Even Some Executives Started As Roughnecks

Rowan Companies, Inc. is one of the world’s largest onshore and offshore drilling companies – and its senior executive suite is chock-full of former roughnecks, * the lowest-level hands helping out with actual drilling. Even Rowan’s Chief Officer (CEO,) D.F. (“Danny”) McNease, got his start as a roughneck. Among others, so did William C. (“Bill”) Provine, Rowan’s Vice President for Investor Relations.

That illustrates how far a roughneck can get in the oil business, says Provine, and “opportunities are much better today, with the need for the industry to replace old hands like us.”

Provine got his start as a roughneck with Rowan, working onshore near the Beluga River area about 100 miles outside Anchorage for two summers to help pay his way through college in 1967-68. His wage of $5.50 per hour might sound miniscule today, but then, it was more than five times the then-prevailing minimum wage of $1.25 per hour. Provine first got a bachelor’s degree in finance, then another one in engineering, from Texas Christian University. Asked why he choice the oil business, Provide replied unabashedly: “Money.”

Today, he says, both the money and the opportunity are even better, because the oil and gas industry overall is one of aging works, with the average age pushing 50 now, both in the professional and blue-collar ranks. During the 1980s until more recently, many people shied away from “the oil patch,” due to roller coaster prices and periodic layoffs. But with stronger prices expected to last: “Right now, it’s booming, go, go, go,” Provine said.

The industry’s need to replace older workers with younger ones is profound, he noted. During earlier slumps between about 1982 and 1995, the oil and gas industry lost roughly 500,000 people. “That’s more than the steel and auto industries combined,” Provine said. “Now, we need all these people more, so the money is very good.”

Provine likens an oil drilling operation’s environment to the military. Getting along with your “the other guys” and obeying directions are paramount. Hours onshore and offshore are long, with 12 hours on, 12 hours off, or two weeks on, then two weeks off, commonplace. On the plus side, that translates to working only six months per year, with frequent overtime, and the money is very good.

Rowan starts a typical roughneck or roustabout at $14.00 to $15.00 per hour, but with the long shifts providing generous overtime, the entry-level workers are often earning time-and-a-half, or around $21.00 to $22.00 per hour. That is how some manage to earn $40,000 or more in year’s time, Provine said, working only six months of the year.

However, Provine cautioned that only about two workers out of every 10 hired find they like the lifestyle, that, is often being away from home, two weeks on, then two off on offshore rigs, or on remote onshore rigs, in bunk houses at the drilling camp. For those who like it, the money is good.

“We’re hiring these kids with high school diplomas for the most part, and giving them opportunities to advance themselves, work their ways through the ranks. It’s a lot like the military. You start as a private and hope you get out as a general.” When Rowan recruits, often in cities and towns along the Gulf Coast sections of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, Provine said they encourage young people to “go out and tell all your friends.”

To underscore the growth in onshore drilling activity, Rowan’s rig manufacturing subsidiary, LeTourneau, Inc., is continually building new rigs – adding them to an ever-growing fleet. They also are building new offshore jackup rigs to replace old and damaged rigs.

For more information and news about drilling contractors, we suggest that you review current and back issues Drilling Contractor magazine, available on the Web site of the International Association of Drilling contractors (IADC) at http://www.iadc.org/. It’s also a good idea to browse the OilJobFinder job center and visit the Web sites of individual drilling contractors.

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