Drilling the well and cementing the casing are only the first steps to completing the well.  Once complete, the rig crew will install tubing to bring the oil and/or gas from the reservoir back to the surface. This tubing is connected to a wellhead with some sort of control valve system (like a Christmas tree) to provide the workers control over the direction and speed of the product flow from the reservoir to the surface.

Oil Gas Well


The Final String of Casing

The number of strings of casing used for a well depends upon how deep the well is. In some cases, the well may only have two strings of casing to reach from the bottom of the reservoir to the surface; the surface pipe and the final string of casing (also known as the long string or oil string). However, in deeper wells the final string may require more tensile strength or the lower joints may be created with extra support in the event of a collapse. In the event the lower joints are heavier than the rest of the joints on the long string, a similar joint is installed at the top (referred to as the gauge joint). The gauge joint provides the crew with a reference, letting the crew know that any tool going through the first joint will be able to go through all of them.


Cased-Hole Completion

To determine what type of completion will be done, an analysis is done on the cutting samples received as the bit drills through the ground and into the reservoir containing the hydrocarbons. In most cases, the wells are completed by installing the casing all the way through the reservoir. Then enough cement is pumped down through the inside of the casing, and back up between the casing and the rock formation to cement the string into place. This is completed all the way through to the producing zone, and to a specific distance located above the impermeable cap.


Open-Hole Completion

Not all wells have the casing passed through the reservoir.  In some cases, the well is drilled to just above the oil producing well. As with the cased hole completion, the casing is then run and cemented into place. Once set, the well is then drilled in (a procedure involving the reservoir to be drilled into and left open); creating what is commonly known as an open-hole completion.


Perforating and Completing

Once the final string of casing for the hole is completed (and the cement has set), it is time to perforate the casing. Over the years, this has been completed in multiple ways:

  • setting off a charge of nitroglycerine in the bottom of the well, creating fissures and cracks in the reservoir formation,
  • using a bullet perforated gun,
  • and the current method of using a jet gun (which can perforate the wall of the casing, the cement, and even multiple inches into the rock formation.

In order to perforate the casing, it is essential for the crew to know what the bottom hole pressure is inside the pipe, as well as to anticipate the inside pressure of the formation. If the pressure is miscalculated and is greater in the formation than what is inside of the casing; the instant the perforations are created through the pipe, the fluids will rush into the casing (forced by the bottom hole pressure) and blow the perforated gun up the hole. It will go up the hole at such a tremendous speed that it will wad up the electrical line and create numerous problems.



In order to increase the strength, and reduce the possibility of production loss; tubing should be seamless, and not a welded pipe. While at one point the tubing was produced with IO-pitch V-threads, this method has since been replaced by a superior tubing option using 8-pitch round threads (commonly referred to as an 8 round). This tubing method is not only stronger; but it is also easier to make, and has with less risk of cross threading.

The tubing used is normally classified based on two things: the quality of metal used to make it, and the wall thickness. What type of tubing used is determined by the installation (and it must match). This includes how deep the well is, how high the gas pressure is, and various other factors.

Generally the tubing is designated by both a letter and a number. For instance, a cost-effective tubing option used for shallow wells is H-40, while J-55 is a common choice for wells around 7,000 feet. However, deep wells often use the heavy-duty pipe P-105.

Since the tubing has to reach a specific depth within the well, and be placed without being cut or threaded; tubing is usually available in a wide range or random lengths, typically ranging from 28-32 feet (with shorter lengths referred to as pup-joints).  Pup joints (see Figure 1) are added to the top of the tubing string, and are used for final spacing (also, click here if you’d like to know more about Tubing String basics, Perforation Placement, Measuring Pipe Diameter, Running and Pulling a Tubing String, and basic troubleshooting of the Tubing String!)

Oil Gas Well

Figure 1 . In most cases, tubing pup joints are offered in two foot lengths. (courtesy Dover Corporation, Norris Division)

The Tubing String

Once the casing is placed, set with cement, and the crew has the reservoir opened to the wellbore; the tubing string is run. In most cases, the tubing string will comprise of the following items:

  • Mud anchor
  • Perforated subs
  • Pup joint (optional)
  • Packer or holddown (optional)
  • Pup joints (as needed)
  • Safety joint (optional)
  • Seating nipple
  • Spacer pup joints
  • Tubing
  • Tubing hanger or slips and seal
The Mud Anchor

The mud anchor is a full joint of tubing placed at the bottom of the string that may be cut off to a certain length. It is generally between 16-24 feet, and used for:

  • collecting fine silt or mud (materials removed when the tubing string is pulled),
  • providing a shelter for the pump gas anchor when the pump is in the hole, and
  • allowing the tubing string to sit at the well bottom without plugging up the rod pump intake or damaging the string.

Depending upon the company, they will either use a tubing cap and a bull plug, or a collar and a bull plug to close off the bottom end of the tubing. There are also some companies who cut off the bottom section and weld the opening closed to avoid external protrusions from getting stuck or collecting scale; while others will often slice the bottom into for sections, and then heat them closed by folding each of the four sections over using a large steel hammer.



