With talk of a recession and it being tax season, there’s little question these days as to why thoughts often turn to income, and what constitutes a living wage. Getting a handle on the true going rate for the drilling industry has proven tough. There are studies available, however, that give at least an idea of what drillers can expect in the marketplace.

Table 1. Estimates on earnings for earth drillers. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics offers some key insights. According to the Bureau’s occupational employment statistics, in May 2006, the mean hourly wage for earth drillers was $17.80, while the mean annual wage was $37,030 – that is, drillers, excluding oil and gas workers, who operate a variety of drills such as rotary, churn and pneumatic to tap sub-surface water and salt deposits, to remove core samples during mineral exploration or soil testing, and to facilitate the use of explosives in mining or construction, and who include horizontal and earth-boring machine operators – in other words, most drillers in the industry. Three years earlier, the Bureau estimated that the average hourly wage for this occupation was $16.46, and the average annual wage was $34,230.

It is important to note that these estimates do not include self-employed workers, nor does the annual wage take into consideration overtime hours, both of which are significant factors in determining an accurate earnings picture for the industry.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey, which polled full-time private industry workers for the period of December 2005 to January 2007, provides a more comprehensive look. The survey reports that, given a 40-hour work week, earth drillers earned on average $16.64 an hour, and made $35,225 yearly. Wages for oil and gas workers were found to be somewhat higher, and those for helpers, as would be expected, lower. Again, overtime and bonuses were not factored into the mean earnings.

Table 2. Average earnings for full-time private industry workers. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey.

What does this all mean? Averages are just that – averages; some numbers fall above, some below, and the average merely approximates the statistical norm. With regard to drilling industry wages, as with other occupations, some workers make more, others less. While the survey is a more comprehensive study than the estimates reported earlier, it is not a complete picture. The figures don’t take into account important factors such as overtime or what years of experience can do for earnings potential; they simply give a benchmark of what is typical for the occupation.

We conducted our own version of an occupational wage survey. An informal (read: unscientific) poll at NationalDriller.com asked what helpers earned at respective companies. The results for helpers’ hourly rates:

  • Minimum wage to $10 – 19 percent
  • $11 to $15 – 43 percent
  • $16 to $20 – 20 percent
  • $21 to $25 – 9 percent
  • More than $25 – 9 percent
The bulk of participants (43%) indicated that helpers at their companies fall into the $11 to $16 an hour bracket, which corresponds to the national average of $11.67. While our poll isn’t scientific, nor anywhere near the scope and caliber of the National Compensation Survey, the results are at least promising, indicating that the majority of helpers (81%) are paid at or well above the national average.

So despite a tentative economy, here’s hoping that the demand for drilling work stays strong, and that profits and wages continue to climb.

For more information on the industry’s employment statistics, visit www.bls.gov.