Seismic Line Cutter

Seismic line cutters cut and remove trees and other vegetation to clear the way for seismic lines, pipelines or power lines.

NOC Number(s):8615
Minimum Education:Education/training requirements vary
Employment Outlook:Job openings: turnover plus new jobs due to below average growth in occupation in Alberta 2013-2017
Interests:M O i

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study


Seismic line cutters work on line construction crews. Using chainsaws they cut and remove trees and other vegetation to clear a path for other seismic crews such as surveyors, drillers and helpers (jughounds). They must follow strict guidelines to limit their environmental impact. For example,

  • fire and erosion damage from burning
  • disturbance of decomposing material
  • destruction of harvestable trees
  • limiting sight lines to protect wildlife.

The size of a seismic line cutting crew varies with the nature of the job. Crews usually consist of a team of specialists.

Packers or helpers are entry-level crew members who are learning the role of bucker. In general they:

  • clear debris on seismic lines
  • carry supplies and assist buckers
  • may operate chainsaws under the direct supervision of buckers.

Buckers follow the instructions given by the crew Faller. In general they:

  • operate chainsaws to de-limb and buck trees (cut fallen trees into logs)
  • clean-up debris created from line construction operations
  • carry supplies in and out of the worksite (for example, gasoline, water, spare parts and saws)
  • use portable global positioning system (GPS) receivers for navigating along seismic lines and setting up flags to mark lines and hazards
  • perform maintenance on chainsaws and other equipment.

Fallers operate chainsaws to clear lines for larger equipment to follow. They are responsible for the safe operation and productivity of the line construction crew. In general fallers:

  • use chainsaws to clear trees and undergrowth to construct trails (usually 1.75-3 metres wide)
  • assess the falling area and appraise trees for characteristics (twists, rot and heavy limb growth)
  • apply knowledge of tree characteristics and cutting techniques to control direction of fall
  • select and clear a proper emergency escape route, communicate falling plan and ensure the active falling area is clear of all workers (must comply with distance standards)
  • clear brush and debris from work area
  • clear undergrowth, cut saplings and other trees from falling path
  • remove dangerous trees that could fall into the workplace.

Working Conditions

Crews work outdoors in remote locations. They may have to stay in hotels, motels or camps when away from home for extended periods. They may be exposed to extreme weather, dirt, dust, mud, noise and fumes.  Heavy lifting of items weighing up to 20 kilograms often is required.

To avoid injury, seismic line cutters must wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Seismic line construction crews typically work 10 to 12 hours a day on rotation. Work is seasonal and overtime is common.

Personal Characteristics

Seismic line cutters need to have the following characteristics:

  • good problem solving and decision making skills
  • mechanical aptitude
  • a safety conscious attitude
  • the ability to adapt to a number of different environments (mountains, plains)
  • an interest in working outdoors (sometimes in isolated locations) and using various forms of wilderness transportation
  • the ability to work well as part of a team.

They should enjoy having clear rules and guidelines for their work, being physically active and operating and maintaining equipment.

Educational Requirements

There are no minimum education requirements for entry-level seismic line cutting crew positions. Packers are trained on the job. Employers generally prefer to hire job applicants who have a high school diploma, Class 3 driver's licence with Q endorsement and experience with:

  • manual labour (including heavy lifting)
  • outdoor activities (such as camping, bush travel, use of all-terrain or four-wheel-drive vehicles) 
  • chainsaws.

Employers also sponsor safety training related to job duties:

  • WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System)
  • First aid/CPR training
  • Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) Awareness
  • All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV)
  • Chainsaw Proficiency - Level 1, 2 or 3
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG)
  • General Oilfield Driver Improvement (GODI)
  • Basic Safety Awareness
  • Seasonal Training such as Wildlife Awareness and Cold Weather/Wilderness Awareness
  • Powered Mobile Equipment Operator.

To advance from packer to bucker, and bucker to faller workers must complete the required amount of work experience in addition to the appropriate level of the Chainsaw Faller Competency Program offered at Enform in Calgary and Nisku (near Edmonton).

Advancement to more senior positions generally requires additional work experience or post-secondary training in heavy equipment operation. For more information about related post-secondary education programs, see the Heavy Equipment Operator occupational profile.

Employment and Advancement

Seismic line cutters are employed by:

  • independent exploration, survey and drilling companies
  • companies that specialize in line clearing.

Employment may be seasonal.

Seismic line clearing crew members start as packers and progress to buckers and fallers. With additional training, fallers may advance to faller tutors.

Seismic line cutters are part of the larger National Occupational Classification 8615: Oil and Gas Drilling, Servicing and Related Labourers. In Alberta, 89 per cent of people employed in this classification work in the Mining and Oil and Gas Extraction industry.

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the Mining and Oil and Gas Extraction industry)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Over 5,600 Albertans are employed in the Oil and Gas Drilling, Servicing and Related Labourers occupational group which is expected to have an annual below average growth of 0.4 per cent from 2013 to 2017 in Alberta. It is forecasted that about 22 new positions will be created each year in addition to job openings created by employment turnover. (Note: Since seismic line cutters form only a part of the larger occupational group on which this forecast is based, only a portion of the new positions created will be for seismic line cutters.)

The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada employment demand forecast indicates that over 30 per cent of the workforce in the oil and gas industry is expected to retire in the next few years. The number of people presently retiring already exceeds the number of new workers joining the industry today.

Section revised November 2013


Members of line cutting or line clearing crews may be paid an hourly wage or paid by the meter of land cleared. Most employers cover all accomodation costs while the employee is working and a daily living allowance (or Hotshot) of $40 per day is paid to each employee to cover food expenses.

Packer and buckers generally start at $15 or $16 an hour and fallers start at $18 to $20 an hour (2011 estimate).

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Oil and Gas Drilling, Servicing and Related Labourers occupational group earned on average from $21.51 to $25.51 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $24.50 an hour.

For more detailed information, see WAGEinfo.

Section revised February 2012

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website:

Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractor website:

Careers in Oil and Gas website:

Related Occupational Profiles
Seismic Worker

Related High School Subjects
Natural Resources (Primary Resources); and Science

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
Driver Training; Engineering and Science Technologies; Physical Education and Recreation; and Trades, Industrial and Related Training

Produced October 2011
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The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.

Government of Alberta, Human Services