Flowing wells are created when the water and gas produce a pressure forcing the liquid from within the rock through any openings (such as a well). While the pressure may be powerful enough to push the liquids to rise up when created towards the surface; and as time progresses, this pressure will decrease, and lift systems may need to be installed for the remaining life of the well. However, before a lease pumper begins to think about bringing the oil up from the well, you need to consider the different production regulations.



Production Limits

Typically lease operators prefer to obtain as much gas, and/or oil, as possible to maximum revenue. However, while maximum productivity rates can provide more upfront profits, it isn’t always what’s best for the economy, environment, reservoir, or any other considerations aside from the lease operator’s financial interests.

To help ensure all factors are considered by the lease operator, a variety of agencies were created for gas and oil production regulations. For instance, local or state examples may include: Oil and Natural Gas Commission, Petroleum Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, or other similar names.

The goal of these agencies is to aid gas and oil producers in comprehending any problems or concerns with the reservoir. One of the main responsibilities of these agencies is to monitor and control the production of oil and gas reservoirs.

Often times, they set limits for these natural resources. Production limits (more commonly known as allowables) help to prohibit abuse through the subsequent guidelines:

  • Safeguarding Reservoirs

Production limits and regulations help to provide protection for the reservoirs and to ensure their lifespan and durability. Plus, using the proper production practices have been known to extend the reservoir’s production life, and in a higher closing production revenue.

  • Safeguarding the Rights and Freedoms of All Operators

Production limits help to preserve the lives of all the reservoir wells. Monitoring and controlling the volume of gas or oil a well can produce, preserves the bottomhole pressure. In other words, the operators will be able to postpone the use of lift systems, and prevents reservoirs from exhausting their resources erratically or too quickly. This is especially true when there are multiple lease operators who yield from the same reservoir.

  • Helps Reduce Coning

Gas and/or water coning is a serious issue many reservoirs face with producing wells. It generally occurs in an oil zone with either an: overlying aquifer, underlying gas cap, or both. When coning takes place, the zone containing the gas or water moves upward to the wellbore in the shape of a cone.

When this situation occurs, the cone will remain in place while productivity has ceased for the well. However, once the the valve is open, it will create higher gas productivity; and thus water will sweep into the well. As the water rushes upward, it forces out the oil; but these little variances in weight will take years for the well to naturally go back to the well’s initial state, and for lease operators to decrease production volume to a fragment of the normal productivity rate.

  • Reduces the Effects of Inferior Production Methods

The field operator, lease pumper, owner; it doesn’t matter who was at fault for overproducing the well. When a well is damaged, the entire company pays the price.

Therefore, the advised practice for production is to avoid overproducing the well by over 10% of the well’s daily productivity potential. In other words, if the well loses one day of production; it will take ten days for a single day’s loss to be recuperated. If this occurs, the well could still be short of the productivity standards by month’s end.

Nevertheless, this is still more appropriate than harming the capability of the well, as overproduction will result in a constant shortage.

Sometimes lease pumpers may come across other pumpers boasting of their skills for compensating for lost productivity by secretly overworking different wells. This helps by maintaining a full overall production rate after all production issues are rectified. While supervisors are typically pleased with the numbers, these results only shorten the overall life of the well and decrease their long-term potential.


Wells with Multiple Operators

The U.S. is among only a handful of countries where multiple companies, governments, individuals, states, and/or trusts can own the mineral rights.

Due to this, productivity procedures from one operator can cause extraordinary productivity issues for lease operators of nearby wells; and periodically, extremely severe declines can kill nearby wells.

In other words, they will no longer be able to yield gas or oil. This is due to the hydrocarbons being drawn from the furthest reservoir regions where the counterbalance wells might be.

Whenever a reservoir is off-balanced, it can cause:

  • the higher elevated wells to only yield gas
  • the lower elevated wells to only produce exceedingly high amounts of water with extremely small amounts of oil, and
  • the middle elevated wells to yield large amounts of oil, with extremely small amounts of gas, and little to no water.

