A Valentine to Oil Rig Workers

Rig Pigs

Why does a rig pig, otherwise known as an oil rig worker, make as much as – or even more than – a nurse? In fact the average pay for an oil rig worker in 2011 was just under $100,000, with “drilling consultants” bringing in over $235,000.

Even at the low end with the most inexperienced and least trained rig workers the average wage was over $65,000. And even “roustabouts,” who perform just general maintenance and physical labor with very little training, make over $34,000, which is actually equivalent to the median wage for all American workers (1).

What Gives?

These statistics are often met with surprise and sometimes even indignation by younger job seekers, feeling that the data is unjustified. Nurses are so much more important. Well, if you’re sick they certainly are, but what about when you want to fill up your car to get to work? Oil field workers fill a fairly important part of that cycle.

The point is not to single out oil rig workers specifically but only for illustrative purposes, and not to denigrate the profession of nursing, but if only also for illustrative purposes. The point, which we’ll give away right here early in the article instead of making you wait, is to demonstrate that both are important, while they may seem far apart in terms of “professionalism.”

Blue Chip vs. Blue Collar

A renewed interest is taking place in the trades, and a new respect emerging for manual or blue-collar workers. Skilled trades had lacked prestige perhaps from too many high school shop students emerging from cars filled with Led Zeppelin and smoke back in the day. But after a few decades of being sold on the idea of higher education with all its expense only to have its promises of lucrative employment consistently disappointed, career seekers are looking again at the trades.

We intend to address the above more in depth in an article of its own, but a micro-study of nursing and oil rigging is actually pretty enlightening.


To be a nurse requires strength, compassion, a nerve for confronting illness and the human body as well as human emotions. Becoming a nurse – or Certified Nurses Aid (CNA) – and progressing to advanced level nursing such as Registered Nurse (RN) requires from one to six years of education and costs, including coursework, nursing clinicals and testing, followed by regular continuing education to maintain a license.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 nurses made between $40,000 and over $90,000 for the highest trained and most experienced.

Job Requirements

An oil rig worker performs routine physical labor and maintenance on oil rigs and pipelines, both on and off shore. They work long hours, are often are away from family for extended periods, it’s dangerous, and you work in all conditions: from hot summers to freezing winter nights when temperatures can drop below -40 C.

Add to that the life-expectancy and career longevity resemble a professional football player whop retires to trade on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and you begin to see what oil rig workers, in our example, give up.

But it gets even worse. “Oil Rig Worker” was voted fourth in the top ten worst jobs in America by Career Cast (2). How often do we scoff at “worst” jobs and ignore the fact that pay can sometimes have a direct relationship with how bad the task is considered to be? Granted, sometimes achieving “worst” status has to do with crappy pay, but often a lack of volunteers raises the stakes.

Besides, like commercial fishing on television or a stint in the merchant marine, some like the lifestyle and freedom offered by a gig-type way of making money versus the perennial regularity of other professions. It’s an adventure. It’s dangerous and one feels alive. But more than that, it’s an important task in our society and someone’s got to take those risks, and should be compensated accordingly.


In fact, according to a blogger known as “Roughneck,”

“In Norway you are viewed as very lucky if you get work on an oil rig, salaries starts at 100 000$ a year! And then you got the bonuses and overtime , easily adds up to 150 000$ a year, and you work 2 weeks on and 4 weeks off :). But in the US you work more, earn less and the equipment and security is not as good.”

When asked about getting started, Roughneck replied,

“ you dont need much for brains , just be safe . go to nisku alberta in october , then get first aid and h2s course ..about 3 days . apply at ensign – encore …thats it your in…worst job in the world ..but great money.”

In fact many are apparently willing to attempt the long days and extreme weather in exchange for the rewards. On blog quoted above, most of the comments were from people trying to find out about becoming an oil rigger (3).

Feeling Wanted

The reality is the world needs laborers and without them we wouldn’t have gas for our cars, lumber for our homes and many other products that are produced by the risks and hardships they endure.

We have for a long time discussed careers with the view that the educated workforce ranked best, followed by skilled trades, then by those who simply “labor.” As the career promises of higher education continue to disappoint many and the skilled trades have been infiltrated by new technologies and the do-it-yourself industry, the labor market starts to look a little better!

Employment and income are no longer taken for granted, thank you, Great Recession! And maybe we are starting to recognize that courage, endurance, and mindfulness of job safety are not only skills in themselves, but perhaps natural gifts many of us have been born without. Thanks to the free market, the pay has preceded our general appreciation of these guys.

(1) http://money.cnn.com/2012/05/10/news/economy/oil_workers/index.htm
(2) http://www.careercast.com/content/10-worst-jobs-2012-4-oil-rig-worker
(3) ibid.



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