Oil and Gas Well Drilling Workers and Services Operators - What They Do

Oil and gas well drilling workers operate drilling and service rig machinery as intermediate members of the rig crew. Oil and gas well services operators drive trucks and operate specialized hydraulic pumping systems to place cement in wells or to treat wells with chemicals, sand mixtures or gases to stimulate production. They are employed by drilling and well service contractors and by petroleum producing companies.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

Oil and gas well drilling workers

  • Use specialized equipment, information and maps to determine and document the location of buried pipelines and other utilities in preparation for seismic exploration and drilling activities
  • Align and manipulate sections of pipe or drill stem from platform on rig derrick during removal and replacement of strings of pipe, or drill stem and drill bit
  • Operate and maintain drilling mud systems and pumps during drilling, and mix mud, chemicals and additives
  • Record mud flows and volumes and take samples
  • Operate and maintain drilling rig diesel motors, transmissions and other mechanical equipment
  • Assist in setting up, taking down and transporting drilling and service rigs
  • Supervise floorhands and labourers.

Oil and gas well services operators

  • Drive well services truck to well site
  • Assemble pumping equipment and attach pumps and hoses to wellhead
  • Operate hydraulic pumping systems to pump chemicals, gases, sand, cement or other material into well
  • Read gauges to monitor pressure, density, rate and concentration and adjust pumping procedure as required
  • May mix chemicals and cements.

Job titles

  • control room operator - offshore drilling
  • seismic buried facilities locator
  • acidizer, oil field services
  • blender operator - oil field services
  • motorhand - oil and gas drilling
  • rig technician - derrickhand
  • acidizer - oil field services
  • oil well cementer - oil field services
  • derrickman/woman
  • pumpman/woman - oil field services
  • oil well cementer, oil field services
  • pumper operator - oil field services
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is required.
  • Training of up to three months with an experienced operator is required for oil and gas well services operators.
  • Completion of petroleum industry-approved training courses may be required.
  • One year of experience as a floorhand, assistant or labourer is usually required.
  • Certificates in first aid, hydrogen sulphide awareness, blowout prevention, workplace hazardous materials information system (WHMIS), transportation of dangerous goods (TDG), cryogenic safety or in other safety concerns may be required.
  • Rig technician certification for motorhands and derrickhands may be required by some employers.

Essential Skills


  • Read logbook entries, e.g. oil and gas drilling workers read drilling logs to learn about events that took place during previous shifts. (1)
  • Read reminders and short notes from co-workers, e.g. read short handwritten instructions to learn about tasks that need to be completed. (1)
  • Read email messages and company memos that describe upcoming meetings, safety precautions and new procedures and policies. (2)
  • Read workplace safety materials, e.g. oil and gas well services operators read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and engineering handbooks to understand the chemical composition of proppants and the possible hazards they present. (2)
  • May read work permits to learn about repairs being performed on equipment. (2)
  • Read a variety of instructions, e.g. read step-by-step instructions for the maintenance of equipment, such as pumps and compressors. (2)
  • Read trade journals, brochures and website articles to learn about new products to stay up-to-date on new technology. (3)
  • Read call sheets and operation manuals, e.g. oil and gas drilling workers read manuals to learn about the order of well-control procedures and the actions to be taken in the event of incidents, such as blowouts. (3)
  • May read regulations, e.g. read transportation of dangerous goods regulations to learn about training and equipment requirements. (4)

Document use

  • Scan labels on product packaging, e.g. scan identification labels on lubricants, inhibitors and other fluid additives to learn about their properties and concentrations. (1)
  • Locate information on signs and icons, e.g. scan warning signs to learn about fall hazards and the location of high-pressure gas lines. (1)
  • Scan meters and digital readouts, e.g. scan readings on scales and equipment gauges to locate weights, energy readings and temperatures. (1)
  • Enter data into a variety of forms, e.g. complete equipment maintenance and job hazard analysis forms by entering data, such as dates and times, and by checking boxes. (2)
  • Scan worksite procedure checklists to locate emergency contact information, hazards and other information about conditions that are unique to individual work sites. (2)
  • Locate data in a variety of logs and tables, e.g. scan specification tables to locate sizes, qualities, pressures, temperatures and depths. (2)
  • Scan assembly drawings, e.g. scan assembly drawings to learn how to disassemble and reassemble pumps. (3)
  • Complete complex forms, e.g. complete treatment reports by recording activities and times, changes, pressures, weights, temperatures and flow rates. (3)
  • Scan call sheets to establish depths, pressures, chemicals, diameters and rates of flow as they relate to times and procedures. (3)
  • Scan process and instrument diagrams, e.g. scan process control diagrams to determine the operating condition and performance of equipment. (3)
  • May scan line graphs and schematic representations of down-hole activities, equipment and rock formations, e.g. scan digitally produced schematics of rock formations and equipment to correlate gauge readings with depths. (3)


  • Write short comments in logbooks and forms, e.g. write short comments in vehicle inspection and equipment maintenance forms to record the condition of equipment and the outcomes of inspections. (1)
  • Write short notes to co-workers, e.g. write short notes to co-workers describing incidents that took place during their shifts. (1)
  • May write reports to describe events leading up to workplace accidents, e.g. write about injuries and events when completing reports for workers' compensation boards. (2)
  • May write step-by-step instructions, e.g. write instructions for co-workers explaining how to set-up, use and maintain equipment. (3)


