By Bill Price
As PBOG Magazine commences its three-issue series on “The Making of a Well,” with separate installments on (A) Prospecting and Exploration (this issue, page 58), (B) Drilling (“Getting to the Bottom of Things,” scheduled for May), and (C) Completions and Takeaway (June), I’m tracking along by describing the various human resources (types of people) required in each of these various stages. In this first installment we focus only on the initial exploration process. Of course, some readers have highly sophisticated knowledge of the oil industry and are familiar with every phase of oil and gas extraction. However, many other readers work in support industries and are less familiar with the various types of workers involved in the oil and gas extraction process. Hence this primer on the industry.
As I undertook this task, I began to fully realize why we have a labor shortage in the Permian Basin. Small companies with fewer than ten employees are able to out-source the various activities to specialized support companies. Large firms like Chevron and Concho Resources employ hundreds of specialized employees with skill sets matched to each of the required tasks. Even so, those companies will still out-source some highly specialized types of work.
If we are to talk only about the Permian Basin, the hydrocarbon exploration approach varies widely, based on whether the work is done in conventional oil and gas fields or in something unconventional like the Cline Shale play. Other angles must be considered, too, depending on the magnitude of the operation, the depth of the drilling, whether the wells to be drilled are vertical or horizontal, and so forth.
If we are to describe only those people actually working on the oil rig, I am at risk of marginalizing others who play important roles. The overall process certainly includes bankers, safety personnel, purchasing agents, mechanics, accountants, human resource managers, supervisors, repair shops, sales representatives, supply companies, and so on. You get the picture, I think.
In actuality it is not so much a question of what type of employees are hired when drilling a well but more of a question of what types of oil service companies are contracted with when drilling a well. Each service company is a little different in the way it goes about the process.
Thus, the only way to get my arms around this task is to focus only on the direct processes closely associated with the tasks of finding good oil prospects and readying for the task of drilling.
So for this first phase of the oil and gas extraction process, I will focus on the exploration and site set-up processes. The main areas in the exploration phase are analyzing new areas and site preparation. Specifically this involves:
Prospecting. Initial hydrocarbon exploration occurs in a new basin or a developed area. It involves surface and subsurface geologists and their efforts to review rock formations and assess potential commercial reserves. A seismic service employs acoustic shooting to map the subsurface rock formations and gather data, which is interpreted by geophysicists. Environmental considerations are normally taken into account.
Once hydrocarbon reserves are found and determined to be in sufficient concentrations, leases and titles are analyzed by landmen. The area’s boundaries are surveyed and marked.
In larger firms, a drilling department has an experienced, in-house landman team and it is the drilling department that looks for an exact site to drill.
Hydrocarbon exploration involves surface and mineral owners as land is divided into units. This process typically involves landmen and attorneys tasked with determining who owns the land and minerals. Also someone needs to determine the commercial viability of the drill site. This could be the geologist, petroleum engineer, or a team of several of these professionals.
Site preparation is overseen by a foreman to gain road access, create a pad with a mud pit, acquire power, find a source of water, bring in trailers, and move the rig and drilling equipment in place. Companies may use their own rig or contract a service. Certain specialists arrange for trucks to move and locate the equipment. The full extent of land excavation is fairly site-specific. On some drilling sites, a below-ground-level hole for the main borehole may be excavated. A lined mud pit is commonly excavated for mud discharges.
As for personnel, one of the most sought-out entry level positions is truck drivers. During a site exploration/preparation phase their work primarily involves transporting equipment but in some instances drivers are trained to load or operate specialized machinery. Consequently, there is a high demand for qualified drivers with a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and no record of drug use.
Some of the professionals, such as geologists, engineers, geophysicists, and attorneys, require a university degree. Most of the time the landmen, estimators, and finance people also hold university degrees. However, there are many technicians with two-year degrees from community colleges (or from a school such as Texas State Technical College) in highly specialized areas.
It should be noted that graduates of two-year technical programs specializing in energy and graduates of four-year universities with petroleum, landman, or other energy related degrees are in high demand. In the Permian Basin these graduates typically have multiple job offers before graduation. While many other positions may not specifically require formal education, it is difficult to find meaningful employment without several years’ experience in this industry.
An excellent explanation with graphics explaining the exploration and production process is located on the American Petroleum Institute (API) website at api.org/oil-and-natural-gas-overview. The following positions are generally associated with the exploration phase. There are brief job descriptions and common education requirements. The data was provided by API.
Abstractor/ Title Examiner
Searches public records and examines titles to determine a property title’s legal condition.
High school diploma or two-year degree. Requires courthouse knowledge and the ability to work through legal documents and titles to create an ownership chain. Background in real estate law helpful.
Supports the work of engineers, architects, and other professionals by preparing drawings, maps, and specifications.
Two-year college degree or higher.
Installs and maintains electric lines and electrical equipment.
Trade school certification or two-year college degree.
Develops and implements Environmental and Erosion Sedimentation Plans. Has a complete understanding of environmental law and regulations and their application to the oil and gas industry. Develops and implements Spill Prevention Contingency Control Plans (SPCC). Completes water-testing analysis.
Minimum two-year degree in environmental technology or related field.
Operates heavy equipment typically used in production operations, such as bulldozers, backhoes, and excavators.
Commercial driver’s license may be required.
Collects and analyzes geological data for petroleum exploration. Often works in teams with geologists to determine where underground deposits of oil and gas may be.
Two- or four-year college degree.
Surveys and interprets an area’s geological rock structure. Assesses the prospects of producing oil and gas in that area.
Four-year college degree or higher. An advanced degree is needed for many research positions. Graduates with physics, chemistry, mathematics, or computer science degrees may qualify for some positions if they also studied geology.
Studies the Earth using gravity, magnetic, electrical, and seismic methods to determine likely locations of oil and gas reservoirs.
Four-year college degree or higher in geology.
Creates and maintains geographic information system (GIS) databases that enable companies to capture, store, analyze, and display information related to the location of oil and gas well sites, pipelines, compressor stations, roads, and other infrastructure.
Technical school training or a two- or four-year college degree.
Lease Agent, Landman
Works on behalf of the oil and gas company to acquire land for operations through leases, purchases, and access/usage agreements. Coordinates with the survey company, the oil and gas company, and the landowners.
High school diploma or two-year degree. Requires good people skills and the ability to negotiate. Requires a legal understanding of mineral ownership, a basic familiarity with exploration and production operations, and a general understanding of geology.
Performs general labor tasks. Must work outdoors in all weather conditions.
Some high school education is required.
Analyzes production for problems and makes recommendations for remediation or workovers. Requires experience in declines curve analysis using Aries or similar software.
Four-year college degree or higher.
Maps subsurface structures to determine likely locations of oil and gas reservoirs.
Four-year college degree or higher in seismology, with an emphasis on petroleum.
Determines property boundaries, lays out oil and gas projects, and creates maps.
Surveyors are not required to have a college education, but state licensing requirements make it preferable to earn one. Vocational training in civil engineering, mathematics, physics, statistics, geometry, drafting, blueprint reading, and computer science are helpful.
Assists surveyor in determining property boundaries and laying out projects.
High school education or higher with a strong background in physics, science, and math.
Operates trucks used to move equipment and supplies on and off highways in all types of conditions.
Commercial driver’s license required. Specific CDL endorsements may be needed.
Dr. Bill Price is the Associate Dean and a Professor of Management at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He has previously held several positions in human resource management and other leadership roles. He has taught various courses in human resources and has published a number of articles in the areas of human resource management and strategy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.