Off The Beaten Path: Oil Rig Workers - KFYRTV.COM - Bismarck, ND - News, Weather, Sports

Off The Beaten Path: Oil Rig Workers

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On any given day there are approximately 200 drilling rigs operating in North Dakota. Motorists can see the massive towers along the interstate and major state highways, but most oil derricks are set up in remote areas, where access is limited by gravel roads or single lane scoria rock trails.

The isolated energy pods are manned by approximately 18 workers and operate 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

"Drilling in the North Dakota Bakken is a very challenging job," says Sidewinder Drilling employee, Ronnie Mears. "It takes a special breed to get er' done up here; not everyone can handle this."

Days when the temperature drops to 30 below, or spikes at 100 degrees make the job of drilling a six inch hole 21-thousand feet into the ground extremely demanding.

William Smith operates the drill on this Sidewinder Drilling rig. He came to North Dakota two years ago and still isn't used to the weather.

"It's something else, it gets pretty cold during the wintertime up here," says Smith.

Smith works 12 hour shifts, two weeks on, two weeks off. When his rotation is finished, he heads back home to his family in Gilmer, Texas. Many of the roughnecks who move to North Dakota, spend half of the year here and the other half in the state they call home.

"It'skind of a hard at times, you miss a lot of birthdays, and Christmas, Thanksgiving and holidays," says driller David Wright.

Home for David Wright is Ada, Oklahoma. He's a rig manager and has been stationed in North Dakota for five years. He says in addition to long shifts, extreme weather and family separation, rig work is also dangerous.

"A lot of hazards out there, it's steel, it don't give," says Wright.

Despite all the challenges rig work presents, people from all 50 states are relocating to North Dakota for the wages many oil jobs pay. A rig worker can make anywhere from 80-150 thousand dollars a year.

"You can walk right off the street and you get on a drilling rig and you can make a living well above what a lot of college-educated people can make, that's the big draw," says Mears.

Mears says most of the people on his rigs are in the oil business long term, but there are those who work for a few years to pay off student loans, or save money for a major expenditure.

"A high salary, hard work, a lot of guys are built for that and I feel like I was one of those guys," says Mears.

"I'm in it for the long haul, I'm a lifer until I retire, it's a good career, the money is good," says Wright.

No matter how long a rig worker plans to be in the business, the industry in North Dakota is going to continue to need more and more long and short term roughnecks, as drilling and production continues to boom in the Bakken.

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