When this occurs, a variety of issues could arise; such as:

  • a lease operator in higher elevated regions (who yields large amounts of gas) – the reservoir would lose pressure, and thus the wells with high amounts of oil would eventually no longer yield oil.
  • a lease operator in lower elevated zones (who yields high volumes of water) – can revitalize the lower the formation pressure and the water drive; which in turn can aid the water table in increasing productivity from large oil production wells rapidly plummets off. A large number of lawsuits have been filed over these type of issues; and the best answer for this is for any and all operators to agree to a productivity schedule for the entire reservoir in advance, this ensures the most effective, efficient, and beneficial wells for all parties involved.

Natural Well Flow

For a natural well flow, a well must have ample bottomhole pressure that is powerful enough to force the liquid to surge from within the rock formation, up to the surface, and into the stock tank; all without any external or internal support.

As the gas and oil are taken, water can fill the void left from the hydrocarbons as a result of the region’s lower pressure. This process typically takes years to transpire.

In order for a well to flow, there must be a powerful enough bottomhole pressure to:

  1. lift the line of fluid through the tubing to the wellhead,
  2. force the liquid throughout the entire flow line to the tank battery, and
  3. push the fluid into a pressurized differentiating container; all while maintaining enough pressure for the liquid to push through any additional treatment tanks, ending in the sales or stock container.

To determine the proper amount of pressure, most lease pumpers use a common guideline stating if a mineral well contains a standing flow of fluid, and a wellhead pressure of 100 pounds;  there will be ample enough pressure for natural well flow.

The greater the pressure, the larger the maximum yield capacity and the easier the well flow.

Producing Flowing Wells

Figure 1. An example of a wellhead for a natural flowing well. (ABB Vetco Gray)

To prevent the surge effect from occurring, packers are often installed around the tubing string base in the well flow annulus. Without a large bottomhole pressure or a packer, the flowing well will have inconsistent productivity.

For example: if the flowing well did not contain a packer, and mainly produced gas with little to no fluid amounts for small intervals of time; the majority of the fluid within the casing and tubing will originate near the tank battery.

Once the casing has depleted of fluid, the gas pressure within the annulus will splinter throughout the entire area and inside the tubing perforations. The abrupt increase in gas will remove the majority of the fluid within the well, all the way up to the tank battery.

However, once the loss of gas occurs, there will be a significant drop in gas pressure in the casing throughout the entire system. Once this pressure depletes, and the fluid starts to once again pool in the well’s base, the casing pressure operates as a flow buffer or pressure surge tank.

In order for the well to flow again, it will require the casing pressure to improve to a level that will grant the well the ability to cultivate enough bottomhole pressure. This unpredictable well flow activity is often reduced and/or eliminated by situating a packer near the base.

However, flowing wells with extremely high volumes generally do not have packers, and can be produced throughout the casing.

Packers are removed once a well is no longer flowing naturally. It is then transformed from a flowing well into a pumped well.

Once the packer is removed, and all is said and done, the casing valve will be constantly open to the tank battery to remove the formation of bottomhole pressure. Near the wellhead, a check valve is positioned to prohibit oil from being forced out of the tubing and flowing back down into the casing.

This allows the bottomhole pressure to deplete to the weight of the separator pressure, the flow line resistance, and the weight of the fluid line within the annulus.

However, the lease pumper must constantly be mindful of any and all situations that could change this delicate harmony; because even the smallest changes can affect the well’s oil productivity.

For instance, if the lease pumper were to make a five pound increase to the separator pressure; then the formation pressure will also have been increased by five pounds, and the oil productivity will consequently diminish. Once the gas production has reached the trace classifications, casing valves can be exposed to the air and atmosphere.


Generating Flowing Wells

Generally a flowing well contains a Christmas tree comprising of: a wing valve, a variable choke valve, a master gate valve, a positive choke, and a pressure gauge; with each Christmas tree containing at least one check valve.

To fully understand how this works, make sure you educate yourself in the basics of each area.

Producing Flowing Wells

Figure 2. An example of a typical flowing well Christmas tree configuration containing a: check valve, flow line, master gate valve, wing valve, and variable choke.

