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What is an Oil and Gas Rotary Drill Operator?

Also known as: Oil Well Driller, Oil Rig Driller, Drilling Rig Operator, Drill Operator.

An oil and gas rotary drill operator is someone who carries out the physical aspects of the drilling plans that petroleum engineers have put in place. They operate the equipment that digs the well and that removes our natural resources of oil and gas. They are experts at reaching the vast fields of oil and gas hidden underground, whether they are under the sea or beneath a desert.

What does an Oil and Gas Rotary Drill Operator do?

Oil and gas rotary drill operators include roustabouts, derrick operators, service unit operators, and rotary drill operators.

Roustabouts typically do the following:

  • Clean equipment and keep the work area orderly and free of debris
  • Use electronic detectors and make visual inspections in flow lines to locate leaks
  • Use truck winches and motorized lifts to move pipes to and from trucks or move the pipes by hand
  • Dismantle and repair oil field machinery, boilers, and steam engine parts
  • Guide cranes that move loads
  • Attach lifting slings to loads moved by cranes or by other special equipment, such as gin-pole trucks

Derrick operators typically do the following:

  • Inspect derricks, or order their inspection, before they are raised or lowered
  • Make sure the drilling fluid continues to flow correctly
  • Repair pumps and other equipment related to the drilling fluid system
  • Ensure that rig pumps and other drilling systems are working properly
  • Use harnesses and platform climbing devices to position and align derrick elements
  • Supervise crew members and help train them
  • Guide lengths of pipe into and out of elevators
  • Help maintain other rig equipment

Service unit operators typically do the following:

  • Maintain wells by removing tubes or rods from the hole that is drilled into the ground
  • Observe load variations on gauges, pumps, and pressure indicators
  • Inspect engines, rotary chains, and other equipment to detect faulty operations or unusual equipment conditions
  • Drive truck-mounted units to well sites
  • Install pressure-control devices onto wellheads
  • Thread cables through derrick pulleys
  • Operate pumps that circulate water, oil, or other fluids through wells to remove sand or other materials obstructing the free flow of oil
  • Operate controls that raise derricks or level rigs

Rotary drill operators, also known as drillers, typically do the following:

  • Oversee maintenance of the drill rig and implementation of the well plan
  • Train crews and introduce procedures to make operations safe and effective
  • Observe pressure gauges and move throttles and levers, both to control the speed of rotary tables and to regulate the pressure of tools at the bottoms of drill holes
  • Observe gauges that monitor well flow to prevent an overflow
  • Keep records of footage drilled, locations and the nature of layers drilled, materials and drilling tools used, services performed, and time required
  • Start and examine pump operations to ensure circulation and consistency of drilling fluids or mud in wells
  • Use special tools to locate and recover lost or broken bits, casings, and drill pipes from wells

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How to become an Oil and Gas Rotary Drill Operator

The typical level of education required for entry into oil and gas occupations is a high school diploma. Some employers prefer to hire graduates of high school vocational programs in which students learn such skills as basic mechanics, welding, and heavy equipment operations.

There are few formal education requirements for oil and gas rotary drill operators. However, they need a lot of job training and experience before they can do most tasks or advance to more skilled positions. Most workers start as helpers to experienced workers and learn skills on the job. However, formal training is becoming more important as more technologically advanced machinery and methods are increasingly used.

As workers gain more experience, they can move up to higher paying jobs that require greater skill. For example, a roustabout may become a rotary helper and advance to derrick operator and then driller. A similar progression is available to service workers as well.

Because of the extreme environment and critical nature of the work, offshore oil crews generally are more experienced than land crews. For work on an offshore rig, many companies hire only workers who are already experienced in oilfield operations. As a result, workers who have gained experience as part of a land crew might advance to offshore operations. Positions are usually filled on the basis of seniority and ability.

What is the workplace of an Oil and Gas Rotary Drill Operator like?

Oil and gas rotary drill operators are employed mainly in oil and gas extraction and in firms offering support for mining. Oil and gas sites can be on land, in inland waters, or at sea (offshore). During hazardous weather, such as a hurricane, coastal land rigs and offshore production and drilling facilities may have to be evacuated.

Derrick operators and rotary drill operators experience higher-than-average rates of nonfatal injuries. Constant care must be taken to minimize incidents and maximize safety in a work environment where secure footing is often a concern. Proper use of personal protective equipment, such as hard hats, minimizes risks on job sites. An additional danger is the constant, loud noise from the drilling machinery. This noise makes communication difficult, so it is important for workers to follow safety instructions from supervisors and other experienced co-workers.

Most oil and gas rotary drill operators work full time, but they often have to work overtime. Oil and gas drilling rigs usually operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Workers on land drilling rigs typically work eight or twelve hour shifts. While some land drilling rig personnel work seven days a week without days off until the well is complete, most work seven or fourteen days on and then equal days off. The remote location of offshore oil rigs requires some workers to live onsite for weeks at a time, frequently working 12-hour shifts, followed by an extended leave period onshore. As a result, part-time opportunities are rare.

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