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Drillers assemble, position, and operate drilling rigs and related equipment to extract ore, liquids, or gases from the earth.
Call us on 0800 222 733
Pay for drillers varies depending on experience, seniority and the industry they work in.
- Pay for new drillers usually starts at about $30,000 a year.
- Drillers with between three and six years' experience usually earn $40,000 to $60,000.
- Senior drillers and supervisors (who usually have more than six years' experience) usually earn between $60,000 and $80,000.
- Self-employed drillers who own their own drilling rigs can earn more than $100,000.
Source: Extraction Industry Training Organisation (EXITO) - now part of the New Zealand Motor Training Organisation (MITO).
What you will do
Drillers may do some or all of the following:
- dismantle, move, and reassemble drilling rigs and accessory machinery
- oversee assembly of the drilling tools
- operate drilling and hoisting equipment
- operate pumps to expel air, water, and mud from holes being drilled
- take samples of ore, liquids, and gases
- maintain, repair, lubricate, and clean machinery
- keep written records of drill depths
- monitor plant and equipment, ensuring it is running safely during drilling.
Skills and knowledge
Drillers needs to have:
- knowledge of well pressure systems, drilling fluids, and their characteristics
- understanding of drilling methods and terms
- mechanical skills
- skill using and caring for equipment
- knowledge of emergency procedures and worksite safety rules.
- may work regular business hours but are more likely to work shifts and on rosters (such as 14 days on and 14 days off)
- work offshore on oil rigs and on land at sites such as mines, quarries and building sites
- work in conditions that can be noisy, dirty and dangerous at times
- may have to spend periods of time away from home working at drilling sites.
What's the job really like?
Nick Moses - Assistant Driller
You're a trained builder – how did you end up in oil and gas?
"I wanted something with plenty of variety, and you go here, there, and everywhere, in the oil and gas industry, which is pretty good."
What skills do you need?
"It helps if you're a little bit mechanically minded, I guess. My experience as a builder has been good because I know how a lot of things work. Safety is a big thing in the oil and gas industry – you have to be safety-conscious."
What's been challenging about your training?
"It took a few years to end up as an assistant driller. I started out as an assistant cementing operator. Then, as well as on-the-job training, the company sent me to school to learn the maths side of it. Some of the equations and formulas are not easy, but everyone is good here helping to explain them."
What do you like about your job?
"It's a good lifestyle. You're always busy and never in the same place. It's a good family vibe in this industry – everyone helps out everyone else. There's heaps of good things about this job."
Nick checks out what it's like to be a driller - 8.02 mins (Video courtesy Dave Mason Productions)
Clinton: Drillers assemble and position drilling rigs to extract ore, liquids or gases from the Earth. Drilling is a diverse industry and there are opportunities to work all over the world - from on the water to the top of mountains. And this means drilling in a range of climates - rain or shine from the snow to the desert. But today Nick is in Takanini, Auckland at the New Zealand branch of Boart Longyear, the Worlds largest drilling company, to meet Veteran Driller Paul Frandi for his first test of the day.
Paul: A young fella rocks up at the door? I look for somebody who’s got a good handshake – a real tough handshake…
Paul: Hello Nick.
Nick: Hey, how’s it going?
Paul: Yeah, Paul.
Paul: …it was pretty good, it surprised me, yeah. It wasn’t weak at all.
Clinton: That’s a safe handshake but drilling can be dangerous so Health & Safety is a key part of being a driller, and after a thorough induction Nick steps into his protective drilling gear.
Nick: I feel like a driller already!
Clinton: So Nick and Paul are off to a secret location to do a confidential ground exploration, but there’s one thing that Paul can tell us...
Paul: This is what drilling is all about, Nick!
Paul: Being outside in the outdoors!
Nick: And the wet weather.
Clinton: For every location there’s a safety briefing to keep drillers safe from hazards on site. But to keep other drillers safe from Nick, he’s walking around with a warning sign on his head. All trainee drillers wear green hats until they’re qualified.
Paul: Grab that sieve there…
Paul: And just put it up underneath that water there and we’ll have a look and see what’s coming up.
Clinton: This site is exploring the formation of the earth below. Water is pumped down the piping, which then flushes up clay and rock from deep underground.
Paul: We’ll go through about four or five different formations as we start – we’ll start off here with some clays, then to some mudstones and then we’ll go on to the lime stones.
Paul: Once we get past this lime stone here Nick we’ll get back into the ???? which is made up of an old seabed and we’ll get fossils – shark’s teeth, shells.
Nick: Oh really?!
Nick: What’s the maximum, you know, length it will get to?
Paul: This hole will go to 450 metres.
Paul: These are what make your muscles, Nick!
Paul: Can you feel the weight in those?
Nick: The old bicep curl up!
Paul: Yeah well if you do about six or seven of those every five minutes that’ll soon get your muscles going!
Nick: Hard tools for hard men!
Paul: That’s the one!
Clinton: And they only get bigger…
Paul: Here you go mate.
Clinton: And now it’s time for the heavy work of attaching another length of piping to the shaft…
Paul: Screw it in, screw it in.
…which will push the drill further underground.
Nick: It’s not the lightest thing I’ve ever lifted.
Paul: After a couple of days that’ll get your wrist going boy!
Clinton: But for a green hat it’s dangerous work and Nick’s nerves don’t help.
Paul: I want you to grab this rod, just take it natural.
Nick: And guide it into that hole?
Paul: Just give it a wind up there, Nick.
Nick: Nerve-wracking to start off, but I got the hang of it. I really enjoyed it.
Paul: So that protects you from getting wrapped up in that drill pipe. It just spins you around there.
