An American reality TV show following a Texas drill rig and its workers has drawn the ire of some in Australia’s drilling industry.
The program, titled Black Gold, claims to give viewers an inside look at the real life “action, conflict, and competition” of the drilling industry.
The promotional material describes the show’s drillers as “men who gamble everything for a chance to make millions.
“It’s a fight to the finish as the roughnecks of Rig 28 fight with the hot-tempered new landowner, fight with each other, and fight for their jobs,” it says.
But JND Drilling CEO Jonathan Nitschke told Australian Mining the show was a complete distortion of the drilling industry.
“For people that don’t know about our industry, it gives the perception that workers are all cowboys,” he said.
“If our crews behaved like those featured on television, our company would be out of work within weeks.”
Of particular annoyance to Nitschke were the techniques used to dramatise the show and drilling industry.
“The way they set it up and edit it might make for good TV,” he said.
“But it gives a false impression that drillers aren’t professional, that they’re fighting and carrying-on in the workplace.”
Conflict is a central theme in Black Gold, with the drillers in the midst of verbal and physical violence in almost every episode.
On some occasions workers go head-to-head on site throwing punches and belittling their colleages.
Relations with the community and landowners are much the same, with one scene featuring an angry farmer firing a shotgun at a driller’s vehicle.
Nitschke told Australian Mining that the reality of company engagement with the community was much different.
He said that not only would the public not accept such behaviour, the miner hiring a driller’s services would cut the contract if workers acted as they did in Black Gold.
“You’re business wouldn’t last,” he said.
“It’s all about perception, and if you’ve got a drill crew that’s unsafe and fighting you wouldn’t go far in the industry.”
Nitschke said not only was Black Gold a misrepresentation of the drilling business in general, it was also unfaithful to the United States drilling industry.
“I’ve talked to people who have worked in the United States,” he said.
“They’re good companies over there and they’re being run professionally.”
“Black Gold has obviously been able to find some that aren’t, but I still think it’s a distortion of the US industry.”
While workers on Black Gold hardly seem the image of professionalism, the show is not completely devoid of responsible workers.
On some occasions external workers make safety inspections of the operation followed on the show, and inspectors enforce stringent rules and standards.
The inspectors are further proof Black Gold is more a dramatisation than documentary record of the drilling industry.
In defence against Black Gold Nitschke had much to say about what drillers were not.
But he also gave Australian Mining a good picture of the kind of industry he had worked in.
“Drillers are professional and hard working people that enjoy working outside,” he said.
“They’re smart, mechanically minded, and have many skills.”
Nitschke said drilling was a serious business with millions of dollars at stake, and investors had no tolerance for poor management of this responsibility.
“If you’re a driller, depending on the operation, you could be in charge of a $3 million to $10 million piece of equipment,” he said.
“You’ve got to run and maintain an important position in the mining industry.”
He told Australian Mining he wasn’t sure where or how the myth of unruly drilling workers had started, but suspected it had its roots in the industry’s early days.
“That might have been what it was like 15 or 20 years ago but it’s long since changed,” he said.
Nitschke said safety regulation in the mining industry had improved quickly over the last decades and it had contributed to a continuing professionalising of the industry.
“Safety requirements have gone forward in leaps and bounds over the years,” he said.
“There’s now strict rules on training and hiring competent people. The whole structure has changed, years ago you could get a job just by showing up to work, but that’s no longer the case.”
Nitschke said a “knowledge gap” had developed in the public’s understanding of the drilling business and it was up to the entire industry to address the problem.
“We get on and do the job but there’s perhaps not enough work done on promoting the industry.
“Drilling is a job where you can earn well and have a long successful career, we definitely need to promote that more.”