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.
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?