  • Measure distances, angles and volumes using basic measuring tools, e.g. measure distances using stride tapes. (1)
  • Compare measurements of energy, dimension, pressure, speed, temperature and torque to specifications, e.g. compare pressure readings to standard and required pressures found in call sheets. (1)
  • May estimate the amount of mud being lost in drilling holes. (1)
  • May estimate the percentage of oil, water and sand in samples taken from drills to record in swab reports. (1)
  • May calculate expense claim amounts for travel and supplies. For example, they may calculate reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses, per diems and the use of personal vehicles at per-kilometre rates. (2)
  • May prepare invoices, e.g. calculate rental fees using daily and weekly rental fee rates. (2)
  • Calculate the volumes of fluids in holding tanks and drilling mud in below-ground casings. (2)
  • May calculate summary averages, such as the number of pipes extracted per hour. (2)
  • Estimate the weight of loads and the height of obstructions, such as power lines. (2)
  • May estimate the volume of fluids at prescribed depths to determine pumping speed and to control whether pumps will end with downstrokes or upstrokes. (2)
  • Calculate requirements, e.g. calculate the number of pipes needed to trip down wells and the length of time it will take to pump fluids into wells, based on the volumes per pump stroke and the number of strokes per minute. (3)
  • May analyze multiple readings of pressure, weight and rate of flow to evaluate drilling system functions and troubleshoot faults. (3)

Oral communication

  • Speak with co-workers, e.g. speak with drillers and floorhands to co-ordinate their tasks, address equipment faults and discuss risks and safety hazards. (2)
  • Exchange technical information with consultants and engineers, e.g. speak with petroleum engineers about the amount of additives needed to produce adequate fluid densities and down-hole well pressures. (2)
  • Participate in pre-job safety meetings to discuss job outlines, procedures, hazards, potential problems and tool and material requirements. (2)
  • May provided detailed, step-by-step instructions, e.g. explain to new employees the procedures to mix drilling mud to specific densities, compositions and quantities. (3)


  • Encounter unsafe conditions. They evaluate the situation and look for ways to reduce the risks. They do not perform tasks that cannot be done safely. (1)
  • Assess the properties of drilling mud. They take measurements and observe the appearance and consistency of the drilling mud. (1)
  • Encounter equipment malfunctions. They inform co-workers of the malfunctions, troubleshoot the faults and attempt to make repairs. They contact supervisors if the equipment cannot be repaired and perform other duties until the equipment is working. (2)
  • Are asked to perform unsafe work. They speak with supervisors to clarify their requests and refuse to perform work they consider to be unsafe. They follow legislated rights to refuse unsafe work policies until satisfactory outcomes are achieved. (2)
  • Decide to report unsafe work conditions. They act on requirements to report unsafe work conditions by discussing their concerns and decisions with co-workers and supervisors. (2)
  • Decide the order of tasks and their priorities, e.g. decide when to add chemicals to mud and the order in which they perform their maintenance-related duties. (2)
  • Choose tools and methods, e.g. select the tools needed to perform equipment repairs and the methods to arrange pipes in racks as they come out of wells. (2)
  • Evaluate the safety of work sites and tasks. They consider potential hazards, such as confined spaces, electrocution and exposure to gas, such as hydrogen sulphide. They also take note of tripping hazards, improperly stored tools, frayed cables and defective equipment. (2)
  • Evaluate their ability to perform work safely. They consider factors, such as personal fatigue, stress and impairments, such as the fear of heights and confined spaces. (2)
  • Assess the performance of equipment. They consider equipment readings and look for signs of unusual vibrations, noises and odours. (2)
  • Follow schedules and the order of tasks as determined by supervisors and the job plan. They prepare materials and maintain equipment needed in their tasks. They co-ordinate their work with others in their crew and adjust their tasks as conditions change and as supervisors advise. (2)
  • Locate information about a well's status by scanning electronic displays, reading logbook entries and speaking with co-workers and consultants. (2)
  • Consult charts, manuals and engineers' handbooks to look up and interpret the relationships between pipe sizes, pressures, volumes and rates of flow. (2)
  • May make decisions about operations and set-up procedures, e.g. decide to shut down nitrogen pumping operations when there are rapid changes in pressure. (3)

Digital technology

  • May use industry-specific database applications to input and retrieve data, such as names, wellbore identification numbers and readings. (1)
  • Use calculators and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating material requirements. (1)
  • May use spreadsheet software to calculate material requirements and expense claims. (2)
  • May use computer-assisted design (CAD), manufacturing and machining software, such as AutoCAD to retrieve and print scaled drawings of equipment and facilities. (2)
  • May use communication software to exchange email with co-workers and consultants. (2)
  • Use browsers and search engines to access information, such as company directories and publications produced by organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC). (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by apprenticeship trainers, associations, suppliers, employers and sector councils, e.g. access online H2S Alive training delivered by Enform. (2)
  • May use CD-ROMs and DVDs to access learning materials produced by trainers, suppliers, employers and associations. (2)
  • May use computer-controlled machinery programmed to check drilling operations, such as down-hole depths, temperatures, pressures and flows. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Oil and gas well drillers, servicers, testers and related workers work as members of a team in rig crews of up to six people. They mostly perform their tasks independently; however, drilling workers work in close co-ordination with drillers and floorhands when tripping pipes in or out, and service operators work with one or more helpers on large jobs.

Continuous Learning

Oil and gas well drillers, servicers, testers and related workers learn continuously through on-the-job experience and talking with co-workers. They may be required to maintain safety certifications for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), transportation of dangerous goods (TDG) and handling hydrogen sulphide. In addition, some companies provide oil and gas well services operators with several levels of operators' training with the possibility of eventually becoming supervisors.