In order for the oil and/or water to enter the tubing string located in the reservoir, it has to be perforated. While there are a number of ways to accomplish this task, the most common options include:

  • Installing a perforated pup joint over the mud anchor with a collar in between the two pieces. While the typical length is usually between 3 or 4 feet, perforated pup joints (see Figure 2) can be as small as 2 feet or as large as 12 feet. These holes in the tubing are around 1 inch in diameter and are placed a few inches apart on all sides. The purpose of these small holes is to prevent large objects from entering into the tube.
  • Using a short joint or leaving the bottom of the pipe open just below the seating nipple. (Typically very few operators will use this method. This is due to the risk of large objects entering the pump and causing it to stop functioning.)
  • Using a perforated mud anchor with an electric drill, or by cutting holes using an oxyacetylene torch. Generally these holes are 3-6 inches apart, and are placed no farther than 6 inches below the upset on each of the four sides (extending anywhere from 2-4 feet).

Oil Gas Well

Figure 2. Perforated pup joint example (courtesy Dover Corporation, Norris Division)

Seating Nipples

Seating nipples are used to seal the pump to the tubing, while providing a connection for the pump. This allows the fluid produced to flow up through the seating nipple, and to be pumped back to the surface. In most cases, the seating nipples will either be:

  • Cup-Type Seating Nipples

Cup-type seating nipples use a no-go ring of metal above the cups to prevent the pump from sliding through the seating nipple. The nipples use a seating distance of around six inches, with three or four cups on the pump. This type is reversible, with the reversible seating nipple between 12-16 inches long. The benefit to this type is it can be reversed to provide a new seating surface when scoring or any other type of damage causing the seat to leak.

  • Mechanical-Type Seating Nipples

Mechanical-type seating nipples are not reversible and are around 8-10 inches in length. The top of the seat is usually tapered to allow a metal-to-metal seat; with the seat made of a metal that will slightly give to ensure the seating nipple seals properly.


The Packer

Wells can be completed with or without a packer; and is used to provide a seal downhole to block the fluid flow from between the tubing and the casing or wellbore wall. The packer is placed near the bottom of the tubing string, and installed just above the casing perforations. Often times, you can increase the flow velocity by using a packer to help reduce the cross-sectional area of the well flow opening.

If a well does not have gas pressure in the annulus (aka annular space between the casing and tubing), then the wells with low bottom hole pressure will bleed into the tubing perforations as the casing empties the liquid. The packer can reduce this unpredictable change in pressure, and acts as a flow cushion while the liquid accumulates again in the well.

The Holddown

Holddowns are similar to packers in the sense it fastens the tubing to the casing just above the casing perforation near the bottom of the well; and are installed into deep pumping wells as a preventative measure for breathing – the up and down motions at the bottom of the tubing created by each stroke of the rods (click here if you’d like to go into more detail about breathing, the change in the length of the rod and tubing strings, and the computation of these changes required to adjust your surface stroke!).  However, unlike packers, the holddown does not create a seal between the tubing and the casing in the annular space. Due to this, fluids are able to freely pass through in either direction without any restrictions.


Correlating Perforations

One of the most important duties while installing the tubing into the hole is placing the casing perforations in the best desired depth away from the surface. Where these are placed will affect the overall performance of the well, how many barrels of fluid are produced, how much gas is preserved in the formation, and the amount of gas or oil produced. Since there are multiple options correlating perforations, it is up to the operators to decide which option is best for the correlating perforations (including how to reach the production goals).


Typical Wellheads

Along with each string of casing run into the well, a correlating wellhead section must be installed. Figure 3 demonstrates a typical two section wellhead with a Christmas tree for a flowing well.  While there are a variety of configurations you can use, the below Christmas tree provides a great example of the casing head (labeled A) and the intermediate head (labeled B).

Oil Gas Well

Figure 3. Christmas tree for a two section wellhead

The Casing Head

The casing head is usually welded directly to the casing, and can have external threads, a slip-on collar, or internal threads. The welding installation permits the tubing string to be situated at a specific level, and is especially important for a proper pumping unit installation. A 2-inch bleeder valve is installed on one side, with a ball valve, gate valve or plug can be installed on the other. The type of valve installed is always left open to prevent developing pressure from threatening any fresh water zones. In most cases, the wellhead will use one of three (gate, globe, or needle) multiple round opening style gate valves (commonly referred to as a gate).

Oil Gas Well

Figure 4. Example of a casing hanger with hanger locking devices

The Intermediate Head with Casing Hanger

As a rule, the final string of casing is frequently hung from the intermediate head; with the casing hanger secured to the top of the casing head. The casing hanger will usually have some form of a metal ring seal, and at least 12 studs (with nuts). However, several casing hangers offer some way to connect the tubing string to the casing hanger (see Figure 4). When the casing hanger and final string are attached, there will be two openings (one that is available and the other connected to the flow line of the tank battery) on the sides with valves fastened into them.


The Tubing Hanger

Installing the tubing hanger is the final step in the running tubing; and should be properly cleaned and covered in lubricant (or a thread compound) prior to being lowered into the hole. The locking devices (known as dogs) should run snugly in order to hold the top tapered edge firmly in place to allow for safe removal of the Christmas tree with pressure still on the casing.

