Three Oil Rig Workers Fact-Check the Movie ‘Armageddon’

And answer Ben Affleck’s immortal query, ‘Would it be easier to train astronauts to be oil drillers, or oil drillers to become astronauts?’

We’ve talked before about how Ben Affleck is America’s patron saint of second chances, and how we should all be a little nicer to him about his struggles with alcoholism. Given that, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that one of my favorite pieces of art by Ben Affleck came about when he was obviously bombed out of his skull.

No, I don’t mean Argo, or Good Will Hunting, or any of his sincerely great movies — I’m referring to his commentary on the DVD for Armageddon. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s two hours of drunk Ben Affleck picking apart the movie in epic fashion, the highlight of which is this quote: “I asked Michael [Bay] why it was easier to train oil drillers to become astronauts than it was to train astronauts to become oil drillers, and he told me to shut, shut, shut the fuck up.”

But that’s just one of the questions I have for oil drillers about the Michael Bay action epic. Like, I also want to know how they think the movie portrays their profession: After all, while oil drillers literally save the Earth in the movie, they’re all portrayed as scoundrels and wild men who have previously done time for one crime or another.

I want to know, too, how smart it is to fire a shotgun on an oil rig, as Bruce Willis does at the beginning of the movie, and of what use a gatling gun is for drilling in space and other shit like that. So, fresh off their oil rigs, here are three drillers on the movie Armageddon.

On If They’d Go Into Space

Thomas La Claire, oil driller for 22 years in Saskatchewan: Would I go into space? Darn right I would. I wouldn’t particularly go on their mission though, just because it doesn’t make any sense, along with a lot of the physics in the movie. 

Phillip Dollar, oil driller for 22 years in Texas and administrator of the Real Drilling Rig Hands Facebook Group: At my age, I probably wouldn’t go into space. I’m 48, and my body’s been pretty beat up over the years.

Mark Wynne, oil driller for 25 years in Oklahoma: No. I don’t think that would be for me. It’s too far from home and you can’t walk home. 

On What a “Roughneck” Is

Wynne: A roughneck generalizes everybody below the driller. See, your chain of command goes like this: There’s the company man, the tool pusher, the driller and everyone else below that are the roughnecks — that’s a more general term. There’s a lot of words like that on the rig, like, there’s also the wormhand. A wormhand is the greenest one on the rig — he’s brand new and everybody calls him a worm because he doesn’t know anything. 

On Firing a Shotgun on an Oil Rig

La Claire: That’s a terrible idea, because ricochet could probably take a person’s eye out. But, if there’s no gas being leaked, I can’t see there being a fire or anything like that. It’s actually pretty hard to start a fire on a rig. Shooting a gun at work is a bad idea, period, though. But Ben Affleck was sleeping with his daughter, so I kind of feel for him there.

Dollar: I’m sure that’s happened a few times. I’d probably do that too, I have daughters.

Wynne: That’s horrible. That’s horrible. In real life, you’d burn the rig to the ground.

On That Oil Explosion at the Beginning of the Movie

La Claire: That’s one of the things where the physics don’t make sense. He just goes over there with that big crescent wrench and turns that valve by the standpipe — that makes absolutely no sense. That’s not how it works. You secure a well from the rig floor, you don’t secure it from the corner of the derrick. 

Dollar: That could happen, but it’s very slim. There’s so much safety there now, it’s very slim that that could happen. Usually it’s pretty monotonous on an oil field.

Wynne: The EPA would be all over your ass for that.

On That Gatling Gun on the Drilling Rover

Dollar: You wouldn’t need a gun for drilling.

La Claire: Why would you ever need a gun in space? Although, there is a time where you might need a gun during drilling. That’s when you’re working in Northern Canada when there are bears.

Wynne: I have no idea what that big gun is for, but if I went into space, I’d want one too! You don’t know what kind of shit is out there! 

On Drilling Into an Asteroid

La Claire: They drill that hole in a matter of minutes — that’s not possible. Nothing on the drilling aspect makes sense. The drill bit looks cool, but that’s about it. 

Dollar: There’s nothing really feasible in the movie if you’re familiar with drilling in an oil field. It’s a bit more like when you’re drilling underground for pipelines under roadways and rivers and stuff like that, but even for that it wasn’t really realistic. 

On Whether All Oil Rig Workers Are Ex-Cons and Troublemakers

La Claire: That’s probably the only part of the movie they got right! I’m not going to lie, I’ve spent my time in jail. It’s a profession that doesn’t judge your past. We don’t care. If you’re out here to work, that’s the only thing that matters. 

Dollar: In my time, yeah, that’s pretty true. 

Wynne: That’s spot-on! You keep a bunch of guys out on a rig from seven to 14 days at a time — away from their wives and away from their kids — they don’t have to act like a stand-up man. They get with their buddies and go raise hell. 

When I started on the oil field, everyone had a criminal record and everybody was high and everybody was crazy. They’d smoke a joint right out on the floor. Nowadays, a lot of companies won’t hire you if you have a criminal record and they drug test so often that drugs are pretty much out of the picture. Back in the day though, if you weren’t fucked up, you couldn’t go to work.

On How They’d Spend Their Last Night on Earth

La Claire: It depends if it was myself now or myself 10 years ago. Now I’d spend time with my family, but 10 years ago, I’d have gotten as much money in my hand as possible and I would have partied my ass off. Not now though — can you imagine how your stomach would feel getting launched into space the day after a bender? Everyone would have puked all over that rocket. 

Dollar: I’d spend my time with my family. I have kids and a wife at home, so that’s what I’d do.

Wynne: I’d be home with the kids. I’m a grandpa now, so I’ve got different priorities. Back in the day though, there’d be no telling what I’d do. I’d probably be like Rockhound out there, looking for a stripper. These days though, I’m pretty much laid back.

On If It’d Be Easier to Train Oil Drillers to Become Astronauts or Astronauts to Become Oil Drillers

Wynne: Probably easier to teach drillers to become astronauts, because they’ll do anything. I think you could find a good set of educated roughnecks and drillers and I think you could train them. Granted, they’ll be a little rough around the edges, but there’s some very intelligent people out there on the oil field, so I think it’s a doable deal.

La Claire: I think it’d probably be easier to teach drillers to become astronauts because the astronaut himself is strapped to a chair and sent into space — everything is done for you. There’s a thousand people on the ground making sure everything is good. On the other hand, if you were to take that astronaut and put him down onto a rig floor, he would be completely lost.

Dollar: It’d be easier to teach astronauts to drill for sure. You’ve got to know roughnecks — it takes them a while to learn stuff like that. Some of them would pick it up pretty quickly, but there’s more to being an astronaut than just what you see in the movie.