Life on an Oil Rig

Author: Andrew Zorko, BS IE '06, Field Engineer, Schlumberger
When starting to tell a story about your job, it is fun to be able to start with, “This one time when I was in a jungle near the Venezuela/Colombia border working on an oil rig…” or “After being evacuated off an offshore oil drilling platform in Mexico to escape a hurricane….” After finishing my Industrial Engineering Degree at Purdue, I accepted a job with Schlumberger to work as a field engineer in Las Morochas, Venezuela. The two summers before finishing school I had taken internships with Schlumberger in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Anaco, Venezuela working in the field on drilling operations. The essence of the job was to run equipment that helped steer a well into oil or gas formation, however the intangibles of the job are what drew me to it.

The opportunity to move to another country and culture where I did not know anyone or the language was truly exciting to me.  Due to the political tension between the U.S and Venezuela, I was a little nervous when I first arrived.  I quickly learned that nearly everyone I met in Las Morochas was very friendly and curious about me and where I had come from.  Everyone that worked on the oil rigs was a supporter of Chavez due to a coup in 2001, so the job sites were a little less USA friendly.  As with any cross section of people, there were a few people who refused to work with me simply because I was from America.  I was forced to perform my job at the highest level because each new site I arrived on I already had two strikes against me.           

Working on a land or offshore platform is a 24/7 job; you literally live at work.  It is never too hot, too rainy, and too late in the day or too draining to work.  On multiple occasions it was necessary to work over 30 hours straight, doing both physical and mental labor to the point of exhaustion.  After a few weeks in the ocean or in the jungle, you learn that you can push yourself farther than you ever thought possible.

My experience at Purdue, inside and outside of the classroom, really prepared me for this job.  Working in multiethnic teams spurred my excitement for taking an international position.  Pushing my mind to study and get work done into the early hours of the morning helped more than I ever realized.  My coursework showed me how to breakdown and critically analyze problems quickly.  The demands and variety of the engineering curriculum mentally prepared me for the workload.

I loved my time in the oil field, from the difficult rig conditions to the extravagant vacations, and everything in between.  It was an experience like no other that I would definitely recommend for a new grad with a sense of adventure.  Although I did enjoy my time in South America, I did not want to make a career of it.  After 2 years, I got out and am currently working as a site superintendent on a solar power installation in San Diego.  The skills and experiences I gained in my time with Schlumberger not only aided in my transition into a new position, but also have helped me grow both professionally and personally.  If you are looking for a unique and unforgettable experience that can literally take you anywhere, consider an oil rig.