Drilling boss made it on talent

By Paul Charman

Third-generation driller says the enjoyment of his career in the oil industry is all about the challenge.

Hoani Murray with a new 5-inch (12.7cm) drill pipe, ready to begin drilling at Todd's Mangahewa oil and gas field. Photo / Supplied
Hoani Murray with a new 5-inch (12.7cm) drill pipe, ready to begin drilling at Todd's Mangahewa oil and gas field. Photo / Supplied

Hoani Murray is an oil-rig boss, with weighty responsibilities and a generous salary.

The third-generation driller - who grew up in Taranaki - has spent half a lifetime drilling land-based wells in the Australian Outback, the deserts of Oman and Libya and working off-shore in the Indian Ocean.

Today he's a drilling superintendent, a coveted role in the oil industry, but the affable 34-year-old came up the hard way. He got his start straight from high school, labouring as a teenage roustabout with a contract drilling crew in Central Australia, otherwise known as the Cooper Basin.

It was a steady rise, demonstrating just how much the oil industry remains a meritocracy, in which the talented can still make it on ability.

Rather than arriving straight from uni clutching a bachelors in engineering, Hoani gained the qualifications he needed as he moved up. Having seen his father and grandfather succeed in the oil industry, he never doubted his own ability to do so.

And a look at his CV showed this job is more than wearing a hard hat, chewing tobacco, bashing a few dials and cussing at some gushing drilling mud (likely a scene I saw on Dallas).

For example, while working for Woodside Energy in Libya, Hoani ran four rigs simultaneously. He conducted rig surveys, managed three rig start-ups, stimulated wells (fracking), reviewed and approved cost estimates, drilling programmes, tenders and contracts and maintained, "good working relationships with operators and drilling contractors worldwide".

That last one was well demonstrated in daily briefings, while working among Croat and Libyan colleagues in Libya.

This demanded translating things into three languages, but Hoani streamlined the process by teaching himself some Arabic.

He fondly recalls the generosity of neighbours he and his wife lived amongst in Tripoli. "You must respect the people you meet in a foreign country. If you do, they will respect you, in fact they'll draw to you.

"It was under Gaddafi and that meant Libyans had to be careful what they said. But expatriates were well treated, crime was low and we neither saw nor heard of trouble on the streets."

Being able to live with his wife in a Tripoli home was appreciated all the more after the years Hoani had put in and out of remote locations - five weeks on and five weeks off.

Hoani and I met over lattes at the kind of classy cafe which New Plymouth now has in abundance, thanks to jobs created in the province's booming petrochemical industry.

Hoani flicked a hand down toward the muffins on the table to show how his last well descended for the first 3.5km, "then we went about 2km that way [waves towards the window]; directional drilling is used a lot here.

"I still have family living here, which was part of the reason for bringing Melissa and our 2-year-old to Taranaki. New Zealand may lack the earning power of Asia, or the Middle East, [but] this role has other things going for it.

"I like Todd Energy's safety record, it's general approach, and the variety of the work involved.

"Some like an easy job, but I like to challenge myself. The more you do so, the more you expand your skill set."

Hoani went to school in Kaponga, Hawera and Opunake before finishing high school in South Australia where his father - who is now a drilling superintendent in Oman - had a good job in the oil industry.

"Perhaps it was visiting my dad at work as a young kid, and climbing to the top of his rig at Stratford, but I never saw myself doing anything else."

Tapping into the oil and gas sector

*About 7500 New Zealanders work in the oil and gas sector and with prospecting licences issued across much of the country recently, more are likely to be required.

*In exploration, hands-on roles begin at the level of a labourer - called roughneck - with promotion recognising ever-increasing levels of training, responsibility and skill.

*Engineers are required to design, construct and maintain drilling and production operations. They can enter the industry with a New Zealand-registered diploma, bachelors degree or better. Engineers can earn $80,000 to $140,000 or more.

*There are myriad additional professions - with varying salary levels - including maintenance and technical trades; marine and nautical service providers; equipment operators and special services (health and safety, regulation and training etc).

- NZ Herald

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