  • Casing Valve

Whether or not a packer is utilized in the annular space at the base of the well, a casing valve (a multiple round opening gate valve) is almost always fastened to the Christmas tree and to the flow line towards the tank battery. This allows the casing valve to be bled down, closed, opened, or even to permit the flowing well to advance to the casing and tubing. In cases where packers are utilized, this connection isn’t used until the packer is either loosened or completely removed.
The casing valve can generally tolerate high pressures; and similar to wing valves, do not have to use a full opening. This type of valve is often utilized to help determine if the tubing or packer has developed a leak.

  • Check Valve

Check valves are generally inserted as soon as the flow line vacates the well, a second one is typically placed near the well’s tank battery; or to be more precise where the tank battery separator head meets the well’s flow line.

Some lease operators prefer to have the check valve directly behind the wing valve, yet still in front of the choke valve; while others prefer to place it close to the ground, near the tank battery.

Having the optional check valve along with the ground level option, allows for the Christmas tree and riser pipe to be easily eliminated when they are no longer needed. Depending on the operator or company, all three may be installed.

  • Master Gate Valve

This type of valve is made of a superior grade valve. It has the ability to open up to match the inside tubing, which allows any specialized tools that may be required to pass through. Master gate valves require the ability to hold the entire pressure of any anticipated events that could occur to ensure well safety. This valve typically remains unblocked, and it is not utilized as a butterfly valve (or throttling valve) for controlling production flow.

  • Positive Choke

In most cases, the Christmas tree atop the well (see Figure 3) contains the positive choke, or it is located at the inlet manifold immediately in front of the first separating vessel (see Figure 4). However, many operators are known for using positive chokes at each site.

Producing Flowing Wells

Figure 3. Example of a positive choke situated atop the wellhead.

Producing Flowing Wells

Figure 4. Example of a positive choke placed near the tank battery.

An unmistakeable advantage to using the variable choke instead of a positive choke is the ability to easily change the settings. Positive chokes can easily regulate the flow, allowing the well to match the proper daily productivity levels.

This is accomplished utilizing a correctly sized flow bean. As shown in Figure 5, these beans are offered in 74 different sizes and are created to permit an increase in flow from anywhere from 5-10%.

Producing Flowing Wells

Figure 5. A chart showcasing the various flow bean insert sizes available to use with positive choke valves. (Cooper Cameron Valves)

  • Pressure Gauge

This type of gauge is made of a high-pressure steel. It is typically situated just atop of the well’s master gate valve. It will also have a ½ inch needle valve (including gauge), and a tapped bull plug.

Each of the high pressure needle valves can be used in 90 degree (ell) and 180 degree (straight) options. This allows the worker to read the valve pressure from a favorable angle.

Producing Flowing Wells

Figure 6. Example of a valve with pressure gauge located atop the well.

  • Variable Flow Choke Valve

This type of valve is generally a type of extremely large needle valve. It has a calibrated opening for workers, so the device can be customized using 1/64 inch sized measurements.

Variable flow choke valves are very expensive; and are typically made of stainless steel, steel, or tungsten carbide steel. Since the valve requires the ability to tolerate the high speed flow of the various abrasive materials, a high quality steel must be used. In most cases, this will help safeguard against damages for several years.

Producing Flowing Wells

Figure 7. Example of variable choke valve with a unibolt (or wellhead) design. To help  illustrate the flow path and quality of the steel, a section of the device has been removed. If you look closely, you can see where the two union joint halves meet; it contains a seal ring like the ones you would see on a wellhead section, and/or a Christmas tree. This allows the seal to withstand high pressures of up to several thousand pounds. (Cooper Cameron Valves)

Due to financial reasons and the productivity volume, ¾ inch valves are most commonly used. However, high productivity wells typically require variable choke valves of 1 inch or more.

Each valve is carefully marked to identify the specific opening size. You can indicate the size of a fully open valve by the last number. For instance, if the valve is 32; it is 32/64ths or ½ inch.

It is important to keep up with all aspects of the well. For instance, if there is any paraffin or salt water in the oil, it can cause the opening to clog. Therefore, it is recommended to periodically have the choke open to higher settings for short intervals; followed by periods of opening and closing it back up. This allows the well flow to clean out the seat and eliminate any buildup gathered within the variable flow choke valve.

On occasion, this type of valve can be set to productivity speeds permitting water to collect at the base of the well by dropping back down through the tubing string. As the water pools, it will slowly start to prevent the oil productivity; and at times, can even destroy the well.

