Friday, November 6, 2015
Tthe Truth about Fracking from a Mud Engineer
Author's note: Perhaps one may get the larger picture about directional drilling and Fracking by looking at the persons responsible for that on the job. That person for almost thirty years was me. The following is an outline of what it took to become proficient, the regulations and paperwork, and my continued attempt of separating fear and speculation from fact. Without a doubt the oilfield is here to stay, so we should try to understand it without the hype, and outright lies. If you want a better tomorrow, base your decisions on truth.
Part one: From Liquor Sales to Fluid Engineer
For nearly thirty years I worked as a Fluid Engineer. Oil is in my blood, and always will be. I was twenty-nine when I walked into Milchem's Lafayette office to sell Crown Royal to managers who thought it the perfect Oilfield Christmas gift. That day, after just an hour in four offices, I made a collective order of twelve cases. The date was December, 1978.
I mention this date because at no other time in my life have I ever experienced a more robust economy. We were literally busting at the seams, and people from all over America, and the world, came here looking for work. Every business was doing well, every eatery was filled to capacity, and restaurants and bars like LaFonda's and Judge Roy Beans had standing room only, and both of these were my accounts. These were the places entrepreneurs went to network for business, laughter, and a drink, and both fortunes and dreams were mapped out on a half-wet paper napkin. Men drew sketches of new tools, a bottom line, an offer, a diagram along side of a name and phone number, and if it proved worthy when one sobered up, it became reality. I bought drinks, and I rubbed elbows, and for a young man there seemed no limit to the possibilities.
From New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Houston to Dallas, oilmen engineers and hungry salesmen planned strategy during fishing tournaments, whispered considerations in a blind while shooting ducks and white tails, and the skies glistened with brand-new personal jets. And there, within arms-reach of my Harry Hebert prefab home, were more millionaires per kappa than any place in the U.S., both then and now, where service companies and big oil conspired with new inventions and holy cow ideas. It was a place that truly inspired the American Dream.
It was that particular day, the day I sold Crown Royal to Milchem, that my life took an unexpected twist. It was the day I accepted the position of Drilling Fluid Engineer, and the 9 week school that would take me to its credentials... After four years at Loyola, the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school, but I was given a good salary with the promise of a company car and expense account to motivate me... And I would have died before letting that slip away...
In retrospect, I had thought to get into the oilfield several times, but had to do a bit of homework to determine my direction. I studied Directional Drilling, Cementing, MWD, and Drilling Fluid (Mud Engineering), to make an educated decision. I didn't particularly like the name Mud Engineer, but after my inquire thought it an honorable, and very responsible job...
A week later I was traveling to Houston with three other students for an intense and high-octane mud school, and you were expected to hit the ground running. I remember how confused and lost I originally was, with virtual mountains of math and chemistry cold turkey, and volumes of terminology and paperwork as the primary focal point. It wasn't the common-core type of education, mind you, but real algebra, geology, geometry, and chemistry, and I was lucky that along with the hard work, I found men of like mind who gave good counsel. And I knew, quite from the start, that I needed to learn precision in my judgment, as the paperwork, in the form of multiple reports, were based on astounding accuracy, and one math mistake, no mater how minute, grew larger with each computation... insuring a failing test...
Part two: From Fluid Engineer to Sales, and the unemployment line
I moved up into sales in three years, and thought for sure that I had picked the right avenue and profession. It took me two years in the field to get my wings, and I finally started seeing the same thing twice. It was in those first few years that I originally got my feet wet in drilling directional, and helped pioneer, by my practical knowledge of field work, new varieties of muds and tools to be used in these directional holes, and I learned a new process called fracturing on the job. I was given a lot of challenges, with drill-in fluids comparable to my work-over and completions experience, to the new synthetics and polymer muds of drilling, and we expanded our knowledge and ability by a seat-of-the-pants-on-site proving ground, and all under the microscope of expectant Company Men, EPA government officials, and main-office engineers and bankers who had made promises for its performance. In that process, I saw dreams both explode and rocket to fantastic heights, and most all of it, most all, came to an end in 1983.
