What Do Oil Riggers Do?

K. Kinsella

Oil riggers work on offshore oil platforms and attempt to extract crude oil from beneath the ocean floor. Since oil rigs are often located a long way from shore, oil riggers spend days or weeks at a time on the platforms and have many day-to-day responsibilities beyond drilling for oil. Energy companies employ scientists, engineers, mechanics, and safety officials to work on oil rigs, and people employed in these roles take on specific tasks to keep the platform functioning.

Oil riggers work on offshore oil platforms.
Oil riggers work on offshore oil platforms.

Deep sea oil platforms are positioned above areas in the ocean that geologists believe conceal oil reserves. The oil riggers position a large steel tower over the suspected oil beds. Drills are attached to the tower, and engineers perform calculations to determine the best drilling angle and the best type of drill head to use to penetrate the surface. Engineers have to consult with scientists during the drilling process to assess the risk of underground gases being released that could cause pollution or explosions. Initially, the drill goes straight down, but based on an assessment of the ground beneath the ocean, the engineers can move the drill to a 90-degree angle.

Crude oil is extracted by oil riggers.
Crude oil is extracted by oil riggers.

When oil reserves are discovered, intense underground pressure sends the oil up the piping that forms part of the drill. The oil riggers have to carefully monitor the release of oil to ensure pressure levels do not exceed safe levels and cause the pipes to burst. Oil is stored in tanks on the rig, and workers have to ensure that the tanks have no leaks and are not exposed to fire hazards. Safety officials conduct regular safety drills so that oil riggers are adept at handling possible emergencies, such as fires on the platform or oil leaks.

Mechanics on oil rigs have to conduct daily checks on all of the mechanical aspects of the platform, including the storage tanks and drills. Riggers are normally transported onto the platform by helicopters. Rigs must have qualified helicopter mechanics who can conduct safety checks on the craft between trips. The work of mechanics is also subject to inspection by safety officers who perform risk assessments and make recommendations about safety enhancements.

Oil tankers transport oil from the tanks on the oil platforms to onshore refineries. Riggers must link up pipes from the platform to the oil tankers. Some rigs are connected to the shore by deep-sea pipelines that carry the oil to the shore. On such rigs, the riggers have to make sure that the oil is pumped out at a steady rate and does not reach a pressure level that could cause damage to the pipeline.

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