DRILLERS ... Yes they are better than you.

DRILLERS ... Yes they are better than you.

Juan Cottier Juan Cottier
Director & Lead Geologist at MMbbls Limited

Geologists consider there to be two sides to a Driller's personality: there is the side that lives only to lay waste to the Subsurface Department, leaving the geologists and geophysicists lying blue and lifeless along the swath of destruction that is a Driller's fury ... and then ... there is the dark side. (*)

Of course this is a stereotype in jest, but it is a stereotype that is widespread and one that Driller's do absolutely nothing to disabuse. Your average Geologist may not be actually scared of the Driller but they will treat them with suspicion. Whilst a Drilling Department considers the iron-roughneck to be a technological advancement that improves safety and working conditions, a Subsurface-Department may consider the iron-roughneck to be jolly decent start in replacing all drilling personnel.

Stereotypes are simultaneously useful and useless; they help us establish a reasonable picture quickly and yet concomitant to that they prevent us from seeing the detail. Here is a story of stereotypes told to me by a friend of mine from his days in Pointe-Noir, Congo where he worked operations and so knew most of the drill-crews.

Entering a local bar he saw the drill-crews were grouped by nationality. It was late in the evening and all were engaged in loud, heated arguments. The Americans were shouting about who had been involved in the most serious bar-room brawl, the Scottish were boasting about who had drunk the most and the subsequent bacchanalian events ... however the most violent disagreement was coming from the French: standing, posturing, finger-pointing, fist-waving ... and the subject matter; how to correctly make mayonnaise.

Is this a story about Drillers, or about national stereotypes? Or is it about how we like to have our prejudices confirmed? If you stereotype Drillers, if you think of Drillers as brutish or insensitive or simplistic, or "mouth-breathers" or "just wanna make hole", then you'll be way off. You're not even wrong.

Over the last 20+ years I have been closer to Drillers than most Geologists. I have been lucky, very lucky. I went straight from an MSc to being a WSG, then Ops Geology and then working as a Production Geologist in an Ops team that was continually drilling or performing WOs. I've been P&D rather than Exploration so my number of drilled wells is high and I've worked on operations in UK, Norway and West Africa. I have spent a lot of time with Drillers and the associated drilling disciplines. I even had a girlfriend who was a Driller. I also know that Drillers like to hide behind their dramatic stereotype.

There is a lot more to a Driller and a Driller's experience than we commonly see. University educated and then sent out to routinely unpleasant locations. Whilst a PhD Geologist is studying turbidites and drinking Rioja near a village in the southern Pyrenees in 25degC a newly-graduated Driller is measuring casing-joints in 45degC in a desert that has no village for 100 miles and no decent wine for 500 miles.

Drillers' backgrounds are also a lot more diverse and challenging and less linear than your typical O&G geologist. I have known Drillers who drove CAT D excavators in open-cast mines, who blasted tunnels in the Swiss Alps, who laid charges underground for the old British National Coal Board, and who worked in the East Dreifontain gold mine in South Africa, the 4th deepest mine in the world.

Drillers don't get stressed by Partner meetings, for them "pressure" is what made the 3.5km deep mine-shafts they worked in spontaneously implode killing anyone inside. You may think that your time on the Oxford University Debating Team will stand you in good stead but I can assure you that your sternly worded email will have no effect on a Driller who is used to "negotiating" with a 6ft Oklahoman with a chain-wrench.

And it gets more even more interesting:

  • If you think the scope-of-work for your upcoming SCAL programme is complicated you should try reading a contract for a 5-well drilling and DST programme for a semi-sub.
  • Drillers deal with life and death. Really. They keep people alive and well. They kept me alive (thank you). A Geologist may have a field-trip HSE talk along the lines of "wear sturdy boots and plenty of sunscreen" but drillers do have a piece of equipment called a Widow-Maker. Surely that's all the compare-and-contrast we need.
  • Wells, whilst drilling, are the center of attention. Drillers work under the constant glare of criticism, be that subsurface, management or boardroom. They are called to explain safety, drilling results and costs. If they are over-budget they are harangued, if they are under-budget they are accused of "sand-bagging". (Which they do do, plus "sacrificial sand-bagging" which is the subtle art of putting in that which you wish to be removed in order to protect that which you wish to be retained. Rather like the stories of the pro-democracy activists fleeing communist Czechoslovakia in lorries concealed behind a "hidden" stash of rabbit skins which were there to be "found" by the border guards.)
  • They oversee all the associated roles and disciplines; procurement, supplies, ships and helicopters, security, people and bed spaces and catering.
  • Finance: the drilling budgets are usually the lion's share of a E&P company's yearly expenditure and it is the Drillers who are responsible for that spend.

To finish, the role of a Driller and the skills found in good Drillers are extremely varied and extremely exacting ... they wear dirty boots, but they're cylindrical-volumes mental-arithmetic is superb and they are responsible for both the budgets of 100s of millions of dollars and the lives and limbs of 10s to 100s of peoples.

And to demonstrate how much, and yet how little, stereotypes help us, here is my own story from the Ivory Coast many, many years ago.

One night whilst standing outside a hotel in Abidjan with my Dutch colleague we were approached by two friendly young women. After declining their business proposal we shared cigarettes with them and then said our goodbyes. On leaving, one of the women said to my colleague; "strange, very strange, Holland men never say no".

Which just underlines the old phrase "Grandad, though we enjoy your stories, they are a poorly recorded, statistically insignificant data set".

(*) This quote is adapted from the Trumpeter Dr Michael Stewart ... who in turn adapted it from a Nike advert

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