When this occurs, it will be necessary to use a swabbing unit to swab from the tank battery to the water blanket in order to obtain proper flow. Increasing the flow rate in the choke by widening the opening for short intervals can help to prevent this issue.

  • Wing Valve

A wing valve can be either a multi-round opening valve or a quarter-round opening. Often times  lease operators will utilize plug valves; but in recent years, the ball valve has become increasingly popular due to its operational ease, and great economical value.

However, wing valves are customarily used to shut a well. This is due to their ability to easily read the tubing pressure.

Highly Proficient Lease Pumpers and Stripper Wells

Whenever bottomhole pressure decreases, there will always be a corresponding reaction (or downturn) in gas and oil productivity. During this lower productivity stretch (or as the reservoir hydrocarbons near exhaustion), the well is commonly referred to as a marginally producing well, or a stripper well.

As the stripper well’s productivity diminishes, lease operators will be required to determine if an artificial lift system should be utilized.

In most cases, a flowing well’s maximum lifespan (before it requires an artificial lift) is determined by the lease operator. One of the most vital skills for operators is the competence for making the best decisions for the productivity and longevity of each well during the marginally productive period before installing the artificial lift.

Some lease pumpers have the experience, interest, patience, and ability to perceive what is occurring downhole that allows them the ability to generate productivity months (or even years) longer than others; while other may never accurately establish this ability. Skilled pumpers know it takes time and experience to understand rocking a well. (A process where you bleed pressure from a depleted well. First from the tubing, then the casing, and so forth; so that the well may come back to life.)

This ability can not only create satisfactory productivity levels with lower down time; but it can also extend the lifespan of the flowing well before it requires an artificial lift.

Is your appetite for oil & gas operating knowledge insatiable like ours? 😀 If so, check out this related article, A Lease Pumper’s Basic Guide to Plunger Lifts – it will surely pump you up!!!

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”

Okay so It’s Halloween time and I can’t help but think of things that frighten me like plugged up Meko regulators, critters lurking in my meter houses and strange mechanics who appear late at night at my locations.

This year, there seems to be a lot of hysteria around clowns of, well, I just don’t get it. I think that’s just because most people don’t know that there are real things to be afraid of like ISIS for crying out loud.

The Haunted Lease

This week on Greasebook.com; The Haunted Lease! Stories from real pumpers like you about times when their leases became more horrifying than any haunted house.

And Greasebookers, reading the blog will not involve anything called work. Make no mistake about it. You could be at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, coasting through its famous Haunted Mansion, slipping into a ghostly foyer while being visited by giggling ghouls and you would not be as far away from work as you are now, reading Greasebook’s Wench with a Wrench.

This week, I was reading the 3rd chapter of the Lease Pumper’s Handbook about safety. Since I feel safety is the single most important thing on which we focus in this industry, I decided I would spend a little more time writing about it.

One of the statements in Chapter 3 mentions that pumpers, more than any other oilfield worker, do most of our jobs alone and miles from anyone who can help. This can be a serious problem when trying to do something that requires four hands. But the problems with being totally alone that I want to discuss this week are when you find yourself alone, in the dark with a well and you just know for certain that Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th is hiding just behind the water tank.

Okay so, have you ever seen – I mean really seen – the moon in late October? It sits low and deep and orange and hangs there very creepily in the northeastern sky.

This first story is from a company pumper by the name of Donnie C for a company who operates some oil and gas wells in and around the Laverne area as well as the Panhandle of Oklahoma.

He’s been a pumper for this company a long time and remembers well one night, just after Halloween when he was called out to a well on a particularly spooky night. So here he is to tell you about it.

“We have a well nine miles east of town called the Gonzer 3. It was on 24 hour satellite alarm call. It was actually one of the best wells we had at the time. It was making anywhere from 200 to 300 hundred Bbls a day. I would go to that well in the morning, at noon and again at 7 p.m. before I went home for the day.

Anyway, I get a phone call at 4 a.m. that this well is down so I get dressed and go out there and it starts snowing. It’s cold and dark – as dark as I have ever seen it. And did I say cold? Boy was it cold. I pull up to the pumping unit, get my jumper cables out and hook up to the pumping unit engine. Everything is all quiet except I’m hearing the wind howling in this funny, low pitch in the trees.

