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Oilfield Operator Job Description

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Oil is a source of energy that allows for easier travel and transport of people and goods. It is also used to manufacture products such as plastics, agricultural fertilizer and medicine. Oilfield operators perform the dirty work, operating machinery that extracts fossil fuels from the Earth.

Basic Job Requirements

Oilfield operators must be 18 years old and possess adequate strength and conditioning to deal with the strenuous physical nature of the job. Workers must remain alert, ensuring that equipment operates correctly, reducing the risk of spills and other occupational hazards. Working with oilfield equipment requires manual dexterity and the ability to repair machinery with various tools. Good problem solving skills and the capacity to communicate clearly with peers promotes effective and efficient performance.

Education and Training

There are no specific educational prerequisites for oilfield operators, although some employers require that their personnel complete a high school education. Most operators acquire training while on the job, assisting workers who have plenty of experience before attempting to perform duties on their own. As the use of technology changes, the need for formal training grows, helping workers keep pace with new methods of production. The Texas State Technical College, for example, offers courses that lead to a certificate for oil field work, including instruction and hands-on training for welding, truck driving and the use of oilfield technology.

Occupational Duties

Oilfield operators pay close attention to a variety of control panels that provide information about the density, concentration, pressure and the overall rate of oil derived from wells. They force oil to the surface by pumping compressed gas into the bottom of wells, raising pressure in the reservoir. Operators use compression engines that direct the fluid into machines that separate oil and natural gas. Workers perform maintenance and assembly duties for pipes, machinery, vehicles, gauges and oil meters. They are also responsible for shutting down wells in adherence to production schedules.

Work Environment

Oil production takes place in a multitude of environments and climates, from deserts and forests to arctic locales and the middle of oceans. Oilfield operators function in noisy, dirty and slippery environments. As a result, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they suffer a higher average rate of injury than other occupations. Many oilfield personnel work long shifts that include overtime, such as 12-hour shifts and 14 consecutive days of work, followed by an equal amount of days off. Depending on where the resource is located, offshore workers may have to live on floating derricks for weeks at a time and must be prepared to quickly evacuate when threatening weather or an accident occurs.

Occupational Pay

As of May 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that rotary drill operators earned a yearly average of $57,590 while derrick operators made $51,890, service unit operators received $47,840 and roustabouts collected $36,250.


Kent Tukeli has been writing for business and media organizations since 2007, including Valnet Inc., Top Affiliate Publishing and Mirvish Productions. He honed his skills at the University of Toronto, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English literature.

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