Jobs in Oil Field - What Are the Top Paying Jobs Today?

On August 26 2008, CNN Money reported that oil drillers are scrambling for workers. Too many years of under-investment in oil rigs and workers alike, coupled with the surge in oil prices over the last few years has led to a major shortage of experienced workers in oil fields at all levels. Noble Corporation, one of the world's largest offshore drilling companies, has 1500 rig job openings in the next 2 years for their 5 new oil rigs. Every oil company is deploying new oil rigs everywhere from the Gulf of Mexico and the deep water off Brazil to the coasts of Africa and Saudi Arabia to meet today's increased demand for oil.
Filling the jobs in these offshore oil fields is proving to be a major challenge. Despite sky-high salaries in the range of $50,000 to $80,000 even for new hires, there are not many takers for these offshore jobs. There are several reasons for this reluctance:

  • Not many people are willing to live in the middle of the ocean on an oil rig
  • Extremes of temperature, either extremely cold (most deep ocean oil rigs) or extremely hot (Africa), and sometimes both (the deserts of Saudi Arabia)
  • The demanding work schedule - 12 hours on, 12 hours off, 7 days a week for 2-4 weeks straight
  • Political volatility and armed violence, for example rebels and insurgents in Nigeria and other African nations, potential terrorists in Saudi Arabia
  • Physical danger from storms like the recent Gustav and Hurricane Katrina in 2005
  • Dangerous accidents like the 1988 Piper Alpha drilling rig in the North Sea - 167 of the 226 men on board died when the oil rig caught fire
Predictably, the highest salaries drawn in oil companies are the executives with titles starting with "C", like CEO, CFO, etc. Then you have the VPs and top salesmen. But what about jobs and salaries for new hires? Well, in February, The Wall Street Journal reported that new petroleum engineering graduates received starting salaries of $80,000 to $110,000, not including various perks and signing bonuses. This demand is in no danger of peaking anytime soon. Oil companies are hiring petroleum engineering freshman students as summer interns, paying as much as $32.50 an hour. Texas Tech reports its 2008 graduating seniors will receive an average salary of $110,000.
Geologists, too, are in great demand. The American Geologic Institute reports that the average starting salary for a geologist fresh out of school is $81,300, up from $55,000 in 2003. At their April meeting, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists reported that graduate students (Masters and PhD) were receiving salaries of $80,000 to $110,000. The good news for job seekers is that the demand for geologists for is unlikely to be filled anytime soon. The American Geological Institute reports that out of 20,000 geology undergraduates, only 2,800 attain their BSc after 4 years of study. In addition, many of today's oil industry geologists started work in the 1970s, and will be retiring in the next few years. Taken together, these facts mean that more and more geology vacancies are going to open up in oil companies in the coming decade, with salaries likely to increase further. It seems that, even today, taking up a Bachelor's Degree in Geology or Geologic Engineering is well worth it. Beefing this up with a Master's in Sedimentology, Stratigraphy, Structural Geology or Geophysics will almost certainly net you an extra $20,000 or $30,000.
With increasing demand for oil from China and India, as well as continuing demand from the US and Europe to drive the search for more oil, the job vacancies in oil fields and offshore drilling rigs will remain unfilled for some time to come. This is definitely the hot job of the next two decades.
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