I have to admit, for some reason I was nervous. I hit the start button on the pumping unit and all of a sudden, it pulls so much juice that it shuts my pickup down totally. The lights go out and there is no sign of life at all with my truck and I’m standing out there in the dark with snow spitting in my face and no other sound than the wind howling in that creepy way in the trees.

So I feel my way back to my truck and I get in that pitch black pickup that won’t start either now and I call Mark (another pumper). I told him what had happened and he said he would come on out to help me. It was so creepy out there and I kept thinking I was hearing things so to keep my mind off of it, I put my headlamp on my hardhat and went and gauged the tanks. A little while later I see a light coming along through the trees and I call him to tell him to be careful because the roads are not good. He says, ‘I haven’t even left the house yet.’

I froze. I could hear my heart thumping in my chest because I knew I had seen lights.

Then he said, ‘Just kiddin’ man. I’m right here.’.”

Thank you Donnie C for that spooky tale and Greasebookers, we are not done yet. I have one more for you that you should enjoy. This one is from yours truly.

“Okay, so when I was working in Perryton, Texas for Chaparral Energy, we had a wonderful schedule; eight days on and four days off and then seven days on and then two days off. I enjoyed having a long weekend to go away and actually see some people. But it meant that you often had to work over the weekends.

So, we had a large, central production battery that had three large gas engine Co2 compressors and two large electric Co2 compressors. The central production battery was a maze of huge, complicated equipment  including horizontal treaters and three-phase separators that served the entire field of about 170 production and injection wells.

Having call on this central battery was involved, since every piece of equipment out there was on a satellite call system that would ring your phone automatically when something went down. There were times when the weather was bad that I was called three and four times in one night to go fix things.

On one particular night, which happened to be over the Halloween holiday, I was pretty happy to be on call because the weather was warmer than normal on this weekend and I anticipated no trouble with any compressor. Yay, I thought to myself. I will actually get some sleep.

Sometime around midnight, the phone went off and it told me that our most reliable electric compressor had gone down. Already, I had a bad feeling. I just knew something wasn’t right because even on the worst days, when my gas engines were going down, this electric compressor stayed running. And I knew there was power, or I would have gotten a call telling me there was a power failure.

So I dressed quickly and nervously. On my way out there, I called my best friend Evelyn, who is a 35 year career pumper and told her I was a little freaked out about this call. She said just keep me on the phone.

So when I get there, the place is deathly quiet. All the compressors have now gone down, which sometimes happens when one goes down because it increases the suction pressure since there aren’t as may compressors moving the Co2. The moon is this giant orange ball still hanging ominously in the sky and every shadow and every creaking sound is making me jumpy. I walk up to the first compressor that had done down and checked the computer to see what caused it to fail and it gave me a code that meant it had been put down manually.

The hair raised on the back of my neck and my heart was beating so fast I couldn’t even think. I reached for my phone to tell Evelyn what I found and that’s when I saw him out of the corner of my eye.

It was a compressor mechanic and he was getting out of his truck and heading my way, obviously drunk. He greeted me like he wasn’t surprised to see me. “I was hoping I’d run into you out here sometime,” he said in a creepy way.

I had a 14″ pipe wrench in my hand and I put it up in front of me before he even got close to me and said, “Did you put this unit down?”

He said, “I just adjusted the RPM on the gas engine compressors, it needs to be running at about 1,600.”

I said, “look, you need to get in your truck and go on.” He told me the only reason he stopped here was because he had been drinking and didn’t want to drive. I said, I don’t care what you’re doing, keep your dick-beaters off of my compressors unless we call you to work on them.”

He made some comments about what an awful and profane woman I was and how he was just trying to be friendly. But he did finally leave  the area. It took me another 45 minutes to get all those compressors back up and running and I was a nervous wreck the whole time I was there.

Many thanks have to go out to Evelyn for staying awake and on the phone while I did all that. Do you know how it is to be on the phone when someone is starting a compressor? It’s awful and I appreciate her being with me through that.

Anyhoo,  I may have sounded really brave and tough to that guy, but that really shook me to the core. I still think about it from time to time when the moon hangs low and orange in the late October sky.