Clinton: With the new length of piping on, Nick will try to drive the drill deeper…
Paul: Yeah we’ve got our pump pressure sitting at 100 PSI at the moment.
Clinton: …but it’s skilled work, and if he lets the rig drill too quickly he could cause a pressure blow-out or cook the clay solid, jamming up the hole.
Nick: It’s a bit more intense than what I’m used to, you know. It’s real work I suppose!
Clinton: The next drill site is in Auckland where Marshall Kairau shows Nick how to extract an underground core sample that will be analyzed for future construction.
Nick: Got it!
Clinton: Marshall is training for a certificate in Drilling with EXITO the extractives industry training organisation. EXITO supports trainees like Marshall - and more advanced Drillers - while they gain drilling qualifications.
Ross: The benefits of getting qualified is to make you a far more valuable employee to your employer, it enables your earning power to grow as you go through your qualifications and succeed.
Clinton: And successful Kiwi drillers travel the world earning money with their qualifications.
Ross: Kiwi drillers are held in very high esteem globally. Often when a drilling company learns that it’s a kiwi driller, they’re in!
Clinton: There are a lot of opportunities in drilling, but Nick will work from the ground up with a core sample.
Nick: It looks a bit like the colour of ash. It looks like concrete.
Nick: Why are there two different colours?
Marshall: This one is soft sediment and this one is marine sandstone.
Nick: Oh cool.
Marshall: Yeah it’s been down there forever!
Nick: Laughs. Cool, awesome!
Clinton: The core samples are then analysed by a geo-technician.
Geo-technician: We’re going to go down to the mark.
Nick: Oh ok. Sweet
Clinton: Kane Hannah is a Driller on this site and has been with Boart Longyear for 18 months.
Kane: It’s a big team effort when you’re working onsite, especially when there’s only two of you or three of you. You’re always watching out for each other’s backs, making sure everything is ok.
Nick: What sort of rewards do you have?
Kane: Getting paid!
Clinton: And he’s not kidding, Senior Drillers and Drilling Supervisors who usually have more than 6 years experience can earn between $60,000 & $80,000 per year, and when drilling in exotic locations or when drilling hydro-carbons like oil, gas and coal the pay can go well into six figures.
I do love my job, yep! I’m glad I applied for the job at Longyear. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Clinton: For Nick the world awaits, but does he have what it takes?
Paul: Certainly, I’d give him a job. Yeah, a good young fella. We’ll train him up.
Nick: I’m used to it now. I feel like a real driller!
Clinton: There are no specific entry requirements to enter a career as a driller and qualifications can be gained on the job, earning while you’re learning. In your first six months you will get your safety certificate and heavy vehicle license. EXITO - the Extractives Industry Training Organisation - will support you while gaining drilling certificates from level 2 through to Level 5 - and with every higher level of certificate comes a higher pay bracket. The pay for drillers is very good and there is a large shortage of drillers, but to be a driller you need to be physically fit and enjoy working outdoors.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a driller. However, you need to be at least 16 years old to operate drilling equipment. Some employers prefer to hire people who have, or are willing to undertake, a national diploma in drilling through the New Zealand Motor Industry Training Organisation (MITO).
Pre-employment courses are also available.
- Petroleum Skills Association website - information about pre-entry training courses
- MITO website - information on drilling qualifications
Secondary education to at least NCEA Level 1 is recommended.
Drillers need to be:
- safety-conscious, with good knowledge of correct lifting techniques
- able to concentrate for long periods
- observant, with an eye for detail
- able to follow instructions
- comfortable working at heights.
Useful experience for drillers includes:
- labouring or other manual work
- mechanical work
- driving heavy vehicles
- operating machinery.
Drillers need to be fit, healthy and strong, with no back problems, because they must be able to lift or move large pieces of equipment. They should also have good hand-eye co-ordination and good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
View information on courses in the course database
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Motor Industry Organisation (MITO)
- 0800 88 21 21 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.mito.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Employers struggling to find enough drillers
Employers say they struggle to recruit and retain enough staff. This is because drillers often leave the job after only a short time due to the physical nature of the work or to move overseas where they can earn more.
Demand for drillers expected to keep growing
Demand for drillers is likely to rise further due to an increase in oil and gas exploration in Taranaki, the West Coast of the South Island and Southland. For example, Taranaki has about 3,000 oil and gas industry workers, including drillers, but this number may triple by 2026 if the industry expands as predicted.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates that in March 2012 there were around 900 drillers in New Zealand.
Drillers work for many types of employers
A wide range of businesses employ drillers, including:
- oil, gas, and geothermal exploration companies
- firms that specialise in drilling water bores or wells
- mining and quarrying companies.
Drillers may also be employed by construction firms, or specialist companies carrying out tasks such as earthquake monitoring activities.
- Beardsley, C, 'Report on the National Survey of the New Zealand Petrochemical Industry', Performance Matters, November 2007.
- Beardsley, C, and Hopkins, N, 'Report on the National Survey of the New Zealand Drilling Industry', Performance Matters, November 2008.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Producing the Talent', November 2008, (www.dol.govt.nz).
- Petroleum Skills Association, 'Drilling', website accessed April 2010, (www.petroskills.co.nz).
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Progression and specialisations
Drillers may progress to work as supervisors or managers. Some may establish their own drilling businesses.
Drillers may specialise in the following areas:
- Hydrocarbon Driller
- Hydrcarbon drillers drill for oil or gas both on and offshore.
- Non-Hydrocarbon Driller
- Non-hydrocarbon drillers drill holes in the ground for reasons other than discovering oil and gas. They might drill into the ground to locate water for a well, or into large rocks so explosives can be used to break them up, or at a construction site to help prepare foundations.
How many people are doing this job?
Updated 21 Aug 2014