Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Green Job Series: Careers in Geothermal Energy [Third Installment]

To reach hot water far below the earth's surface, geothermal plants use wells that descend thousands of feet into underground reservoirs. Drilling these wells requires specialized machinery and workers. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series profiles key drilling occupations in geothermal energy

Drilling Occupations

Drilling crews first drill exploratory wells to confirm the locations of underground reservoirs. After discovering the best locations, they use a derrick, a large, metal framed crane hanging over the main well, to guide drilling equipment. Because drilling equipment is so heavy, derricks are necessary to control and maneuver drilling bits, pipes, and other equipment.

Drilling fluid mixtures that help to break up the rock are pumped into the well through a pipe connected to the drill bit. The pipe also carries debris and mud out of the well and to the surface, where it can be disposed of. As the well gets deeper, new pipe sections are connected to those already in the ground, and the drill continues until it taps the underground reservoir.

Job Duties

Derrick operators control and inspect drilling derricks. These workers can raise or lower the drill bits and pipes into or out of the well. Derrick operators are also responsible for maintaining their machinery and ensuring that it operates correctly.

Rotary driller operators control the drill itself. They determine a drill's pressure and speed as it penetrates rock. To keep drill sites safe, rotary driller operators use gauges that monitor drill pump pressure and other data, such as how much drill mud and debris are being pumped from the well. Rotary drill operators also keep records of where they've drilled and how many layers of rock they've penetrated.

Roustabouts do much of the basic labor on drilling sites. They clean equipment and keep work areas free of the debris and drilling mud that the drill pipes carry up from the wells. Roustabouts also install new pipe sections that allow the drill to reach deeper underground.

In addition to the workers who drill the wells, drilling crews might include some support personnel, such as workers who transport the drilling rigs and fuel to project sites.


There are few formal education requirements for drilling crew workers. Although drilling crew workers are not required to have a high school diploma, some employers might prefer to hire workers who do. While in school, drilling crew workers can learn skills such as basic mechanics, welding, and heavy equipment operations through vocational programs.

Most drilling crew workers start as helpers to experienced workers and are trained on the job. However, formal training is becoming more common as new and more advanced machinery and methods are used. Drilling crew workers usually must be at least 18 years old, be in good physical condition, and pass a drug test.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not currently have wage data specific to the geothermal industry. However, BLS does have wage data for drilling crew workers across all industries. The following table shows wages for drilling occupations in that industry group for May 2011. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Derrick operators, oil and gas $45,220
Rotary drill operators, oil and gas $51,310
Roustabouts, oil and gas $32,980

For more detailed information on drilling occupations in the geothermal industry, click the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's geothermal industry series installment: Construction Occupations.

No comments:

Post a Comment