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

Okay, so every time I go out to see my friend Renee Cudd, I know where I will find her. She will be riding around in her golf cart on her ranch in Woodward, Oklahoma overseeing and managing the vast quarter horse ranch she and her late husband built together. She is beautiful, my friend, Renee…

She is probably in her late 50s or early 60s, stays in shape and keeps her platinum blond hair tied up in a stylish knot on top of her head. She wears a classy button-up white cotton shirt and jeans.

And while she is now the force that carries on a legacy her husband left behind, she doesn’t yet seem to know how amazing she is.

You see, Renee’s husband was the quintessential example of someone who looked up at everything he did and followed his desire with a common sense approach. He took in what was happening around him, made a good judgement about it and then followed that with action. It’s a quality all too scarce these days.

Truth is, it not only made him a fortune in the oil industry, it turned his name into an icon that screams confidence at an almost John Wayne-ish level.

But for him, that wasn’t the point, right. For him, the whole exercise was to allow him create a life for himself and Renee that was comfortable and allowed them to do the kinds of things they both loved so much – buy, breed and sell some of the best Quarter Horses in the world.

This week, Greasebook.com proudly presents “Legacy” a story about an oil field icon who approached the industry with an astounding level of good judgement and common sense – just like the Lease Pumper’s Handbook says you should.

And Greasebookers, do not miss this. Because this thing…this journey you will take reading this blog is not work. Absolutely no way is this work.

You could be skiing down the black slopes of Jackson Hole Wyoming with the cold wind in your face, heading straight for the lodge where a hot-toddy of your choice and your best friends await you around a fireplace and you would not be as far away from working as you are right now, reading Greasebook’s Wench with a Wrench.

We have been taking a walk every two weeks through the Lease Pumper’s Handbook and I’m offering you a little real world example of how some of these very salient concepts that you can find in the handbook, can be applied. This week, I began reading Chapter 3, Safety.

The first section of this chapter is called “Good Judgement and Common Sense” and frankly, the first person I thought about was my friend’s Husband.

“The lease pumper never takes dangerous chances unless the event is already in motion,” this section notes.

Boring right? Everyone knows that, right? And yet EVERYONE ignores it. We see what we think are tough guys and we think, they can do that…so can I.

Not so much when you consider that my friend’s husband performed the most dangerous of work in the oil industry and came home alive to enjoy his life with his closest friend and business partner, his wife.

Did I mention that my friend Renee’s husband was the Iconic Bobby Joe Cudd of Cudd Pressure Controls. Maybe you have heard of him? Of course you have. He was one of the men who was one of the foundation characters for John Wayne’s character in the movie “Hellfighters”.

Lease Pumper Hellfighters

Bobby Joe Cudd was born in 1931 in Bradley, Oklahoma. He died in 2005 at 75-year-old. He had been working in the oilfield since shortly after he graduated. It was a choice he made as a new high school graduate after he took a long and hard look at what he was doing for work cutting broom corn for local farmers in his area. He never looked back.

The fact is, I thought of Bobby Joe Cudd when I read because through his more than 50 years in the oil industry he seemed to be one of the few who defined the industry rather than it defining him. He left a mark – a mark of someone with incredibly good judgement and common sense and not because he never allowed himself to perform dangerous functions but because he did so with amazingly good judgement and common sense.

Bobby Joe started out on drilling rigs, where every oil field worker used to start. He learned early that there are times when you have to take action quickly and perform dangerous functions, but he was sober, alert and intentional about what he was doing. He wasn’t on a cell phone while climbing a tank. In short in every second of every minute of every hour of every day, he was intentionally exercising good judgement and common sense. I am not just saying this crap. I know it to be true.

When I go see Renee these days, I find myself standing in front of large framed photos of Bobby Joe standing in front of these massive oil well fires. I’m struck by the calm look on his face. Just another day at the office, he seems to be saying.

But that was never really his attitude, according to his wife and the many men I have interviewed who knew him. He was firm and honest with his men and the people he talked to. He had no swagger. He had no hero complex. His wife said he just had this calming, fluid and very humble way about reminding people that they were here for a reason and to remain focused on what that reason is so that when you get to the end of your life, you can say you left something of yourself behind that in some way made the world all the richer for you being here.

