By Stephen Whitfield, Associate Editor
The oil and gas industry draws folks from all walks of life to work in different disciplines, but when it comes to drilling, it is the men and women working on the rig who are the backbone of the business – the pressure washers, the floorhands, the motor hands and everyone else that puts in long hours to keep a rig running.
Stephen Foster, HSE Coordinator at Scandrill, started his drilling career as one of those crew members working on the rig floor. The work started out as just a steady job – a way to support his growing family – but this past summer it began to blossom into a career when he moved into a new safety role with the company. “There are so many different routes to take in the oilfield, so many different facets of the industry, so many different ways to move up,” he said. “I’ve learned that you don’t have to be stuck at all in this industry. If you figure out what excites you, you can move.”
Mr Foster grew up in Pineland, Texas, a small town less than 40 miles from the Louisiana border. Upon graduating high school in 2009, he went straight into the US Army and received technical training to serve as an intelligence analyst. Over the next eight years, he went on to serve in campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and peacekeeping missions in South Korea, doing everything from military intelligence to coordinating drone flights, kinetic targeting and leading a battalion intelligence section as a noncommissioned officer.
He left the Army in 2017, a result of earlier conversations with his brother, a directional driller in South Texas, about joining the oilfield. Although Mr Foster’s brother unexpectedly passed away before he made the career switch, another family connection took him to Scandrill, and he soon began working as a floorhand on a rig in Henderson, Texas, 40 minutes from his home.
He recalls his first two days on the rig as being fairly easy, but on the third day, he started to wonder if he had made a mistake. “We were pulling out of hole, and it was about an 18,000-ft trip. It was wet day, and it was overwhelming. I remember telling my wife that I might not be cut out for this. But she told me I had made my decision and needed to see it through.”
Mr Foster powered through that initial rough stretch and eventually found himself enjoying his time on the rig and particularly the friendships he developed with other crew members. “If you’re not in the oilfield, you have the idea that these are rough individuals. And, yes, they are not people you’d want to mess with, but they’re also the kind of people that would give you their shirt off their back if you didn’t have one out there,” he said.
Bridge between management and crew
Mr Foster would go on to spend much of the next two years working floors for Scandrill rigs. That was followed by a brief stint as a motor hand and two more years as a derrick hand in East Texas, Oklahoma and West Texas. In mid-2022, he took a new role with Scandrill as HSE Coordinator when he realized that it was an opportunity “to do something that can make a difference in the bigger picture.”
He now primarily focuses on incident management – analyzing incidents on a rig site, updating procedures to help prevent those incidents from happening again, and communicating those procedures to the personnel on the floor. In effect, he serves as a bridge between management and the rig crews, something he can do well because of his years working on the floor.
“I understand exactly what those floorhands are going through and what they’re trying to accomplish. A lot of times, the accidents that happen are just due to their ‘go-get-it” nature. They’re trying to get a job done, so they’ll push a little harder, a litter further, maybe cut a corner. I can approach them knowing why they made the decisions that they made and explain why that decision isn’t the best one to make,” he said.
His new position also afforded him an opportunity to get involved with IADC. Under an IADC program that provides a complimentary registration to the Annual General Meeting to a young professional working for a drilling contractor member company, Mr Foster attended the 2022 conference in New Orleans. He not only got the chance to hear industry executives talk about challenges and opportunities within the industry, but he also got the chance to engage with many of them.
The experience has encouraged him to get more involved with IADC in the future, he said, and it has inspired him to continue working his way up the ladder.
“At first I felt like a fly in the milk bowl with all these influential people, but as I got to talking to them, I saw that they were all just normal people doing a job,” he said. “There were people there that I got to meet who I admired on a personal level because they started on the rig floor and worked their way up to influential positions both in their companies and the industry. That’s something I was able to see myself doing.” DC