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The Working Coast: Artist, Actor, Offshore Oil Worker

Patrick Kirton in the film "Broken," which he also directed. Kirton turned to the offshore oil and gas industry after 15 years in Hollywood.
Patrick Kirton
Patrick Kirton in the film "Broken," which he also directed. Kirton turned to the offshore oil and gas industry after 15 years in Hollywood.

In many ways, Patrick Kirton is a typical offshore worker. He grew up in Shreveport; his dad was in the industry; his older brother just retired from BP. But every now and then, out on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico together, his buddies would notice something. And they’d ask him “Hey. Did I see you in a movie?”



Indeed. Kirton is an actor. He’s got an agent, and has been in the Treme television show and a number of feature films.

“It’s funny, I have friends who say I’m like Mr. Eclectic, you know.” Kirton says. “I do theater, I am in art, I act, and there’s this oil guy side of me, too.”

Kirton studied graphic design at Louisiana Tech, then moved to Los Angeles for 15 years. He says he didn’t come back with much except for “a lot of great stories.”

When he returned to Shreveport, Kirton spent a decade working in media sales. He married, and started a family. In his forties, he had two realizations. First, he needed to make more money. And second, Louisiana offered an easy way to do that. In fact, his family had been doing it for generations. Kirton called his brother at BP and said: “Who do you know, what doors can you get me in, and let’s go from there!”

Soon after, Kirton was in “mud school,” learning a specific slice of the industry: how to manage the mud produced when you drill for oil. After a while he started working offshore, in two-week stints.

“I made the decision to go ‘14 and 14,’ and I knew that I’d be traveling to South Louisiana a lot,” Kirton says. “It would be get in the car at 2 a.m., drive six hours, catch a helicopter for an hour, land, work on the rig two weeks, then they come pick you up and you drive home.”

That schedule meant leaving his wife alone with their two young kids. He missed Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays and anniversaries. But in return, Kirton earned a six-figure salary, and his family settled into his half-on, half-off commuter life. Eight years passed this way. And then, out working on the rig one day, Kirton got a call from the home office.

They told him to get on a helicopter the next day to come in and talk to Human Resources. The words were never said, but Kirton read the writing on the wall. He called his best friend on the rig and told him, “I just got fired.”

That was just over one year ago. At first, Kirton looked around for other oil jobs, to no avail. Thankfully, he had a fallback career in media sales. About six months ago, Kirton got a job selling billboards. It’s a pay cut, and it’s hit him at home — like in his daughter’s choice of college. She’s not looking at private schools now that he’s been laid off. Kirton says it’s been a little stressful around the household lately.

Nevertheless, he enjoys being home full-time. With his son in high school and his daughter getting ready to leave, he appreciates the time with his family. And Kirton turns 57 this summer — he knows he didn’t want to be working on rigs into his sixties.

But if he got the call today to back offshore?

“That’s a tough call,” Kirton says. “But you know… I’d have to consider it real hard. I gotta be honest. That’s a lot of money to turn down.”

Like him, Kirton’s kids want to flex their creative muscles. His daughter studies art, and his son wants to be an actor. But Kirton says that if his kids ever got the chance to work offshore, he’d tell them to take it.

“If you go into it with the right frame of mind and realize this is a very finite opportunity, it can be a blessing,” he says.

The oil and gas industry isn’t just Patrick Kirton’s family business. It’s Louisiana’s. In California and New York, aspiring artists fall back on bartending or waiting tables. It’s hard to imagine another place where their backup is roughnecking on an offshore hitch.

The industry gave Patrick something he needed to help his family. He just hopes his kids will have that option.


Support for WWNO's Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. 

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