Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive October 2014 Show 1442 Oil Rig Life

Oil Rig Life

Oil rig drilling crews, who work long hours outside in all types of weather, have a very taxing job that pays well.
Oil Rig Life

Oil Rig Life

For more information visit these links:

Oklahoma Department of Energy

Cactus Drilling

Show Details

Show 1442: Oil Rig Life
Air Date: October 19, 2014



Rob McClendon: Well, while Oklahoma may well have diversified its economy in recent years, the rise or fall of the energy industry still makes a huge impact on the state. Oklahoma’s energy giants may make billions, but they also spend millions that spreads economic ripples throughout the state. And it all starts in some of the most remote places, with drilling crews that work rain or shine. It’s a taxing job but one that pays very well. We sent our Alisa Hines out to spend a day on one of those rigs, and she joins me now.

Alisa Hines: Rob, the old way of drilling was like this: Drill a hole, move the rig, drill another hole, move the rig and so on. Nowadays, with horizontal drilling, they can drill a hole in one direction and stay where they are, drill another hole in a different direction and still stay where they are, and continue until they’re finished drilling multiple wells in all directions. This keeps the drilling company’s footprint very small by disturbing less land, and it’s quite economical, too. We had the opportunity to go out with Cactus Energy to one such rig and see just what a day in the life of a rig crew is really like.

Alisa: Things are turning at Cactus Energy.

Greg Simpson: Right now the stage of the well that we’re in, we are going straight down.

Alisa: Down, down, down straight as she goes, until the horizontal curve. Greg Simpson is the tool pusher and says it’s an amazing feat.

Greg Simpson: If you don’t try to bend it at a 90 degree angle, it will come out still straight. You know, that’s the reason why it takes say like 900 feet or more, for one reason, to build your curve so you’re not bending the pipe.

Alisa: Kind of like throwing a curve ball just further than home plate. Directional driller Brian Loyd.

Brian Loyd: I’ve drilled a well that was 2 miles, lateral was 2 miles, and we was within 2 foot of where we was supposed to be when we finished that well, so you can [laugh] get very accurate, very accurate.

Alisa: Which isn’t a quick process.

Simpson: It normally takes us 11 to 13 days to drill a well at this depth. And the measured depth is say 10-7 and we usually go through ’em pretty quick.

Alisa: All done with a small crew.

Simpson: Your driller does just that. He’s there in the driller’s cabin. He’s the one that operates the rig, runs the rig, whether it’s tripping pipe or doing the actual drilling of the well itself. Then you have your derrick hand. Whenever we’re tripping pipe, he works up in the derrick, whether he’s loading the elevators to put pipe in the hole or to unlatch the elevators to wrap pipe back in the derrick. Then you have your motor man. He does everything. He kinda looks over the mechanical equipment but he also works on the floor during tripping activities. And then you have your two roughnecks. And they do everything from tipping pipe to making connections to helping out, whether it’s mixing chemicals for your drilling fluid to cleaning on the rig.

Alisa: And safety is key.

Simpson: You’ve got two things here – safety and money. Safety comes first because if we’re not safe, well, then can’t anybody make any money. Because first of all, you just really don’t want to get nobody hurt. I mean, after all, that’s a human being, and you want them to go home the same way that they came.

Alisa: Rigs so technologically advanced, safety is much easier.

Simpson: This style of rig that is behind me, the only time that we use tongs is to make the bit up or to break the bit and then we set them back down on the ground. We have an iron roughneck that we call an SD-80. It makes the pipe up, torques the pipe or breaks the pipe and spins it out. So you’re saving a lot of chances there for smashing body parts, being in a pinch point, you know, and so that, that has changed dramatically and made it tremendously safer.

Alisa: For long-term driller Sam Maddox, he likes working on this particular rig.

Sam Maddox: Most of them are all break-handle rigs – the older ones. I mean, this, you’re on the floor in the weather. This is a Cadillac rig – out of the weather, good environment. It’s changed a lot.

Alisa: And after 87 hours on the job --

Maddox: I’m going home.

Alisa: Even with the long hours away from home, it’s a job that Simpson says he enjoys.

Simpson: It’s a good living. It’s a hard living physically and mentally at times. But it’s a good living. I’ve been in it for about 27 years, I mean, this is all I’ve ever done.

Alisa: Making a good living drilling for what runs the world – one oil well at a time.

Rob: So Alisa, 87 hours in a week sounds like a heck of a lot of time to be at work.

Alisa: Shifts for drillers like Cactus Energy are typically 12 hours, then the crew goes off-site and cleans up at a bunkhouse. The good news is they actually only have to work one week on and then one week off, making it a little easier on the crew -- all except the directional driller, and he has to stay until the drilling is complete.

Rob: Now, I’ve heard people say that on some of these rigs, they work in just all types of weather.

Alisa: Yes, they do. Whether it be thunderstorms or ice storms, drilling will continue -- with the exception of too much ice that makes it hazardous or lighting that is also hazardous. And when we shot, it was in the heat of summer, and we had to wear the same fire retardant clothing the crew does. And I can tell you – those aren’t comfortable in the heat either.

Rob: So what about tornados?

Alisa: Well, Rob, since many are out on the plains in the open, they do have to contend with tornados. In fact, Cactus Energy lost a rig when a tornado picked it up, turned it around, and sat it back down – only not in the same shape as it found it in.

Rob: So what did the crew do in that situation?

Alisa: They actually have one of their buildings that is tied down and designed to withstand tornados that they all go and get in to ride out the storm.

Rob: All right. Interesting story, Alisa, and certainly an interesting job. Thank you so much.

Alisa: You’re welcome, Rob.