How to Start Work in the Oil Industry

by Clayton Browne
Derrick hands often have to wear safety harnesses when installing and repairing derricks.

Derrick hands often have to wear safety harnesses when installing and repairing derricks.

Oil is the lifeblood of the 21st-century global economy. The worldwide demand for oil continues to grow despite increased production coming on line, which has led to further increases in the price of oil. Most experts believe the demand for oil will continue to increase as the consumer economies of China, India and Brazil continue to mature over the next decade or two. Higher oil prices lead to more exploration by oil and gas companies, which eventually leads to increased oil and gas production. Employees of all types are required to support this ramp up of O&G exploration and production.


Roustabouts do a lot of the basic physical labor and clean up around an oil rig. A typical day might involve moving piping with truck winches or motorized lifts, inspecting flow lines for leaks and general clean up of the rig area. A high school diploma is generally preferred, but not required to work as a roustabout. Working as a roustabout is the easiest way to break into the oil and gas industry unless you come to the job with oilfield experience or a technical education.

Derrick/Service Unit Operators

Most people become derrick or service unit operators by working as a helper in the position for at least a few months. Candidates with a high school diploma are typically preferred. Derrick operators or derrick hands assemble and inspect derricks, load and remove piping from elevators, confirm the proper flow of drilling fluid and repair pumps and other equipment. Service unit operators install pressure-control device into wellheads, set up and maintain cable control systems and operate the pumps that move fluids throughout the rig system.


Drillers are a key part of a rig crew. They control the speed of drilling and regulate the pressure of drill bits, as well as inspecting and maintaining the drill rig. Drillers are also expected to keep drilling records, such as tools used or lost, services performed and time required. Employers prefer to hire drillers with significant experience or a technical certificate or degree. A number of community colleges and technical schools are offering one-year certificate programs or two-year associate's degree programs in petroleum technology or oil and gas engineering technology.

Engine Operators and Pumpers

Engine operators install and maintain the large engines that provide power for the entire rig operation. Just keeping engines lubricated is a significant responsibility when they run 24 hours a day. Pumpers specialize in maintaining the myriad of pumps used to move fluids on a drilling rig. A high school diploma is the only requirement to work as an engine operator or pumper in most cases, but employers look favorably on candidates with some type of mechanical or engine-repair certification.

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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