Oil Gas Well

Figure 5. The tubing hanger is commonly referred to as the donut.

Is your appetite for oil & gas operating knowledge insatiable like ours? 😀 If so, check out these related articles, Where is Crude Oil Found? The Structure of Oil-Bearing Formations… and, A Basic Guide to Oil and Gas Drilling Operations – they’ll be sure to pump you up!!!

Just like no two people are alike, neither are two wells. It doesn’t matter if the wells are located in the same area, utilize the same equipment, or if they are drilled into with the same oil-bearing formation; the outcomes of the drilling procedure relies on a wide variety of variables. This can include: people, equipment, company procedures, and more; and in order to be a successful lease pumper, you will need to understand these eight important areas.

Oil Gas Drilling


Know Your Contractors

Every signed oil well drilling contract includes some form of conditions and agreements. For example, the drilling rig contractor will agree to a specific drilling depth, financial obligations, or where the well will be drilled. Once everything has been agreed upon, the drilling rig will be moved in to prepare for drilling. This is most commonly referred to as the MIRU, or the “Move In and Rig Up”; and in most cases, will include drilling with a jackknife rig instead of the derricks that are built in place. Other important personnel often comprise of:

Company Representative

Typically the company representative is one of the senior members of the crew (such as the tool pusher), the owner of the company (this generally occurs in small oil companies.), or another official representative for the company. Since the company pays the full cost of drilling and owns the new well once completed, the company representative will oversea every operational aspect from building roads to installation of the wellhead. In many cases, the company representative also makes the final decisions regarding the formation tests.

Derrick Worker

Commonly referred to as the derrick man, a derrick worker cannot be afraid of heights. This position requires working high above the floor, and is used during regular operations to help when the pipe is being pulled or run. In many of the modern rigs, a rack will vertically hold various sections of drill pipe along the side of the derrick. Each is then added to the drilling string as the bit makes it way deeper and deeper into the ground.

One of the common duties of derrick workers is to add (or remove) sections of pipe from the drill string. During drilling, the pipe is added the deeper into the ground they drill; while sections are removed from the drill string and pulled out of the ground once the drilling has been complete. Sections of pipe are also removed for replacement, or to deal with any drilling issues.

In order to avoid any unnecessary risks, sections of pipe are raised or lowered using an elevator. During transport, the pipe is stored between two sections (or fingers) in the rack. This area is often referred to as the monkey board.

Derrick worker’s duties can also include supervising and assisting:

  • Floor Workers with Cleaning and Maintaining the Rig
  • Equipment Repairs
  • Catches and Labels Mud Samples
  • Operate the Draw Works (see driller)
  • And Other Drilling Duties Helpful in Preparing for a Possible Promotion

The rig crew typically consists of four to five people, with the driller in charge of the group.  He/she will generally operate the draw works (a structure made of cables and pulleys used to run the pipe into the well), and often performs the tool pusher’s duties when they are away or off work.

Floor Workers

While running and pulling pipe, there are always two floor workers. These two personal are generally referred to as either roughnecks or floor hands, with the more experienced worker being referred to as the lead. The lead operates the lead tong, while the other floor worker operates the back-up tong (or back-up). In most cases, these workers are the most inexperienced members of the rig crew.

Motor Man

In a five person rig crew, the fifth individual is commonly referred to as the motor worker (also known as the motor man). The motor man is one of the most experienced workers, and will often relieve the driller during times off. He/she may also be required to catch drilling samples.

Tool Pusher

Every drilling company provides a supervisor for the rig during the drilling of the well. While more and more crews have taken on titles like drilling engineer, production engineer, or other comparable titles; at one point in time, this individual was only referred to as the tool pusher.

The tool pusher is in charge of both the drilling rig, and every moving part on that rig. It is their job to purchase and rig supplies, supervise the rig personnel, and to oversea all the drilling procedures. Due to today’s technological advances making communicating easier, tool pushers may also be in charge of more than one rig at a time; and therefore, may not always be present at a specific location. Due to the vital importance of having this type of supervision required for around-the-clock drilling operations, the tool pusher is often supplied some sort of small domicile (ex. small mobile home) at the well site. This allows them the ability to remain onsite for days at a time in the event any problems arise.


Drilling the Well

While the rig is moved onto the lease for drilling a new well, a lease pumper can often be required to handle operation related duties. For example, most drilling rigs utilize anywhere from two to four steel mud pits. These pits (generally lined with some form of plastic liner) are used to hold any excess fluids or drilling cuttings; with the first pit will have a shale shaker built on the top to permit the drilling mud to fall through the screen.

Oil Gas Drilling

Figure 1. Example of a Tri-Cone Drilling Bit

During drilling operations, lease pumpers are often responsible for looking out for the landowner’s interests, especially for contracted drilling. This includes making sure the mud pit is properly fenced. Otherwise, the livestock could try to get into the pit to drink the water, or eat any trash or greasy rags left behind.  However, due to the fact mud pits can take several weeks or even months to dry out enough to be leveled out; this duty doesn’t end once the hole is finished. In fact, after the rig is no longer active, the landowner will still anticipate the lease pumper to preserve a clean and well-fenced pit to protect their livestock from harm.


