times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers.

Through Aug. 17, North Dakota has had 48 worker deaths since 2010, according to OSHA statistics. Of those deaths, 23 were related to the oil and gas industry. (See adjacent Training article for information about a new OSHA safety course on hazards in the oil and gas industry that will be offered through the North Dakota Safety Council.)

Finding the Jobs

An efficient way to find available oilfield contracted and production positions is to get online and start searching.

Go to all the websites of the companies you’re interested in or that you know may have jobs available. For a detailed, look at which contractors are drilling where for which big oil companies in the Bakken, visit www.dmr.nd.gov/oilgas and click on the active drilling rig list on the left-hand side of the webpage. If you know who’s drilling, that could give you a head start in your oilfield job search. This could take hours or even days, so plan.  A recent look at all the websites of the companies listed in this article yielded hundreds of available oilfield drilling, fracking and production positions available in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

Once you find job openings, check job descriptions and requirements carefully — make sure you know what you could be getting into.

One company, Precision Drilling, has a link on its website to a “Toughneck quiz.” The quiz requires answering true or false to about 15 statements. I answered “false” to three of the questions, which was scored as “You may be missing some of the attributes we’re looking for.” The statements were:

“I prefer to work outside, even in bad weather.”

“I can lift 80-100 pounds many times in a day.”

“I can work 12+ hour shifts for 14 days or longer.”

So I guess I failed the quiz and am not cut out for the oilfields. Do you have what it takes?

20 thoughts on “Getting an Oilfield Job: Do You Have What it Takes?

  1. People need to realize that oil companies sell oil on a world market at the highest price possible. They have had a decades long business plan which they actually write out that they build their company with the goal of being immune to the rise and fall of governments, being a government unto itself (look it up). If the US is ever in trouble, and the oil companies own our land, we could be working to send oil to our enemies. They do not care about America, and the more power these oil companies have over us it might as well be our enemies owning us, because they have ZERO loyalty to us. Look up about how Exxon Mobil successfully uses governments and even makes them fall based on what is best for them.

  2. Hi Sid Pranke,
    Thanks you for your post, and salary start as 6000-13000/month , Can you give me some advice of where to apply the job? and how much is the salary?
    Please help. Unfortuneatly I do not have the education and experience yet.
    I look forward to your next post
    J.Harry

    • Hello, I would check out job postings at Baker Hughes website as a good place to start, since that was one of the major companies I cited in the article/post. Look for the location you want or look at all locations, and be very thorough and patient to make sure you are doing good web search.

  3. It’s crazy out here but I have spent a year and half up here work 2 weeks go home for a week it’s gets I make $100000 ++++ a year it’s hard it’s cold but I am all about..

  4. Looking for a job. wanting to get back into the oilfield. have not worked in a few years,but have many years of experience.about 15 trobe exact

  5. Hi there everyone, it’s my first pay a quick visit at this web page, and post is in fact fruitful in favor of me, keep up posting these articles.

  6. Recently moved to Williston, ND in hopes of finding an oil rig job. I don’t have any related work experience so I was wondering what my best plan of action should be? Also I’ve been studying for the CDL exam and I’m pretty confident I can pass the written exam for CDL and Hazmat and tanker, which would give me a permit only. I was wondering if that would help at all in my job search? Thanks!

  7. Great site for beginner oilfield hands. I have a lot of years in the drilling part of oil. and have worked several “booms” and lots of severe cold. 15 years in the Alaskan arctic. Be sure you know clothing requirements and if the company you target furnish anything. Many required all work clothes to be FR (fire retardant) and they are very expensive. Winter coveralls can easily be 200 to 500 a pair. Be prepared to spend some serious money up front but have the job landed first. Good Luck. Stay safe! One more tip. Be sure you are going on a camp job so room and board is furnished. Prices in The Bakkan area are astronomical.

  8. Ok.. I am missing something I have my CDL, college degree, and Oilfield experience in ALASKA and I am a Military Veteran and still keep getting turned down for jobs in ND come on somebody out there has got to know how to help a Veteran out !!! I am sick of seeing these 18 n 19 yr old kids getting jobs that I apply for just because they “know someone” Please if Anyone has any information it would be much appreciated

    Thanks

  9. My name is George Kurek I’m 61 years old interested in working as a Field Safety Technicin-Or a safety Cordinator in Frac.
    I have to years of college. Owned and operated my own jewelry store for five years, why working for General Motors.
    31 years and retired. Had safety training In chemicals OSHA related lubrication 35 different types of oils. Ran and operator robots, Responsible for production and changeover the main machinery. Work for Halliburton for 5 years, Had lab and chemical training. 3.5 Years in Freck In charge of chemicals hookups, Delivery, spills Prevention, Asset mixtures In frack tanks, safety Cordinator for one and and half years. I have my CDL hazmat and Tanker.

    Responsibilities: As safety Coordinator.
    1) Work with operational leadership to a insure safe working environment environment.
    2) Do job site analysts to determine employees exposure.
    3) Daily safety inspection and side Visits to document findings and take corrective action.
    4) (Coordinate) Safety with the customer to a Insure all compliances are follow. Local, state, federal health, and environmental regulation.
    5) Maintain all required Documentation related to safety issues such ass: Accident reports, inspection reports and training documents.
    6) Document accident investigation.
    7) Investigate: Incidents, accidents, new misses.
    8) Conduct safety meetings before each job in the area.
    9) Make sure everyone complies with company substance abuse policy.
    10) On side DOT inspection.
    11) Before each job reminder about company policy and OSHA.

    I would appreciate your consideration and interview.
    I would appreciate your consideration and interview.
    References:
    Clayton Larson
    Weatherford, Coordinator safety department. Odessa Texas
    +1 (832) 350-0977
    +1 (432) 210-9931
    James E Stringer
    Assistant Chief Inspector
    Tulsa Inspection Resources
    (903) 926-4471
    Halliburton, Frac Coordinator. Odessa Texas
    Keith Corbith
    1 (903) 985-0022

  10. Its hard to obtain an oilfield job. I was a frac tech fueler for about a year. wanted to get more experience in other fields in the oilfield, but guess that want happen. To me in order to obtain experience you have to be given a chance. That’s how all the so-called big wigs got their experience that’s how you learn how to know what you do. I’m a on hand learner. If you guys are as good as what your getting paid. Then you shouldn’t have a problem teaching someone who don’t know. We all came into this world not knowing until we was taught.

  11. I have lot of experience in oilfield job plz give me a chance I have I.a.d.c certificate h2s certificate . first aid certificate

  12. Im trying to get in the oil rig i didnt finish high school are i dont got a ged i work full time as a cook and been there two years i only get 815 a hour i had two jobs working 80 hours a week but i droped one cuse i want to find oil work so if any boudy can get me started i need the job i have a new born and two other of my kidds that i want to have a good live so plz help im in tx

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