It was the foundation upon which he and his men fought and brought under control 250 of the 750 oil field fires of Kuwait in 1991. It was the very bedrock of his establishment of Cudd Pressure Control Company of Woodward, Oklahoma in 1977. And it was the wisdom he used even when getting on one of his many Quarter Horses to go for a ride with his wife Renee.

In a March 2001 story written four years before he died, he was talking to a reporter who obviously was having a moment of hero worship. He was quoted as saying, “In the movie, it looks like everyone is trying to kill themselves,” he said. “The objective is not to kill yourself but control the well.”

Talk to anyone who served in the oil field anywhere in the world from Iraq, to Kuwait to Uzebekisan and they will tell you that Bobby Joe Cudd didn’t just follow those concepts of good judgement and common sense, he embodied them.

He left a legacy behind for those who care enough to research him. But after years of talking to his wife I have become aware of one more legacy he left and it is Renee. Ever a student of her husband’s insight, she told me of his last words to her before he died in 2005. He knew Renee was going to be left to carry on a company for him that was now pulling in $100 million per year with offices all over the world.

“He told me, ‘Renee, you have to be strong.” It seems a simple statement. But I think it’s clear that he’s really talking about being intentional. About setting your mind on something and resisting the temptation to let your mind wander. He was telling her there is never a moment in the oil field when she can take a break from exercising good judgement and common sense.

In the years following his death, Renee did not lose her drive. Despite her intense grief over the loss of her best friend, she picked up his mantle and never put it back down.

~ Rachael Van Horn aka “Wench with a Wrench”

Okay, so until about three years ago, I had not started a pumping unit engine by hand using a handle on the flywheel.

Until that time, all of my units were started by using a roll starter (or pin starter) or had a starting motor and I only had to plug into them with my pickup.

So one of my contract units was a C-96. Those are sweet little units that are generally fairly easy to manage and keep running.

Old Arrow C-96 running off natural gas in liberty mounds Oklahoma…

While not the same unit in the video above – the one I was working with had a small Lufkin that was a little more rod-heavy – the engine worked fairly well on this lease most of the time. The lease also had an Ajax compressor engine that I took care of too – an engine as you know, that I was very comfortable with since I had a lot of experience working with them in the past.

I had the lease about one week when the pumping unit engine went down and I knew I would have to manually start that unit and frankly, I was scared!

I had heard all the horror stories about how those handles had taken people’s hands off and how people who used their feet to kick start them had been wound around the flywheel and how people were killed when they hand-started units. Why is it you never hear any of the good stories?

Anyhoo, I made a few lame attempts at starting it and quickly decided the spark plug must be fouled and decided to drive to town and get one. The fact was, I was putting off starting that thing because I was just really apprehensive.

So, I did something I rarely do. I called a man I know who works for Unit Production who pumped wells near me. I asked Gary to help me crank-start this engine.

He came rambling out there from one of his wells and he set to work helping me.

He knew I had been in the oil patch for a while and he assumed that I had hand-started units before and so his assumption was that there must be something really the matter with this engine or I wouldn’t be asking for help.

And, to be honest, I really just didn’t correct that assumption.

It is sort of an oilfield tendency for most of us to never admit we actually don’t know something.

So Gary decides he’s going to squirt some gas into the engine while I pull the handle. Ugh. This ruse I was playing wasn’t working out for me. What I wanted was for him to start the damn thing so I could watch. My plan was to then say, “Look, amazing! It started. Don’t know what was wrong with that damn thing.”

Really what I needed was someone to pull the handle so I could see how they got that handle off the flywheel when the engine started.

But did I tell him that? No I did not.

So, being the Army girl I am, I gave the wheel a gigantic pull and the engine kicked over and started like a champ.  And since I didn’t know how to hold onto that handle and slide it off the hub, I let go of the handle. Yes, yes, you heard that right. I LET go of that handle.

Well, you know what happened then. Gary grabs me and runs to the other side of the unit and kills the engine.

Then, like a light bulb on top of the head of Wile E. Coyote, he had a moment of realization.