Downhole Measurements

Another common responsibility of lease pumpers is maintaining the well records, with one of the most important sets being the downhole measurements. These measurements document the dimensions of every single section of pipe used in the well, and are vital to knowing the size of pumps, tools, or other supplies required to pass through or be used on the pipe (including any required components to complete the installation).

These necessary supplies are not named for their pipe design, but for the purpose of the pipe or where it will be used. These important components can include:

  • Casing – Refers to any pipe(s) that are cemented into position, and is measured by the outside diameter.
  • Tubing – Refers to the moveable strings of pipe that can be easily pulled and run back in whenever working the well. The tubing is located inside of the casing, and is measured by the outside diameter.
  • Line Pipe – Refers to pipe(s) that are used on the surface and into the well. This type of pipe is measured by the inside diameter.

In order to accurately determine the location of the perforations, the depth of the well, or various other vital features to the production; downhole measurements must be captured accurately. Each measurement is made to the nearest one hundredth of a foot (all rig tapes use the same measurement system) to allow numbers to easily be used by a conventional calculator. This would be equivalent to taking each foot and dividing it into ten equal parts, and then taking each of those sections and dividing them into ten more parts. For example, if you have three pipe lengths measuring: 20 feet 3/32″, 20; 4 5/16″, and 19′ 9 1/4″; using this system, your measurements would be: 20.09, 20.36, and 19.77.

As the crew drills the well, the distances are calculated starting from the top of kelly bushing (refers to the sliding bushing located on the drilling rig floor on top of the rotary table that permits the drill kelly  to go down through it when the pipe is turning and the hole is drilled.

Once the casing pipe is permanently cemented into the hole (or set) and either the braiden head or wellhead installed, the measurements from the top of the wellhead to the top of the kelly bushing are calculated and subtracted from all drilling records. This allows precise well records for once the drilling rig is no longer there.


The Surface String of Casing

Since the majority of the water we drink comes from underground fresh water reservoirs, one of the most important considerations in drilling a new well is protecting any fresh water areas. Therefore, the string of surface casing bottom has to properly extend below the fresh water zones. The surface hole must also be drilled to a depth deep enough for it to pass through any loose materials you may encounter until the stable rock is encountered, and the surface pipe is set.

Below the surface casing is placed (aka ‘run in the hole’), it is diligently inspected and measured; and often times, each of the couplings are welded to help prevent any future leaks from occurring. Once complete, the scratchers and centralizers (bow shaped strips of steel used to hold the pipe in place away from the walls and in the center of the hole) are installed on the pipe (See Figure 2).

Oil Gas Drilling

Figure 2. Example of a Casing Centralizer

Scratchers are used to help the cement to be able to bond the pipe and the walls of the hold. Their job is to remove the caked-on drilling mud, and it is done by raising and lowering the pipe several times into the hole to allow the scraper to loosen the material. As the crew pumps the cement down into the hole (going through the casing) and out the bottom, it will rise up towards the surface on the outside of the casing creating a good cemented bond all the way around the entire pipe from the bottom to the surface. The pipe is then left in place even when the well is plugged.

Oil Gas Drilling

Figure 3. To remove the drilling mud off the walls of the hole, scratchers are used.

Intermediate Strings of Casing

Depending upon the depth of the well, some may require a second string of pipe above the production reservoir. (This section is also cemented into place.) Often times, this second string of casing is installed to correct any adverse hole conditions. These reasons could include: gas, heaving, high pressure, lost circulation zones, or sloughing.

Each and every additional string of casing placed in the hole will use a smaller bit. This allows for the new bit to go inside the new casing and to drill out through the bottom. In most cases, it will go all the way to the reservoir; yet in deeper wells, rig crews may install string of casings comprising of each string of casing successively getting smaller in diameter. This is typically completed for financial reasons, or due to the physical limits of the casing string.

To begin, a moderately large casing is used from the surface and partially down into the hole; following it with a slightly smaller string of drill pipe and bit. At the bottom of each string of casing, a casing hanger is installed to permit the next section of pipe to be lowered into place through the current section, before it is firmly attached and cemented permanently into place. As the crew runs the casing, they may also use a technique known as floating the pipe in; which requires filling the casing with drilling mud to prevent it from collapsing under the extremely high external pressure.


Drilling Breaks and Drill Stem Testing

When a drilling break (an indicator the formation is more porous and cause the drilling bit to cut into the earth in an abrupt increase) occurs one of the more imperative decisions the drilling supervisor must make is determining how to proceed. Often times, this permeable layer can hold different hydrocarbons (ex. natural gas, crude oil). Thankfully by taking everything into consideration (ex. the location and/or distance to the bottom of the well, how fast the crew is operating the pump, the amount of space outside of the drill pipe, etc.) the crew and/or supervisor can determine exactly how long it will be before the drilling break zone cuttings are able to reach the surface.

Once these cuttings arrive, a crew member will catch samples and use these to test under a black light (aka ultraviolet light). If crude oil is present, the black light will cause the sample to glow. Unfortunately, high mud pressure can prevent a good cutting sample from reaching the surface. To overcome this issue, one answer is to perform drill stem testing.

During this test, the drill pipe will take the place of the tubing string. However, because this type of testing requires the rig to stop drilling the new hole until it is complete, the production company typically decides whether or not to run the test.

