Drilling is an important phase of oil exploration and extraction in Canada. Drilling is one of the methods used to access hydrocarbon formations. Rig technicians work on drilling rigs and other specialized equipment to drill holes to retrieve these hydrocarbons.
Drilling rigs are owned by companies specializing in drilling, called drilling contractors. Some contractors are larger than others and some specialize in certain types of operations. However, all contractors offer their drilling equipment and the services of their employees to exploration companies on a contract basis.
A rig crew’s operational structure is organized by a clearly defined set of duties and responsibilities. After gaining entry level experience as a leasehand and floorhand, workers in this trade must progress through the ranks of motorhand (level 1) and derrickhand (level 2) in order to become fully qualified rig technicians/drillers (level 3). The division of duties in the levels of skilled workers on a rig crew is:
Motorhands: maintain drilling rig engines, transmissions, heating systems, diesel electric generators and motors, hydraulic systems and other mechanical equipment; maintain equipment logs and records; monitor fluid and supply levels; participate in rig mobilization (rig up) and demobilization (rig out); supervise and are able to do all duties performed by floorhands and leasehands.
Derrickhands: operate drilling fluid systems and pumps during drilling; mix chemicals and additives; handle sections of the drill string assembly from the monkeyboard during tripping operations; monitor and record volume and properties of drilling fluids; supervise motorhands, floorhands and leasehands; and are able to do all duties performed by motorhands.
Rig technicians (drillers): operate the drawworks, rotary equipment and pumps; inspect rig; maintain records of drilling operations; are able to perform all duties performed by any crew member; and are responsible for the safety, training and supervision of the crew members.
Rig technicians report directly to the drilling rig manager. The scope of the rig technician for this analysis covers the duties of motorhands, derrickhands and drillers.
A rig crew works with a variety of hand and power tools, as well as motorized equipment, lifting and hoisting equipment, and personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety equipment. Computers are an important tool in this trade to maintain operational records and interpret data related to drilling activities.
The rig is set up and transported to different sites resulting in the rig crew often travelling to remote locations. The work is performed in all weather conditions and workers should be prepared to work in all types of weather and environmental conditions (example: cold, hot, noisy, dirty, dusty, wet and muddy). Drilling activity peaks during the winter months when the ground is frozen. The work pressures and demands may fluctuate depending on world oil and gas supply and demand.
Important attributes for rig technicians are good hand-eye coordination, mechanical inclination, the ability to work well in a team and with third-party service providers, and strong leadership, communication, and organizational skills. Good physical condition is important because the work often requires considerable lifting, long hours and repetitive movement.
Drilling is a 24-hour operation, requiring rig technicians to work shifts and often long hours. The job requires mental alertness due to the inherent work hazards such as moving equipment, exposure to chemicals, risks of explosions and working at heights. Rig technicians work outdoors in all kinds of weather, often in remote and isolated areas away from home.
Rig technicians are expected to perform supervisory duties and training of apprentices and other less experienced crew members. Experienced rig technicians may move into other positions such as rig managers, instructors, well site supervisors, sales representatives or other technical positions within the industry.