There are some things you just don’t do. Unless, of course, you’re bored and don’t know that.
Exploring for oil is from start to finish inherently risky and frequently dangerous. And even though the concept and process are fairly straightforward, it’s costly and time-consuming. Agreements must be reached regarding rights of way, leases, options, royalties, and property restorations. Specialized equipment and material must be obtained and transported to sites already prepared and waiting. A number of support services must be brought online, along with people having a variety of skill sets, with each being compensated in accordance with the nature of their contribution.
Overall management of a site is the responsibility of the Tool Pusher. Paleontologists will show up from time to time to examine the cuttings from the bottom of the progressively deeper hole using a microscope to search for Bugs – Fossilized insects which can be correlated with the age of the strata. Specific jobs on the drilling platform (aka The Floor) will include the Driller, who is its master and commander, a Derrick Man whose work place is at the top of the derrick (aka The Water Table), a Mud Man who is responsible for the particular mixes of drilling fluid used over time, and the Roughnecks, who are jacks of all trades and do the heavy lifting.
Back in the day, probably the lowest person on the totem pole, but arguably the most important, was the Logger.
As the title implies, Oil Well Loggers keep a log of what happens while drilling is going on. Typically, a Logger’s workplace was a small, specially equipped camping trailer tethered to the drilling rig in several ways.
In order to track drilling speed and depth, a wire line would be strung from a spool mounted outside the unit to the top of what’s called the Kelly, which goes up and down as drill pipe is added to or taken from the drill string. The spool, in turn, acts like an odometer and registers the downward only travel of the Kelly both on a dial, which gives an immediate indication of depth, and on a drag pen recorder, which captures both speed and depth over a number of hours or even days.
Another set of tethers would be connected to floats in two large drilling fluid containers known collectively as the Mud Pit. One of the two containers served as an input tank and the other as a return tank and the float in each would send an electronic signal back to the trailer indicating fluid level for each tank. Normally, the two floats would be at or near the same level as fresh drilling fluid is pumped down the drilling pipe and the used, debris-laden fluid is forced up and out of the hole. Any difference between the level of the fluid in the two tanks could mean trouble.
If the input tank level is going down but the output level is unchanged, then the fluid is likely being pumped out into a stratum somewhere in the hole that is so permeable that there’s no way to get normal flow without installing a ruinously costly amount of casing and you’ll wind up just closing up the hole and callng it quits. Conversely, if the output tank is filling rapidly while the input is either unchanged or is dropping as quickly as the output is filling, then you’ve hit a stratum with pressure so great that all the fluid is being blown back out of the hole and you better run.
Thing is, as an Oil Well Logger, you’d better run only under those circumstances.
Everybody working a site is aware of the mortal danger they may face and how quickly it may be upon them. And everybody knows that, because of the available sensors, the Logger will likely be the first to see it coming.
Being totally unaware of that sensitivity, a bored shift partner and I decided to see who would be the first to reach the far end of the twenty to thirty yard wide structure called the Pipe Rack where drilling pipe is stored.
Needless to say, the Driller and the Derrick Man who nearly caught up with us before we reached our finish line were not amused. Nor were the half-dozen Roughnecks who had headed out in several other directions…