Lonely, hard work on oil rigs, but salaries soaring

Sun Oct 14, 2012 5:10pm EDT
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By Luke Pachymuthu and Manash Goswami

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - What jobs offer the highest pay? Investment banking is up there. So is specialist surgery.

But consider this. Slightly over twenty years ago, Johnathan Roberts started work on an oil rig at $5 an hour. Today, the newly appointed operations manager of Norway's Standard Drilling makes about half a million dollars a year.

Even accounting for inflation, it's a huge jump for the 45-year-old American. Salaries on oil rigs have soared because of a global boom in offshore drilling.

Managers and workers are scarce in this specialized industry, where the work is intense and the job involves living on a platform in remote seas for weeks. For new players in Asia, where the energy demands of booming economies are driving a foray into offshore drilling, the costs and availability of skilled workers will be a big restraining factor.

"The amount of money they are making an hour is just mind-boggling now, just five years ago they were making just half that," said Roberts, who moved to Singapore this year from Texas. He said his pay more than doubled in 1999 when the industry faced a labor shortage like the one that appears to be emerging.

The increasing demand for oil and gas is pushing energy companies to explore frontier areas like the Arctic and new offshore zones given that output from accessible fields is declining. Global oil demand has risen 14 percent in total to 88 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2011 from 2001, according to the BP annual statistical review. Rapidly growing economies have accounted for much of the increase -- consumption in China doubled in the same period to 9.76 million bpd.

Energy and mining offer good salaries, said Wyn James, a Singapore-based Briton who left a career in banking this year to open a firm that recruits and places workers in mining and oil extraction.

"What we are seeing now is an acute shortage of people actually with applied skills, from engineering or chemical backgrounds," James said.   Continued...

Johnathan Roberts, operations manager of S.D. Standard Drilling Plc., poses for photo on an oil drilling rig being built at the Keppel FELS shipyard in Singapore October 12, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Chong