How to Split More (Gas Meter) Lines Than Pablo Escobar

Okay, so I was coming back from a much needed break out of the Iraqi war zone from Ireland.

The year was 2005. It was a beautiful vacation. I had met my family in Dublin and for 10 days we had just made a fabulous tour of the country, starting at Wicklow, through County Cork and then on to Dingle Bay.

When I left, I ached saying goodbye to my daughter, who was at the time a Freshman at Emory University. It was a prestigious private university for which I was paying – hence my work in a war zone. But anything for my daughter, who had clearly earned her opportunity.

I traveled back to Dubai, my entry point into Iraq and at that point, all systems were go. Things seemed to be flowing nicely.

That is, until I hit a clog in Dubai. It seemed there was a sandstorm in Baghdad, where I always entered the country and so I was stuck in a terminal at the Dubai Airport.

Things got worse when all of the people I was traveling with on that would-be plane to Baghdad decided they were not going to remain stuck in what I called “the chicken terminal” at Dubai airport. And so they decided to try and re-enter the county of Dubai so they could sleep comfortably and come back to catch the first plane to Baghdad in the morning.

But there was a problem…

The system that stamped visas into the country would not allow someone to enter the country for less than 24 hours. And with good reason. The only way they were to allow those people back in, they said to us, was if we surrendered our passports. “We will give them back to you when you come back in the morning,” they told us.

Now, see, this was not going to work for me. There is a long-standing rule about never giving up your passport…ever…to anyone… in any country. You just don’t do it. Ever.

Do not ever give up control of your passport, except to the person stamping you into or out of a country.

But all the rest of the “sheeple” I like to call them, just wanted comfort. Without so much as a wink and a nod, gave up their safety for a good night’s sleep and a drink at the bar.

Not me. I stayed in the “chicken terminal” for 28 hours until that flight took off. That night was eventful in numerous ways that I cannot even explain to you.

There were hundreds of Middle Eastern men and women flying in and out of the terminal all night. I came to know people I suppose I never would have, had I chosen the same path as the folks I traveled with.

Why am I talking about this?  It’s simple. Things are built a certain way for a reason. And just like the system at the Dubai Airport, your equipment in the oil field was built to be used a certain way.

Change its structure, even a little bit, and it might work out for you. But most of the time what I have learned – the hard way of course – is that it either stops functioning immediately or the alteration puts long-term pressure on the equipment and there is an epic failure down the road – Uh, usually when you least expect it and there is an inch of ice coating everything. I’m just sayin’.

Those folks I was traveling with – they thought they got away with something dangerous and most of them did.

But one of them made a similar mistake in France about eight months later. Seems he got delayed and left his passport there at the airport. It worked in Dubai, right?

Near as we can tell, after getting the report from Interpol, he decided to just stay in Paris overnight and enjoy the city. He was never heard from again. We still do not know where he is.

We learned he was missing when his mother called our company area in Iraq, asking had anyone heard from her son. “He calls me every day and I haven’t heard from him in four days.” My guess, he ventured into a wrong part of the city and with no papers to identify him, became another John Doe crime victim. It’s as simple as that.

Welcome Greasebookers, to Wench with a Wrench this week. We proudly offer up, “Just passing through” stories of pumpers who tragically altered how their equipment worked with less than positive results.

Our next story comes from career pumper and former partner of mine, Jesse Caanan. I met Jesse when we both went to work for a private wildcatter who had 30 or so vertical wells north of Alva, Oklahoma. He now works for TapStone, an operating company here in Oklahoma.

I would say that Jesse was the single most professional pumper I have ever worked beside, aside from my two best contracting buddies, Greg Evans and my bestie Evelyn Dixon. A more conscientious, decent family man I don’t believe I know. And this was also how he treated his oil wells also.

But even Jesse The Great can be tempted, when faced with an irksome, hard to figure out problem, to try his own approach.

“I had a heater treater that wasn’t staying lit,” he said.

“You know how those pilots get plugged up after a while and they need to be cleaned. Well I always had carried a guitar string around that that seemed to work well. But then I got one of those nifty torch tip cleaning rigs that had all the little drill tips on them that were supposed to be so neat. So I just thought, I’m gonna just drill that orifice out.”

Well, the next day Jesse came back to the heater treater and could hear the fire roaring inside that treater and knew this was not going to work. It was eating a lot of gas up just keeping the pilot lit and who knew how hot the thing had gotten.

“So I ended up having to just take the whole pilot orifice off and buying a new one anyway,” he said.

It was while on the same set of wells that our boss, the wildcatter who drilled all these wells, made a similar mistake. It was at a cost of about $4,000.

It was like 2012 and Jesse and I had discussed one of our wells over a span of a few days, that was putting all the water into the oil tank.

Now, if you read in Chapter 10 of your Lease Pumper’s Handbook, you will learn about pressurized vessels and exactly how they work in dumping water out of the water leg and dumping oil out of the proper valve for it all to end up in the right tank.

It is important to understand that all of these wells were plumbed to automatically dump water all the way to the disposal well location. We did not keep water tanks on each location.

If you do not read and study any other chapter, you will need to read and learn and understand this chapter. Numerous issues can cause dumps to stop functioning correctly. But Jesse and I believed that since this water leg had been functioning all this time correctly, there must be an obstruction in the water line somewhere.

“I told him we needed to just hot oil that disposal line,” Jesse said. “Well the first thing he did was take the while water leg out and then put it back in there, at what cost I do not know. And it still did not work.”

Still convinced it was something more complicated, the driller and owner of those wells  believed then, that the issue must be something related to pressure. You see, he was distracted by the fact that he had brought on a new well on the system and he thought maybe there was just too much water going through those water lines where they all came together that led to the disposal well. And so he changed out all that piping, to the tune of $4,000 from 2 inch to 3 inch piping.

Still, no joy. Water STILL in the oil tank.

Jesse and I talked about that case back then and again recently and I reminded him that when things seem complicated, I try to remember a theory called Ockham’s Razor – given two explanations for a problem, the simplest is to be preferred, at least initially.

It’s not 100 percent always the case. Sometimes the more complicated answer is the right answer.

But Greasebookers, try to add this theory to your tool box. You will waste less time.

Thank you Jesse for sharing your stories with us.

And now we come to the end of the story this week. I have to end it by telling you one of my own attempts at making something “work better”.

Yeah, go ahead and laugh. Ever heard of a constant bleed dump?

The dump, instead of using a float device in the stock tank or heater treater, uses gas pressure variables to cause the dump to function. The system bleeds pressure constantly through what I call a bleed tube and others call it a gas tube. You will know one when you hear constant hissing when you approach the separator or heater treater. Most of my constant bleed dumps are on horizontal treaters.

Well, one day I realized the water dump was not functioning and I noticed that there was no gas bleeding through the bleed tube at all. Now those little, tiny bleed orifices find 100 reasons to clog up.

This one seemed to really be caked with limestone deposits and no matter what I put in it or washed through it, the clog would not open. So, I grabbed one of those orifice cleaners, a larger one, and wallowed out that orifice. Yes, I could tell it was a little bigger, but hey, it appeared to be working. It was bleeding gas right? Didn’t that mean something?

Next day the separator was swamped and the line to the gas meter was totally full of water. The friggin’ gas meter was gurgling for Pete’s sake!

I was just lucky it was not the dead of winter because I would have split more lines than infamous cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar…

Pablo Escobar

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