The oil and gas industry has been a true bright spot amid the economic downturn. Regions with rampant drilling like south Texas and North Dakota have among the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. In Dickinson, N.D. workers at McDonald’s can get a $300 signing bonus and wages of $15 or more an hour. There’s a booming business in building “man camps” to house all the roughnecks needed to drill wells in the Bakken or Eagle Ford shale. Those guys (and they are almost always guys) up in North Dakota brave frigid temperatures to bore holes in the ground. Since 2008 North Dakota has surpassed Oklahoma, California and Alaska to become the second-biggest oil-producing state in the nation (after Texas), with production upwards of 700,000 barrels per day.
Thanks to all this labor demand, the average pay for an oil and gas worker in the United States has climbed to $124,000, according to Hays, the global headhunting and recruiting consultancy. Hays has released its new survey of worldwide pay trends in the oil & gas sector, finding that the average base salary of oil industry workers climbed 8.5% last year, and 14% over two years to $87,000.
As good as the pay in the U.S. is, however, skilled oilfield workers can make much more overseas where the labor pool is tighter.
The hottest spot for oil & gas jobs is Australia, where the global supermajors like Chevron and Shell are in the process of building more than $150 billion worth of projects to export liquefied natural gas. I’m told that the shortage of welders in northwestern Australia is so severe that an experienced metal worker can make well over $250,000 a year. Labor inflation has tacked on billions of dollars to the pricetag of the biggest LNG project there, the $52 billion Gorgon project operated by Chevron.
According to Hays one of the spots where workers are compensated the most in “danger money and hardship allowance” is off the iceberg-strewn arctic coast of Russia, where companies like Rosneft and ExxonMobil are starting to explore for untapped hordes of oil and gas.
As you can see below, the United States ranks just 21st in oil & gas pay. This time of year when the icy winds sweep across North Dakota, there’s bound to be plenty of roughnecks thinking they might enjoy a few years of higher pay and warmer temperatures in the likes of Mexico, Malaysia or even Papua New Guinea.
Oil & gas employment goes up and down with commodity prices, of course, but according to the hundreds of employers who contributed to the Hays survey, 37% say that skills shortages remain a real concern. That’s good news for Hays, which says that its 7,800 worldwide consultants placed 55,000 permanent workers last year and 182,000 in temporary assignments.
Here’s the rankings of the 21 most lucrative countries for oil and gas workers:
1. Australia – $171,000
2. Philippines – $170,000
3. Trinidad & Tobago – $169,000
4. China – $161,000
5. Russia – $151,000
6. Denmark – $149,000
7. Indonesia – $146,000
8. Papua New Guinea – $146,000
9. South Korea – $142,000
10. Thailand – $142,000