You’re young, you’re fit, you’ve gone through high school but don’t have a college degree, and you figure that earning $40,000 to $55,000 a year for honest physical work sounds pretty good. Since you’re here reading this article, it also means you know next to nothing about working on an oil rig, and almost certainly don’t know anyone in the industry.
First thing to do is to fix that ignorance. You can’t fake experience you don’t have, but you can show that you have a good attitude by doing some background research on your own. To that end, we’ll list a bunch of books you can read, so that you’ll at least understand what the job vacancy postings are talking about when you find them, be it in the newspaper job listings or on the online job boards. Having more background will also help when you need to do research using Google to help you write your resume, because even if you’re just going to be a roustabout/leasehand, you do need to know a bit about the company you’re applying for before you write your cover letter and resume. Besides, let’s just say that you do get to the interview – you don’t want to sound like an idiot too lazy to find out about oil drilling, do you? Being a noob is not a sin, but idiocy and being too lazy to learn will definitely sink your chances.
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Borrow the books below from your local library, or buy a copy from Amazon. So what’s good preparation for an oil rig career?
Roughnecks, Drillers, and Tool Pushers: Thirty-three Years in the Oil Fields (Personal Narratives of West Series) is a bit old, with the first printing in 1991, and is quite long at over 270 pages. This book was written by an insider, Gerald Lynch, and he describes life in the oil fields in and around Texas. He talks about changes in oil drilling technologies, and how these changes affected the lives of workers on the ground.
If there is one book you absolutely must read before you start looking for a job in the oil fields, this book is it. If your Dad was in the oil industry, and he swapped stories with his buddies, this is what those stories would be like. Reading this book won’t turn you into an insider, but at least it will keep you from looking like an ass at the interview.
Nontechnical Guide to Petroleum Geology, Exploration, Drilling & Production, 3rd Ed. is the closest thing to a textbook available to employees in the oil industry. It’s more than 500 pages thick, and you’ll probably never read it from cover to cover. But if you keep it close to hand, you’ll learn your job much faster. For example, that blue thingummy you’ve been working on the whole afternoon – why is it important? How do you know you worked on it right? In theory, your boss/roughneck is supposed to keep a close eye on you, especially when you’re new. But he’s busy, and he can’t/won’t be able to pay close attention to you the next time you work on it again. You can use this book to read up on that blue-colored section of pipe after you finish your shift, so that you don’t have to keep on going back to your supervisor for detailed instructions.
This book is thick and expensive. You can live without it. But if you have the spare cash, it’s good to have it. Sort of like having an 18″ air circulating fan versus a 12″ box fan in summer. You don’t absolutely have to have it, but if you have it, you’ll know the difference.
I’m not sure what to say about Don’t Tell Mom I Work on the Rigs: She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse. Good, rollicking fun? Check. Real life is stranger than fiction? Check. The author, Paul Carter, is an Ozzie who’s worked on oil rigs since he was 18. If you never intend to leave the US of A, this book is just an adventure story. But if you ever think of taking on an overseas contract, Paul’s stories make it clear why oil companies are willing to pay workers an extra 10 or 20 grand a year.
This Is Not a Drill: Just Another Glorious Day in the Oilfield is the fast, furious and very funny sequel to Don’t Tell Mom I Work on the Rigs… Like the previous book by Paul Carter, it is neither a “must have” nor a “must read.” That said, if you do buy a copy, don’t let your Mom or wife read it. They’ll never let you get an oil rig job.
Oilfield Trash: Life and Labor in the Oil Patch (Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History) describes the history of the Texas oil industry from 1901 until today. This book discusses the wildcatters of the earliest days, and compares them to the more professional oil field workers today.
The book is wordy, and the author is an academic, though a fairly gifted lay writer. You won’t learn how a roustabout or other typical oil field worker thinks, but you will know what the working environment is like.
Oil & Gas Production in Nontechnical Language is a good book for giving you the big picture. Worth reading if you are a beginner, even better reading when you’ve been a roustabout for a year or two and you want to start thinking about a promotion. After all, earning $100,000 a year as a driller some 15 to 20 years down the line sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But there’s a good reason why many veterans don’t want to go beyond roughneck, and this book will suggest why, if you can read between the lines.
A good read, but overall, not a book I would pay $50 to buy. On the other hand, if I could get my local public library to buy it, it is definitely worth spending the time to read.
Oil Rig Workers: Life Drilling for Oil (Extreme Careers) is a bit pricey, considering it’s only got 64 pages. In theory, it’s targeted at kids, but it does give a decent if shallow overview of what it’s like to work on an oil rig, as well as the available career prospects.
For $30+ new, it’s not worth buying. But if your public library has it, it should be on your reading list.
Oil Rig Roughneck (Cool Careers) is a short, cheap book targeted at kids. It is written in a light-hearted manner, and you can easily skim through it in 30 minutes. If you know nothing about working on an oil rig, except for the high pay, this book will give you a good, quick introduction.
Being new at your job does not mean you need to be ignorant. It is true that you will start at the bottom as a roustabout, and it is true that your company will give you training (assuming you get hired). But knowledge is power, and knowing more than the other ignorant louts applying for the same job increases your chances of getting hire. I recommend that you read the first book in the list, Roughnecks, Drillers, and Tool Pushers: Thirty-three Years in the Oil Fields, even if you have to buy it. Nontechnical Guide to Petroleum Geology, Exploration, Drilling & Production, 3rd Ed. is good to have, but not a must. You can also buy the other books in the list, but it is good enough if you borrow them from your public library to read.