“Have you not ever started one of these by hand before?” He’s laughing but not really. I can tell he’s sorta pissed that I put both of our noggins at risk.

We are hiding behind the unit waiting for the flywheel to stop so we can get the handle, which is not barely hanging on, off the fly wheel. And I look at him, with my hands covering my mouth. “No.”

So Gary then teaches me how to do it properly. I am now one heck of a manual starting princess! I mean, if you have to kick start or hand start a unit, I’m your gal.

This week, on Greasebook.com – An Oilfield Thanksgiving – stories about real pumpers who found themselves in a bind and got bailed out at the last minute.

In the Lease Pumper’s Handbook, Chapter 4 is called, ‘Understanding the oil well”.

You think!?

Boy, if that isn’t an understatement. I needed this chapter, which takes a pumper through everything from understanding how oil comes into a reservoir to the types of rock and gravel formations are home to oil reserves. The Anatomy of an oil well is particularly interesting and easy to understand.

There are a lot of pumpers who feel they don’t need to understand all this since they are not drilling for oil, they are merely operating the lease. But let me tell you, there is a lot that happens downhole and in the formation that you will soon find, impacts your job on the topside. Believe me.

But don’t feel bad. I had the same attitude about allowing someone to know I didn’t know how to hand-start a pumping unit. The reality though is, that ignorance, as funny as it may sound when I write about it, could have killed me. And not understanding pressures and how gas and oil flow, especially on a newly completed well, can do the same thing at worst and at best, will mess up your plans for the day my friends.

Read it, learn it, love it.

This next story comes to us from, well, let’s call him Ty. Ty was a young, large, strapping, good looking pumper. And when I say young, I mean he was young in age and young in experience in the oil field. But he had a heart of gold and we were a team. (We pumped each other’s wells when we were on days off).

So Ty liked to try all the shortcuts, like anyone who has 36 to 40 wells. It’s understandable. But the reality is, you really have to understand not only how your well performs in all weather, but also how all of your equipment performs in all weather before you start playing fast and loose with the short cuts.

So on one particular well, which had a large Ajax DPC81 compressor, a pumping unit and was in a zone that had really sticky, black oil, he had situation that he still brings up about every time I talk to him.  Just a note, It was his well and so I never really looked into what zone but something tells me it was the Mississippian. That zone can be complicated. More on that in my next blog.

Anyhoo, the weather was turning colder. But this is Oklahoma and one evening, it had gotten real warm after two or three days of really cold weather. I mean, it is Oklahoma after all, right?

Now, it was a weekend and he had put off calling an oil truck to haul oil, thinking he knew exactly how many inches his well produced on a regular day. And that well usually did, indeed, produce about 7 inches of oil per day.

This is where I like to say, never let your well hear you say anything like, “I know what my well produces.” It will grow fangs and do bad things to you.

He got there Monday morning to a huge tank overrun. You guessed it. The weather caused a water dump to stick and dumped a bunch of water in the oil tanks and there you have it. Well, it was a hot mess. Oil all down the side of two tanks.

Now listen. The best way to get fired is allow a tank to overrun. It’s just a ginormous no-no.

Letting your tank run over is like a woman wearing white after September, it JUST isn’t done.

He called me on my phone. I was about 15 miles away on one of my wells. “Rach, I got a problem.”

“I’m on my way,” I said. I had no idea what I was going to find. But after years in the Army, when someone calls me, I go.

When I got there, we stood there in silence with about three inches of oil and water reaching the bottoms of our ankles. I went to my pickup and got a shovel.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m helping you. Happy Thanksgiving.”

After two and a half hours and a lot of sweat and shoveling of sand, you would have never known it happened.

Now, to be clear, what I did is really bad. In fact…well…it’s illegal. So don’t do this. That’s why I didn’t tell you where this well is…I don’t want you, to become accessories after the fact. In fact, this blog will self destruct after you read it.

I told you the story because It’s Thanksgiving.

So who in the oil field has pulled your fat out of the fire?

Give’em a call on Thursday and tell em how thankful you are for their help that day. Do it before you chow down on all the turkey. You’ll be surprised how good you will feel.

Just a note. Ty gave up the oilfield for greener pastures.

~ Rachael Van Horn aka “Wench with a Wrench” 

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