We didn't know why back then, and I don't think any of us actually did no matter how we tied to understand it. Most thought, as I did, that our new-found abilities and technology had created an over-supply... and our own expertise had finally done us in. We grabbed the morning paper and watched the prices of oil and natural gas as an indication of a resurgence... a resurgence that never came back to that original boom, even to this very day... And there, in a final destruction that took nearly a decade to cycle, companies folded, and men, who were riding so high, fell like leaves in an autumn wind.
My Contacts, the very rungs I needed to survive, contacts that I had so cleverly nurtured, finally withered to zero. I called them, but their phones were disconnected, their million-dollar homes given back to the bank, and they left with no forwarding address. And the oil center became a ghost town, with seven out of nine local banks going belly up, and it took me nearly twenty years to finally understand what actually happened.
Our conservative President Reagen, in the midst of a cold war with Russia, used our CIA to train and arm Afghanistan rebels to repel the Russian Boys there, who were building and protecting a very expensive and needed pipeline. He conspired with our so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, to open the valves and flood the market with cheep oil... and in the process, Russia defaulted, and their government dissolved under the onslaught of debt... and so did the American Oilfield.
Part three: Fracking around the world
I survived, in retrospect, because I thought my investment in knowledge and time too precious. I survived because I had a great responsibility to feed my family. I survived in the business, and I was one out of ten oilmen who did.
Fracking has given America the ability to be, in my lifetime, energy independent, and also for the first time, to be an exporter of natural gas that will rival Saudi! In two years we will have the ability to export from the Gulf of Mexico, and Cheniere Energy is at the forefront of that venture, and in my back yard. So why the negativity? Well it seems a simple matter, Natural Gas is still considered fossil fuel, and some folks want this to end with the new technologies of alternative energy sources taking the reigns. Even if Natural Gas is considered both clean-burning and abundant, they want wind, solar, and a new technology that might use something like water as fuel. They want the byproduct to have no contaminates, something that is ether quickly biodegradable or already part of the environment naturally. Well, who wouldn't? But we and technology, as of yet, have failed to meet that mark, as several companies sponsored by government, and our taxes, will attest, have gone bankrupt. You see, what we need, instead of government intervention, is free enterprise. We need American ingenuity, not party payback for campaign contributions. Do you want a strong and viable economy? Jobs? Do you want new technology, and liberty? We need government to get out of our way...
It is being proposed that the technique of fracking is somehow causing environmental calamities, like earthquakes and water contamination, and so opposition to fracking was invented. They want to crush resurgence, and the ability to sell overseas. It is said that we have over a hundred years of supply, and that demand is so great around the world that our prices can and will remain low, with profit high.
For my first 17 years domestically, and the latter part of my 27 year career internationally, almost every job I went on had some form of fracking procedure, and, as a fluid engineer, I was involved. My responsibility was not only the aspect of the drilling and completion operation, but I was the one doing the observations on overboard anomalies like a drop of oil over the side, to the mountain of timely paperwork that described to my office, our customers, and the Federal US Government, every aspect of the job, from safety to environmental concerns, from cost to waste on the site, and if my paperwork was thought to be bogus or incomplete, I would have been run off never to return.
So strict, you could be fired for peeing over the side, or even not telling if you saw someone else doing it. It was called zero discharge... Once, I had to actually beg my Company Man to keep me aboard, as I had flinched when I was being written up for not having my ear plugs in. Flinching meant a bad attitude, and safety took president over time and cost. You see, insurance is so high in the field, these companies self regulated every aspect of the operation, and posted the days of the last lost- time accident on the morning report every day. Not only that, but there was an incentive to every hand to perform safely, with monthly and yearly bonuses. The statistics they gathered, with my help, were used to get a cut in those premiums.