Typically time and/or allowances are allotted in the contract to provide the rig crew time to run the pipe and cement it into place. Generally during any time the rig stops drilling, the lease operator (or production company) will compensate the crew by paying by the hour, or through some other appropriate amount of compensation for the rig crew during any time spent cementing, running pipe, and/or waiting for the cement to set (drilling reports often refer to this as waiting on cement).

To help keep the crew busy, during this time the members often:

  • Arrange/Rearrange the Drill Pipe Racks
  • Clean the Rig Floor
  • Get Smaller Drill Bits Ready
  • Stock Necessary Supplies for When Drilling Begins
  • And more

Maintaining the Hole Full Gauge and the Packed Hole Assembly

As with any type of drilling, as the bit is used the tooth sharpness and diameter will slowly wear away; and when the bit diameter shrinks, so does the diameter of the hole being drilled. To avoid this issue, a reamer is placed right behind the bit. This sequence of rolling cones rotates is the bit turns, and widens the hole slightly larger. Typically this will take one time of reaming the hole to be sufficient.

Think of this way. Bits can wear at various points, including the shoulders. If a reamer was not used when the crew pulls the drill pipe to run the new bit, they would have problems getting the new bit back to the bottom of the hole.

Oil Gas Drilling

Figure 4. Reamers are used behind the bit to maintain the hole diameter even when the bit begins to wear.

Drilling a Straight Hole

Due to factors like formation density, uneven drill bit wear, drill pipe flexing, and various other situations that can cause the hole to deviate from the its true vertical depth (the vertical distance from the well to the surface); you typically are unable to drill a straight hole to the oil reservoir. Nonetheless, the hole is still generally viable for oil production.

For the best results when drilling the hole, an incessant series of decisions will be used to adjust the drilling method. This includes considering all aspects from getting the best life and performance out of your drilling bits, to the location of the hole, to what choices you should make to ensure good drilling progress. Typically there are two main ways to control these types of factors:

  1. the rotational speed of the bit, and
  2. the amount of applied weight

In most cases, the maximum penetration rate (and the straight hole) are maintained by applying the correct bit, drill pipe weight, and bit RPM. You need a good balance of these factors to determine the proper adjustments for your conditions (such as formation density or any hole depth changes).

Any formation the drill bit comes across that is not horizontal, tends to climb uphill. This can easily be solved by applying more drill collars on top of the reamer. The extra drill collars will add more weigh, and thus make the pipe more inflexible. Sadly, drill collars will not solve all your drilling issues. For instance, another common issue is when the drill bit gets stuck in the grooves (also referred to as key seats) located on the sides of the hole.

Key seats are created when the drill pipe bends under the high pressures and rubs along the sides of the hole. The connections (the lined ends of the drill pipe) are generally larger in diameter than the drill pipe’s body (or tube).  Since these connections are larger than the rest of the pipe’s diameter, it is common to get stuck in the key seats. This is especially true when the rig crew begins to remove the drill bit back out of the hole.

Formations never have the same density throughout the entire distance to the production zone; and because of this, bit wear, and flexes in the drill pipe, it is very rare the rig crew will experience a hole that goes straight down. In fact, most cases will generally have a twisted profile like a corkscrew; and due to this, the tubing string is likely to rub against the casing when it comes into contact with the various bends. This rubbing will eventually cause the tubing or casing to wear, and in turn, produces even more problems for drilling operations; such as:

  • tubing collars can be worn to the point where they fracture, or
  • tubing string caving into the well.

Is your appetite for oil & gas operating knowledge insatiable like ours? 😀 If so, check out these related articles, Where is Crude Oil Found? The Structure of Oil-Bearing Formations… and, 6 Areas You Should Know About Completing Any Oil and Gas Well – they’ll be sure to pump you up!!!

In my years in the oilfield, I have noted that there tends to be a sort of kill-or-be-killed culture among the people who work in it together.

When I came home from Iraq, I fairly quickly entered the oilfield and found, in many cases, a sort of culture that did not favor team playing, punished those who asked questions and had leaders who, not always but in many cases, participated in the gossip and running down of certain employees.

I had come straight out of a war zone where we depended on each other for our very lives. That is not an overstatement.

Lead the way…

The working environment I came from before I entered the oilfield was one where those with certain talents were valued and so were their opinions.

I quickly discovered that often in the oilfield, if you raise an opinion to try and improve a process, you are told , “If you don’t like it, there are 20 guys standing ready to take your job.”

While in the Army in the battlefield, we were indeed human and had moments where we didn’t care too much for one another. That can happen in any team.

But we never participated in what would be considered disloyalty to our fellow team members. For instance, I am a female and I never, even though I was single, allowed myself to become anything other than a team member to my fellow team members. It would have fractured the integrity of the team.

You see, we understood in a very real way that the guy you talk about behind his back one day, might be the man you need to drag you out of the chow hall. which just exploded because a suicide bomber came into it and detonated his vest while you happened to be eating lunch. Capisce?

That idea gets a lot of lip service in the oilfield, but not many people really live it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love working in the oilfield. But we could improve how we lead people and that would improve the bottom line for many companies. I will not mince words about that.

