Although drilling for oil and gas is conducted in a large number of states, Texas, California, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Colorado offer the most employment opportunities. However, a worker could be employed by a company based in Colorado, but sent to other states, such as North Dakota, to work.
Employers in the crude petroleum and natural gas industry include major oil companies and independent producers. The oil and gas field services industry, which includes drilling contractors, logging companies, and well servicing contractors, is the other major source of employment. Approximately 16,300 petroleum and geological technicians are employed in the United States.
You may enter the field of petroleum drilling or production as a laborer or general helper if you have completed high school. From there, you can work your way up to highly skilled technical jobs, responsibilities, and rewards.
Engineering technicians might start out as engineering or production secretaries and advance to the position of technician after two to five years of on-the-job experience and demonstrated competency in the use of computers.
Other technicians, such as mud test loggers or well loggers, will need a geology degree first. Upon obtaining your degree, you may start out as an assistant to experienced geologists or petroleum engineers.
Generally speaking, industry recruiters from major companies and employers regularly visit the career services offices of schools with petroleum technology programs and hire technicians before they finish their last year of technical school or college.
Because many graduates have little or no experience with well drilling operations, new technicians work primarily as assistants to the leaders of the operations. They may also help with the semiskilled or skilled work in order to become familiar with the skills and techniques needed.
It is not uncommon, however, for employers to hire newly graduated technicians and immediately send them to a specialized training program. These programs are designed for oil company employees and usually are offered by the suppliers of the special materials, equipment, or services. After the training period, technicians may be sent anywhere in the world where the company has exploratory drilling or production operations.
In oil drilling and production, field advancement comes with experience and on-the-job competency. Although a petroleum technology degree is generally not required, it is clearly helpful in today's competitive climate. On a drilling crew, the usual job progression is as follows: from roughneck or rig builder to derrick operator, rotary driller, to tool pusher, and finally, oil production manager. In production, pumpers and gaugers may later become oil company production foremen or operations foremen; from there, they may proceed to operations management, which oversees an entire district. Managers who begin as technicians gain experience that affords them special skills and judgment.
Self-employment also offers interesting and lucrative opportunities. For example, because many drilling rigs are owned by small, private owners, technicians can become independent owners and operators of drilling rigs. The rewards for successfully operating an independent drill can be very great, especially if the owner discovers new fields and shares in the royalties for production.
Working as a consultant or a technical salesperson can lead to advancement in the petroleum industry. Success is contingent upon an excellent record of field success in oil and gas drilling and production.
In some areas, advancement requires further education. Well loggers who want to analyze logs are required to have at least a bachelor's degree in geology or petroleum engineering, and sometimes they need a master's degree. With additional schooling and a bachelor's degree, an engineering technician can become an engineer. For advanced-level engineering, a master's degree is the minimum requirement and a doctorate is typically required. Upper-level researchers also need a doctorate.
During periods of rapid growth in the oil industry, advancement opportunities are plentiful for capable workers. However, downsizing in recent years has made advancement more difficult, and in many cases technicians, geologists, engineers, and others have accepted positions for which they are overqualified.
Tips for Entry
Join a professional association or an industry organization to keep up to date on the latest technology and trends in the oil industry.
Visit the American Association of Petroleum Geologists' Web site at https://www.aapg.org to learn about career opportunities.
Contact or visit the Web site of the Technology Student Association to explore fields in engineering, science, technology, and math. The organization also holds local events and competitions for interested students.