The larger off-shore oil rig platforms can have as many as many as 150-160 people employed doing various jobs. Most are support staff that performs non-drilling functions like maintenance, material handling and storage, and food preparation. Others may assist with the drilling but they have other assignments off of the drill floor as well. There are essentially just five primary positions responsible for extracting the crude from below the ocean floor. It takes physical strength and stamina to endure the rigorous work of a drill crew member but many seasoned vets of this career will let you know that mental acumen is just as vital too.
Though pay for members of the drilling team is pretty lucrative (entry level salaries for beginners start around $45,000 -$50,000 annually, depending on what company hires you), it is dangerous work. Experience is critical in handling heavy hydraulic equipment where any distraction or fatigue can be costly AND deadly. Under most conditions an individual, male or female, will start out on an oil rig drilling crew as a lease-hand or floor-hand, assisting senior crew members under supervision – when you’re not acting as a go-fer or a broom pusher. A few months into it a person could be referred to as a roughneck and be given greater responsibilities, such as operating the claws or tongs that grip the drilling pipe and attach them as they extend the supply line.
At the top of the pecking order is the “tool pusher” or rig manager. This is the person who oversees all operations on the drilling floor and serves as the liaison between the blue-collar labor and white collar management on shore. Other responsibilities include training staff and making sure that company policies and procedures are followed. Though seen as a part of the management team, rig managers will be expected to do hands on works from time to time as the need arises.
Below the rig manager is the driller who usually has an assistant. Each driller has a crew and is responsible for what goes on at and above the drilling floor. This position is usually occupied by salty veterans who have worked their way up the ladder and have at one time or another pretty much worked many other positions on an oil rig platform. The Driller is a key position and one in which has the background to know when there are potential problems during the drilling process. He or she will control the console on the floor which is made up of the brakes, monitors, throttles, clutches and numerous gages that manage and assess the drilling operation.
The Driller may have an assistant if the job is big enough to require it and essentially supervises the Derrickman and lower echelon team members on the drilling floor. This is usually seen as a stepping stone to fill a Driller position. The assistant drillers may also find themselves “doing other tasks as assigned”.
Before an individual becomes a Driller they were more than likely a Derrickman. This is the drill team member that when the job requires it, climbs the tower and engages in what is referred to as “tripping”. As seen in this video, the Derrickman perches at the top of the tower on the “monkey board” and attaches the tongs to the top of a new pipe going in or coming out, while guiding it for placement in or out of the drilling hole. The Derrickman is also responsible for mixing the mud and operating the mud pumps. “Mud” is the term used for the mixture of water, clay, weighting material and chemicals which is forced into the drilling shaft, under pressure, and lifts rock cuttings from the drill bit to the surface. The mud pump moves the mud from a mixing pit to the drilling apparatus.
And lastly there is the Pumpman or motor-hand. As the name implies this skill requires mechanical expertise and is in charge of the operation of mud pumps along with “engines that are used to lift drilling pipe [and] turn the rotary table that turns the drill bit. They too can be found “doing other tasks as assigned” but will usually be distinguished with greasy hands and be near the noisy apparatus that moves the heavy parts and equipment on an oil rig platform.
Each position plays a critical part in determining the effectiveness of a drilling operation. All drill crew members depend on each other to reliably perform their function so there is maximum performance and minimal risk to themselves and the expensive equipment they are responsible for. As can be seen here (WARNING: some earthy explicatives used) there is a sense of comradery amongst members who share this necessary and dangerous job