What Is It Like To Work on an Oil Rig?

1 Flares 1 Flares ×
Here is a story for Ryan Carlyle, BSChE and his experience as a Subsea Hydraulics Engineer on Drilling rig:
I’ve been a field engineer (for 2 distinct drilling companies) for the last 4 years. This means that I spend most of my time in the workshop or projects engaged with office planning, but very often go to the drilling rig to run a project for a few weeks. I work in the ultra-deepwater Gulf of Mexico on sailing oil rigs doing subsea oil well control – essentially preventing Deepwater Horizon type incidents. Companies in the drilling rigs industry are very publicity-shy, and I’m not authorized to represent the oil rig company that I work for to the public, so I would rather not say who I’ve worked for.

My drilling rig experience in the oilfield is not typical:

  • I work on some of the nicest and biggest oil rig platforms in the world.
  • I work on some of  the highest-profile energy projects of drilling rigs in the world.
  • I am a part-timer on multiple drilling rigs instead of being part of a permanent rig crew members.
  • I am a hydraulics engineer (and a Northerner).
Most of the drilling work is done on small, old land drilling rigs in fairly well-set fields doing repetitive cookie-cutter wells. Most of the people that work in the U.S. drilling field are southerners with a high school education. Please do not take that as disparaging them in any way – most college grads are too pretentious about grease and manual labor to survive in that type of job. There are a lot of intelligent people on oil rig platforms that just did not take the academic route for whatever reason. Of course, there are also a lot of unlearned, racist, sexist dumbasses! But this is the nature of the beast. Anyway .. there’re a lot of people like me in the drilling rig field, but we are definitely in the minority.

Here’s a typical drilling rig for my line of work:

The leasing price of this drilling rig to drill deepwater wells is nearly US$700,000 to US$1 million per day, and it usually takes 150-200 days to drill and accomplish a deepwater well.
This ship is a dynamically-positioned 5th-generation drilling vessel with a dual derrick capable of supporting 2 million pounds of pipe. (It’s three to six miles of vertically-hanging pipe which is depending on the size.) It uses GPS, sonar beacons, and 6 huge 360-degree thrusters to hold position over a subsea well. It’s over 800 feet long ,and may keep the center of the oil rig stable within a few feet, in any weather short of a hurricane. A couple of my buddies were just in the Gulf riding out hurricane Isaac recently, actually. They had to stop operations, but stayed in the region becausefloating-drilling-rig they were “only” experiencing fifteen foot seas and forty knot winds.
Once you arrive on the drilling rig for the 1st time there is a mandatory 1 to 2 hour safety briefing. You watch a short movie/video, fill out medical paperwork, and listen to a speech about drilling rig-specific rules such as what to do with laundry. Then you are free to go meet with co-workers, find your bed, grab a snack, get to work, or whatever. Most deepwater drilling rig platforms may hold almost 180-200 people at a time. Most of the crew members onboard are employed by the drilling rig contractor. A few of the workers on the drilling rig (from 5 to 15) are employed by the oil rig company to supervise, direct operations, and make sure everything is made safely and in compliance with the law.
There’re also quite a few catering/cleaning crew members, as well as divers 3rd party contractors, which come and go to do specialized tasks.In my current job as a hydraulic engineer on drilling rig, I’m one of the oil company representatives. I show up when a specific phase of the well construction process requires subsea expertise. We are trying to be friendly and develop good relationships with everybody on the drilling rig, but to be honest, the logo on my company shirt pretty much guarantees everyone treats me with respect whether I deserve it or not. I may remember a couple of times when I really put my foot in my mouth and the drilling rig crew members just dropped it. In contrast, in my previous job as 1 of the 3rd party contractors, the drilling rig crew was quite happy to tell me where to stick it, and then kick me off the drilling rig floor.Nowadays, I am in an advisory/supervisory role for very complex equipment. I walk around and look at crew members to make sure it is being operated correctly. I help with writing and reviewing procedures. I propose what to do when things are going wrong.
The bad side of the thing is that I need to write a lot of reports. I do risk-assessments and evaluations and look for possible failure modes. It is normally fairly low-key, but you remember how I told operating a drilling oil rig costs about a million dollars per day? Well, unfortunately for me, the subsea equipment is what breaks the most often and when the drilling rig platform goes on downtime there’s a huge amount of pressure to do my job right. When something is not as it must be, we work around the clock and we work hard. It is pretty nerve-wracking when you are new (every minute of delay literally costs $700), but after a while, you get used to the big pressure on the oil rig. I love it now. The high stakes environment and satisfaction of saving millions of dollars is quite addictive.For legal reasons I can not distribute most of the photos I take offshore, but here is one that must be pretty harmless.
Pipe conveyor and knuckle-boom crane
knuckle-boom crane
 And this is me as a trainee in front of a 60 ft gas flare during a gas well flow test.
Gas Flare Test
 Sweet coveralls, right?

1 Flares Facebook 0 Google+ 1 Twitter 0 LinkedIn 0 1 Flares ×