We have leaders who don’t get out into the field enough, who will not stand up for their pumpers in the field when an executive issues an order that is untenable, who become friends with and favor some pumpers while treating others with disregard. it may seem like a harmless dynamic – but it’s costing you money, company executives. So you should be sitting up and reading.

In one instance, I had my oilfield boss spend an entire day searching for something I did wrong on my route because he was angry that I had called attention to the fact that his favored pumper had not shown up to pump one single well all weekend and pencil – whipped his report.

When he finally found a broken gauge on one of my wells (I had 42 wells) he called me in and chewed me out about it. I told him it was obvious what was happening and while he didn’t have to like me, he did have to treat me with human dignity and basic human respect and broken gauges did happen to all pumpers from time to time. Then I told him I would fix the broken gauge and I turned, made a note of our conversation in my book and left.

I can’t help but wonder what he could have achieved with that time had he instead worked with one of the other pumpers who had two or three wells down that day? Hmmmm?

About three weeks later that other pumper was fired because he popped the piss-test. (tested positive for marijuana). This is just one example of hundreds I could give you of leaders who may want to do a good job, but who have been given no leadership training on how to actually guide the single most valuable asset companies have in the field – their pumpers. You know the people – the ones who make sure you have production.

This, my friends, is what happens when you get too close to your employees. Being a soldier, I never expect my leaders to like me or be friendly with me. But I did and do expect them to be leaders and to equally guide me and correct me and provide me with the support I need to do the job well. I could give a shit less if they like me. They are merely the people I follow so that I can do a good job. Nothing more, nothing less.

To be fair, I had two really stellar leaders in the oilfield; Chad Knowlton of Chaparral Energy and a fellow pumper by the name of Jesse Canaan who is now working for Tapstone I think. To this day I often think of the things they taught me in the oilfield and I am thankful.

So let me explain how I define a stellar leader. You may or may not agree with this idea of leadership. But I promise you, if you begin to teach it to your field leaders, you will not only have a more peaceful group of employees, you will have a more disciplined and more efficient one as well.

But most of all, you will save money. And I can prove it, because there has been at least one remarkable study done specifically studying the culture of top down leadership in the oilfield that has shown consistently that better communication and leaders who understand their roles decreased accidents – sometimes by 30 percent.

A leader is not a manager.

We manage checkbooks, we lead people. This was something that one of my most prominent and solid Sgt. Majors said to me years ago and I have never forgotten it.

“Sgt. Van Horn, stop apologizing for being a leader,” he said. “Your people need you to be exact about what you want and then they need for you to own the outcome of your guidance, because you are the person responsible for it.”

There appears to be a lot of managers who think that a promotion means being in the spotlight, getting the glory, feeling the power.

My job as a leader in the battlefield was to make the best decisions I could to protect my men in the field. Period. Not just sometimes, not just when they were making me happy, not just when they agreed with me but always.

When they accomplished something great, it was their accomplishment. Even if I set the situation up for them to achieve, when they did, it was their glory. I stepped way, way out of the spotlight and highlighted their accomplishments. That’s what a leader does.

I was not always good at that. I will never forget an encounter I had when I was a young sergeant. I was assigned to take the visiting General around to the unit training events for his visit. Apparently, I made a lot of “I” statements while accompanying him around and failed to really focus on my people and their accomplishments. He told me, “As a leader, your new focus is not your success, but their success. And as a leader, their success should be a signal to you in a private way, that you were successful.”

It has been said to me by a friend of mine, Air Force General J.B. Davis, that a leader is someone who can lead but also who can be led.

And he went on to clarify that doesn’t mean that we can be led only by the people who outrank us. It means we can also be led by the expertise, professionalism, experience and success of those people who are our subordinates and that we should do so with grace and humility.

Ask yourself, how many times a week you learn something valuable from one of your subordinates? Then ask yourself, how often do they get the credit for what they provide? These are important questions that leaders need to ask themselves and then answer for themselves in an honest way. If  you don’t, you’re only bullshitting yourself into thinking you are a great leader and missing an opportunity to actually grow into one.

As my father always told me, “The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves”.

If you are a real leader, you are confident in why you are, where you are and why you are in that position of leadership. True leaders sign up for that job to serve. If service to your team members and the organization is not your focus, you are wrong and you will ultimately fail.

Leadership is a great burden and sacrifice – as it should be.

Our job number one as a leader is to guide and protect our workers so they can achieve the mission. Every single communication – not 99 percent or 99.9 percent but 100 percent of the communication we have as leaders – should be aimed at how to make a more tenable, workable, team focused environment so that our people can succeed and grow in their profession.

When discipline is needed, we discipline in private and we praise in public.

A true leader never, never has or entertains conversations with subordinates about others under their command. And mid-level leaders who are really ethical and interested in a good team environment should never involve themselves in communications with subordinates about the overall leader of the organization. In the military we call that disloyalty at least and in its worst form, we call it mutiny.

I realize I can be pretty plain spoken at times. But I hope that what I said means something to anyone who is seeking a promotion into a leadership role. I think one of the greatest deficits we have today in our country is a lack of good, solid, ethical, moral and service focused leaders and I think it is high time we begin to grow a few right here in the oilfield.

