It would have seemed the stuff of science fiction if it hadn't appeared on newspapers across the world: According to new forecasts, the United States may soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the planet's largest oil producing country. Developments in technology and high oil prices have created stunning oil booms across the U.S., transforming sleepy towns into energy powerhouses, and making the longtime dream of American energy independence a possibility again.
There's just one problem: More oil requires more oil workers.
By 2020, one industry report claims that the oil industry will have created an additional 1.3 million positions. "Even if we are [energy independent], we can't hire enough people to keep it running," says Brian Aylor, who works in the oil fields in Midland, Texas, where the current oil boom plunged unemployment to 3.3 percent in September. "There's demand for everything."
Companies in boomtowns like Midland, Texas, pay workers handsomely; kids fresh out of high school can earn $80,000 a year if they're willing to get their hands dirty. And while oilfield experience is preferred (companies are desperately looking for experienced hands), anywhere with oil-soaked shale beneath the feet is probably hungry for workers with any kind of technical background, whether they're military veterans or car mechanics.
1. Truck Driver
Why It's In Demand: "Because everyone needs trucks, from moving rigs and equipment, to hauling oil and water away, and 'frack' sand," says Ryan Lellis, an oil field geologist in the Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. "Right now, every company is hurting for that."
What It Pays: An oil industry trucker can make up to $2,500 a week, according to Lonnie Ortiz, who owns L J Trucking, based in Odessa, Texas, although Payscale.com places the average at $45,000 a year.
Why It's A Tough Gig: "Someone with short patience won't make it as a truck driver," Ortiz says. "Someone with a short fuse won't make it as a truck driver." Truckers have to be "go-getters who can figure out problems, self-starters, leaders," he explains, since if they break down, assistance might not come for a while.
Qualifications: "You're a mechanic. You're a tire man. You're a load supervisor," says Ortiz. "You turn out to be lots of things as a truck driver. You're a skilled motorist. You're an electrician. Anything that a job title can be -- you're it."
2. Derrick Hand
Why It's In Demand: Not only are rigs springing up almost everyday, but a lot of current derrick hands are older, and getting ready to retire. "They call it the Great Crew Shift," says Tim Cook, the recruiting manager for Houston-based Pathfinder Staffing.
What It Pays: $69,000 a year, according to Indeed.com.
Why It's A Tough Gig: The derrick hand's job is to monitor the drilling fluid, maintain the pumps, guide the drill pipe, unjam jams, and any and all kinds of lifting, pulling, pushing and climbing in-between. "You're the 'anything that is extremely dangerous' person," says Benham.
Qualifications: Applicants should have some experience with rig work, have no fear of heights, and be able to pass a drug test.
Why It's In Demand: The more wells you have running, the more crewmen you need. The name changes depending on the company, but these lower-level hands have to do it all. Brian Aylor, a lease operator, says he calls in the roustabout crew when he can't fix something on the well himself.
What It Pays: $54,000 (according to the Drilling Oil and Natural Gas Wells Salary Survey).
Why It's A Tough Gig: The roustabout does a lot of the essential things on the rig sites that require less technical know-how. "It's going to be manual labor. It's going to be hard work," says Aylor. "Running a shovel, swinging a hammer ... building on locations, maintenance on equipment out in the fields."
"You've got to be a hands-on type of person, and not be afraid to get dirty, and not be afraid to lift heavy things and be around dangerous machinery," says Benham.
Qualifications: A roughneck needs a high school diploma or equivalent, and to be able to lift 150 pounds with the aid of another person, and stand for 12 hours wearing steel-toed boots.
4. MWD Field Engineer
Why It's In Demand: A measuring-while-drilling field engineer is responsible for just that: Taking readings in the field during the drilling process -- to evaluate the drill site, and make sure that the drilling is done properly and efficiently. One job posting describes work hours as "unlimited and irregular."
What It Pays: Between $63,000 and $80,000 according to listings on Glassdoor.com.
Why It's A Tough Gig: The engineers measure "all the fun little numbers you think would matter while you're drilling a hole" says Benham, a specialist at temporary staffing firm in Midland. Those numbers are needed during the entire drilling process, so MWD field engineers can expect some serious demands on their time.
Qualifications: An undergraduate degree in engineering or science, or technical experience.
Why It's In Demand: "Most oil drilling is founded on geology, it's the first step," says Ryan Lellis, who's been an oil field geologist in Midland, Texas, for 2½ years. "The rocks have to be there and someone has to recognize that the rocks are there."
What It Pays: Geologists are well compensated for their key role; after 10 to 14 years experience they take home an average salary of $153,000, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. $99,000 and up (according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists).
Why It's A Tough Gig: Geologists need to be extremely diligent, since their findings determine where an oil field company will then spend millions to drill a well. But for Lellis, that's also why the job is so satisfying -- presenting his findings to the managers and owners of his company, "and for them to spend money -- a lot of money" based on his conclusions.
Qualifications: Bachelor of Science degree, although a master's will give you a boost.
Why It's In Demand: "What I'm seeing is actually a tremendous growth in the [welding] industry," MSU-Billings College of Technology welding instructor Bob Blackwell told KTVQ in January. And folks are noting the trend all over the country, with oil companies, desperate for welders to repair and maintain rigs, using higher salaries to poach welders from other industries.
What It Pays: $18 and $28 an hour, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. But WDAY-TV has reported salaries as high as $12- to $14,000 a month in boom areas.
Why It's A Tough Gig: Like most rig jobs, you need to be able to handle some physical strain: heavy-lifting, hoisting, crawling, crouching, and heights.
Qualifications: High school degree or equivalent, welding training.
Why It's In Demand: Not all oil and gas jobs involve digging really big holes. Those holes mean lots of paperwork, and the industry is hungry for office support staff to bean-count it all into place, according to Lesley Donnell, a branch manager at the Midland/Odessa office of Robert Half International.
"Accountants in general," she says, "specifically we have a high demand for tax accountants here right now."
What It Pays: $68,000 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Why It's A Tough Gig: Numbers, numbers, numbers.
Qualifications: Bachelor's degree in accounting, finance or business.
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