Robots set to take over oil rig jobs

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A combination of more efficient drilling rigs and increased automation is reducing the need for field hands, Bloomberg reports.

The Iron Roughneck, made by National Oilwell Varco Inc., automates the repetitive and dangerous task of connecting hundreds of segments of drill pipe as they’re shoved through miles of ocean water and oil-bearing rock. The machine has also cut to two from three the need for roustabouts in the process.

As the global oil industry begins to climb out of a collapse that took 440,000 jobs, anywhere from a third to half may never come back as a combination of more efficient drilling rigs and increased automation is reducing the need for field hands.

During the boom, companies were too busy pumping oil and gas to worry about head count, says James West, an analyst at investment bank Evercore ISI: “We got fat and bloated.” He says the two-and-a-half-year downturn however, gave executives time to rethink the mix of human labor and automated machinery in the oil fields.