Of course I worked for the big boys, and surely there were smaller companies who might have been more lenient, but when an official would land unannounced on your platform, your paperwork or lack of over-site could get you a ten thousand dollar a day non-compliance fine, and could even get the entire operation shut down... When your client is renting a rig for $600,000.00 a day, just five minutes of down-time might be more than you are worth. You knew what you were doing and got the job done safely, on time and under the projected price, or you were a gone... A mud engineer is given what is called a PROG, and it is up to you to make it happen... The Company Man, Tool Pusher, Directional Driller, Cementer, and every service hand was given that game plan, and you worked together for a common cause, but all of them, the very last man, could use me as a scapegoat. If it, the job, didn't go right, it might be blamed on us, the Mud Engineers, and so, we got very good at paperwork, and covering our collective butts.
The business took me to some amazing places, from desert to jungle, deep water to swamp, and I learned a lot about my fellow man and the very wide and misunderstood cultures that wrap this planet like a present. I grew up in the oil patch, and so, when my writing on this subject was viewed by some with both suspicion and what can only be called taboo, I have a urge to fight back... and the best way to fight back, the most lasting and productive way, is to just tell the truth. Because the primary reason for this negativity of fracking, my liberty minded friends, is ignorance of the subject, where truth is intentionally distorted.
Part four: In a nutshell...
Fracking is nothing new, only ability. Few know the impact that oil has had on America and our lives, and think, like I originally did, that an increase of supply will lower the price at the pump. The anti-drilling green-crowd is fearful, and really, I can't blame them for being a bit paranoid with government and big business, but to me, in this instance of talking about the fracking procedure, it is unfounded. Sure, accidents happen, but we have in place an amazing amount of checks and balances that insure not only minimal accidents, but also accountability. There is no way to hide the truth, as was so well noted in the BP oil spill. Lying is no option, as the truth of the matter is written in triplicate, and tests are done by legal mandate, duly recorded not only in hard copy, but immediately transmitted in real time. Every moment on the rig floor is recorded by camera, and can be viewed in an office, with a two second delay, half way around the world. And so, if you want to last in this business, do your job as a professional, and never lie. Come clean the moment you take note, and you might survive. And all of it, every communications, every report, everything... becomes public record.
Though there are many and various technologies coming every day, to me none can compare to what the combination of fracking and directional drilling has done. Today, about 97 percent of all wells drilled in the U.S. utilize this technology to bring the well in, so if you want to stop fracking, you will obliterate the Oil Patch. It singularly has produced millions of jobs, and other imaginative technologies are today riding on the back of this procedure, from the permitting process to production, and the wide methods of processing and delivering these products to market as well. When one considers the amazing yields we take for granted, for synthetic and polymers, soap, paint and coatings, fertilizer, perfume to insect spray, and what these products have done for the virtual good of our way of life is staggering.
In my mud books there is described a primitive form of fracking that was done in the late 1800's, when a nitro glycerine torpedo was dropped down the well-bore. Must have taken a lot of courage to be the first one to handle that, and the use of something akin to armor-piercing bullets to perforate the pipe prior to fracking needed fail safe devices, as premature detonations on the rig floor claimed some precious lives before being perfected. But there are indeed dangers working offshore, from helicopter crashes, pop-off valves on mud pumps, blowouts, H2S, weather, and a wide variety of unforeseen human error. And accidents of these sorts will continue, in spite of the grand attempts to manage it. Accidents happen, but the loss must be weighed by what is gained. Life is precious, and our earth has a finite amount to give, but without a doubt, with time, the dreams of a clean and unlimited fuel will be reality, just as my hero Mr. Tesla predicted so very long ago. Until that time, however, we will do the best we know how, with the safest methods known, by responsible men who explore new possibilities, and bring to civilization the bounty of our God-given imagination.
Now retired, I look back over my life as a mud man with little regret. It wasn't all good, it wasn't all easy, but after all is said and done I am so damned proud to have participated, so honored to have met the many hard working and responsible men who tried so hard for family. Their faces move past my memory like a flicker, and they were mostly all good men. The good men, who did everything in their power to make their lives have value, and the world is better for it.