~ Rachael Van Horn aka “Wench with a Wrench”

Okay so, when they rebuilt the Six Million Dollar Man, they made him better. I mean there’s really no arguing the point. Have you seen the man jump a building?

They had the technology, as they reminded watchers each evening of the popular show that aired for the first time in 1973.

Steve Austin was given bionic implants and it made him super human – it made him better. His right arm, both legs and the left eye are replaced with “bionic” implants that enhance his strength, speed and vision.

I often wonder why, when I am forced to take apart a Kimray motor valve or a back pressure valve or even a Western Pump, I can’t make it better than it was before. Why doesn’t it turn into the Bionic Kimray?

Those kits are full of tiny plastic washers and rubber seals meant to fully rebuild the valve. With all new innards, why wouldn’t it work like it was brand new?

Instead, most of the time I end up with something that works part of the time and then goes off half-cocked and either works too good and lets no pressure off the vessel or won’t hold pressure at all. Arghghg.

This week, welcome GreaseBookers to “The Six Million Dollar Kimray”, a story about trying to make it better by putting a kit into it. And maybe, a chance to actually do that.

Okay, so it was late summer of 2012 and I had a swamped separator because the back pressure valve was not holding enough pressure to push the water to the stock tank. We will talk about swamped separators later. That’s a treat all by itself, which deserves its own blog. After that, we can discuss swamped compressors…

I heard the hissing from all the way across the lease. The smell of gas was overpowering. It was the Kimray 212 SGT, which was not just leaking a little, but was spewing gas.

I called my company man because, truth was, I knew I had to get this fixed and working again because it was a higher producing well. And I knew what it was going to mean. I’d have to run into town and pick up a Kimray kit and install it.

This terrified me. Puzzles have never been my thing and installing a Kimray repair kit is like the most complicated puzzle. I was glad that my boss, a kindly giant of 6 feet, five inches tall by the name of Rick Staude, came out to help.

Six Million Dollar Man


Just take a look at this picture. It pretty much tells the story. But I don’t want to be too negative. Because in this particular case, we actually got the thing disassembled, kitted and put back together and it worked.

Start by understanding that it will take at least 2 hours total to take the valve off, take it apart and put all the parts of the kit in the right places. If you are in a hurry, this process will even feel  worse than it is.

The other thing I would suggest for a pumper who might be working for a company who wants them to rekit instead of purchasing new or rebuilt units, to purchase one of those battery operated wrenches. It will make disassembly and reassembly much faster. I would also always have a little set of seal picks. (see photo)

Six Million Dollar Man


Second, as you take the valve apart, have a pan handy to place the parts into. If you lose one tiny part on this valve, it will not work correctly when you get it put back together.

Third, have a can of B-12 Chemtool on hand and a few rags – the kind that don’t leave little fuzzies behind. Those fuzzies cause trouble if they get behind a seal or can lodge between the seat of your diaphragm or get into a tiny orifice. It really doesn’t take much.

Six Million Dollar Man


As you take each part off, clean it thoroughly and place it in your pan. I place them in order  of how I took them off. That way when I go to put it back together, all I have to do is simply start at the end and begin to work backward.

Make sure when you put each seal and washer back, you have cleaned and dried the area where the washer or seal is supposed to fit.

Do one thing at a time. If you get ahead of yourself, you will skip a step and have the whole thing put back together and find out you have forgotten just one thing. SO limit your distractions.

Once you get the whole thing put back together, you need to test it. Now, in a workshop, you do that with an air compressor and some proper fittings for testing. In the field, which is where you will test everything, you will do this by placing the unit back onto the separator or treater or gas line that it was on.

At that point of course, you should have turned any pressure off of the vessel at a main ball valve.

I usually just replace the Kimray valve, make sure everything is turned off or on that needs to be to make the system work and then slowly deliver gas back into the system.

Then I play with the pressure setting screw on the top and attempt to set it at 60 pounds or where ever you want it. But I also stay a while to make sure the vessel works in releasing the pressure when it reaches the level you set it at. I know that seems like a lot of time, but you will be happy you did this last step because it will help you to avoid spills, or swamps or just another 24 hours of the well not working.

GreaseBookers, don’t get me wrong. I hate this process. But it has made me a better pumper. And I was proud to know how to fix these valves – even if really, half the time it didn’t work. It also proved my worth to my company. And if it didn’t do that, I could also hire out as a freelance rebuilder of Kimray valves if I ever needed a job.

Now, here is the really great way to deal with a malfunctioning Kimray or one that has blown its diaphragm; take the valve off if it is not working, call the company man and tell him you need a new one.

A little story about my bestie and how she responded to one of her bosses that asked a question about one of her wells. He said, “Hey, I notice the production is down at the So-And-So well.” My bestie said, “Yup.” She’s a woman who cuts to the chase, you see.  He said, “Well, what’s wrong?” She told him there was nothing wrong with any of the topside equipment. That it must be a problem down-hole and she hasn’t had a chance to do any testing to see what it might be.

He said,”Well, what’s going on down there?” She said, “You know, I left my bionic eye on the bedside table. So for today I won’t be able to see 7,500 feet down hole. Sorry”.

