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Understanding Their Role

Once a petroleum company decides to extract oil from a land-based location, they must get all the required permits, prepare the area, drill wells and then prepare the wells for ongoing production.


On the surface, a crew clears land, establishes necessary infrastructure (roads, power, water, buildings, pipes, communications, etc.,) and then prepares the actual well site called the rig floor or cellar. Next, they bring in special trucks to do initial drilling, and then construct a permanent drilling machine, called a rig, which bores a deep hole to the oil deposit (or a wellbore). Once the company confirms the presence of sufficient hydrocarbons, they “complete” the well by installing steel pipes and cement to stabilize the wellbore, and install all of the required equipment on the surface at the wellhead.1


Operating a well is complex and dangerous. Each member of the drill crew has clearly defined roles (and a neat title like “Roughneck” or “Toolpusher”). Drilling fluid circulates through a pressurized system to lubricate the drill bit and clear away debris. The crew manages the pressure levels, maintains the equipment, repairs damage and remove clogs.2 Well treatments such as acidizing and hydraulic fracturing involve injecting liquids or gases to remove blockages and ensure an efficient flow of hydrocarbons.3 These operations run 24 hours a day, with revolving shifts. A structure next to the rig floor, called the doghouse, provides an office for the drill crew.4


Eventually hydrocarbon production of diminishes to a point where it no longer covers the cost of operating the well, and the site is abandoned. Surprisingly, more than half of the site’s hydrocarbons are typically left in the deposit,5 because current technology cannot economically remove them. These remains are called "unrecoverable reserves", and provide a future resource as technology advances, or if oil prices significantly increase.

1 Hilyard, Joseph. The Oil and Gas Industry: A Nontechnical Guide. Edited by Hill, Stephen. 1421 South Sheridan Road, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74112-6600: PennWell Corporation, 2012.

2 See Schlumberger’s excellent Oilfield Glossary at: www.glossary.oilfield.slb.com

3 Hilyard. Page 93.

4 Schlumberger’s Oilfield Glossary.

5 Davies, Sean. “How To Extract More Oil.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 8, no. 1 (2013): 48 – 51. EBSCOhost(85160436).


“Operating a well is complex and dangerous. Each member of the drill crew has clearly defined roles…”


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Oil companies drill wells to extract oil from underground deposits. The well is operated by skilled crews and run continuously for years until their production falls to a level where the well is capped and abandoned.