Web exclusive: More dangerous jobs 


“Black Gold”
Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

Turns out, discovering oil is far more difficult than Jed Clampett led us to believe. It takes monstrous, dangerous equipment and workers willing to brave the process to strike (cue pulse-pounding guitar riff, please) … black gold.

That’s what we learn from “Black Gold,” a new eight-episode truTV (formerly Court TV) series. The show follows three rigs competing to strike oil from the same reserve two miles deep in the west Texas soil. The successful crew will earn millions for its company. The failed crews will have cost their company or companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Black Gold” comes from the same producers as “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch,” shows that look at other dangerous jobs. And while “Black Gold” clearly spells out the perils of oil drilling (rapidly uncoiling chain smacking you in the head, anyone?), it left me with far more questions than answers.

For example, why did they choose to drill in this particular location? Is this a competition created for this show, or would these rigs be here anyway? Do oilmen always set up to drill within 500 feet of each other? Who are these guys who’ll risk their lives like this and why don’t the producers give us a proper look into their lives and backgrounds? How does one become a driller (the head of the crew), roughneck (the crew members) or worm (the newbies)?

I watched the first two episodes, but it wasn’t until I read the press kit that I found out the answers — almost all of which should have been part of episode one. I wish the producers had been as enamored of basic background information as they are of close-ups of the mud and the blood and the (after-work) beer.

That’s not to say you won’t learn anything from “Black Gold.” Drilling for oil is a far more difficult and cumbersome process than you’d imagine. As it’s explained, the crew drills into the soil 30 feet at a time and screws in a piece of pipe. They repeat that process about 350 times, till they’re two miles into the earth. (Is oil always two miles down? I do not know.) On a good day, they’ll put in 20 lengths of pipe.

It’s hard, difficult, dirty work, and the equipment is both costly (one drill bit costs $60,000; they’ll go through five or more to tap one well) and not always reliable. The work pays well, though — the lowest salary is $75,000 a year, we’re told.

The big money, of course, comes from — and to — the oilmen, who hope that up from the ground comes a bubblin’ crude. Oil, that is.

Will they strike it rich? If you want to know, you know where to turn. And I don't mean “The Beverly Hillbillies.”


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Marc D. Allan

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