~ Rachael Van Horn aka “Wench with a Wrench”

Okay so, literally 10 minutes before I got to my first oil well on Christmas day, the weather was a balmy 64 degrees and things, while cloudy, looked pretty muchly okay.

I had a weather report that sort of hinted otherwise. but who believes them anymore? Not me.

However, I should have listened. Because, like a scene out of “The Mummy”, a wall of rain and wind approached me from the front as I tootled down the highway to the Baker 1-9.

This storm was like an Oklahoma hurricane. I’ve never seen the likes of it. The storm wall hit my pickup with winds well in excess of 50 to 60 miles per hour. Something brown, like an animal or bird got caught up in the wind and hit the right front fender of Greenie, my trusty 1993 Ford F-150 pumping truck. I have no idea what it was. I only hope it wasn’t someone’s little brown dog because it’d be awful to kill someone’s little brown dog on Christmas day.

I literally could not see the hood of the truck for a few moments and pumped my brakes a little and tried to pull over, out of the way of any ginormous 18-wheelers that might be behind me.A Muddy Pumping Christmas

In 30 minutes, the whole storm was over. In that short time, water completed filled the deep ditches in the town I was driving through. My less than magical Christmas day of pumping wells was just starting.

And just about an hour later, it looked like it would be even more less than magical right about the time I got stuck at my fifth well of the day.

At least I only had about 23 to go, right?

And can I just say, I was really stuck. This was not the spin-your-tires-enough-to-smell-rubber-or-your-clutch-burning-and-get-out-of-it kind of bad. This was the, I’m buried and someone’s going to have to come get me, type of bad.

Which brings me back to the safety portion (Chapter Three) of The Lease Pumper’s Handbook.

Look, there are two types of pumpers; those who have been stuck in the mud or snow and those who will be. This was my second time being stuck in the mud. The other time, I happened to know a kindly farmer in the area and he came and dragged me out of there backwards by my hitch. It’s probably wise to keep good relationships between you and the area ranchers and farmers for these reasons.

Here’s another important note; get yourself a proper tow rope. Just do it.

You will thank me. Chains are for people who want to implant a link of chain into their face or skull. A tow rope has enough flex and when or if it breaks, it won’t fly at better than 90 miles per hour through your windshield and take you out.  Just sayin’. Do it. Don’t put it off.

The ropes like I use cost about $130 but think of it as a savings of $6,000 you would have spent in the emergency room getting your scalp sewn back on.

So there I was, Christmas day, feeling the incredibly rough wind pounding my truck and just sitting there, whilst trying to get over my anger at my situation.

Usually at these times, I am pretty good at just accepting my situation and allowing things to play out. I mean, at least I wasn’t buried in a six foot drift of snow, five miles into a seven section ranch with no cell phone signal. Because…uh…I’ve already done that one. (It took six days to get my pickup out of that drift. It was literally covered all the way with snow during the winter of 2012.)

So, I called a friend and asked him if he can come give me a tug out of this mess. I didn’t want to call the man I work for because, well, then what good is it to have me pumping his wells on Christmas day if he has to come rescue me?

I pictured him there, all warm and happy, sipping coffee while his grandchildren opened presents.

But my friend couldn’t help because did not have a hitch receiver yet on his new pickup and so I ended up having to call my boss. Not what I had planned. But Okay.

I was trying to surrender to what WAS instead of using my energy to be madder than hell. Now I needed to accept the situation, overcome it and use my energy to plan my day a bit differently so I could get in before dark.

I used my time alone waiting to FaceTime my daughter and her husband in California. I got a hold of them and watched as my granddaughter opened a Christmas gift. It was a great opportunity for me to slow my thoughts and realize that life is NOW and I had better make sure I found some way to enjoy my moments, even when they aren’t what I had originally planned or were full of aggravating and frustrating things.

Seeing my granddaughter tear into Christmas packages calmed me and reminded me of why I do all this – working extra on weekends and holidays. I smiled and caught my reflection in the rear-view mirror of my pickup.

I looked stupid, but I was much happier.

I say all of that to express this; the oilfield is quite possibly, besides the war zone, the single most unpredictable business in which I have ever worked. It takes just one, tiny thing – like a frozen Meko or a broken ball valve – and then like a nightmare of dominoes, everything comes crashing behind it. And that’s just one well. Spend two hours at one well and now you are behind for every other well you intend to see.

Off in the Oklahoma Panhandle, across that sandy horizon, I could see a little spiral of dust. I was miles into a ranch, but I knew I was getting out soon. By then, it was around noon. I needed gas and I was anxious to get out. We affixed the tow rope onto the back of my hitch and one little tug and I was out of there.

Of course, as fate often conspires, the rest of my compressors were also down because of the storm and so it was nearly dark when I finally drove into my yard after a long Christmas day in the oil patch.

After feeding my animals, I sat back on the porch and sipped a glass of wine and looked at the mud on Greenie. It was a hard day. But the work out there on those wells, listening to the pop, pop, pop, pop of an Ajax and looking for Santa Clause, was hard but refreshing.

The sleep after a day like that; Well, it sure is sweet.

~ Rachael Van Horn aka “Wench with a Wrench”