St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Frac oil drilling insights

My old high school friend Bill stopped  over last weekend to catch up on what is happening with us. He had just spent a week trout fishing with his son down in frac sand country.  It got us to talking about the sand and oil wells and fracking.   

The conversation turned to his son who works in the oil fields in ND with one of the major drilling companies as an oil engineer, working with fracking well development.  What follows is my best recollection of what I learned from Bill, who had spent time talking to his son about the work.  I pressed him about safety and other issues.   Although these are not his words exactly, but I will write it conversationally as I remember him telling it to me. 

People worry about oil well drilling and fracking polluting the water.  That happens only if the oil driller is not careful when grouting the wells.  A well is drilled deep, maybe 10,000 feet, right through the water table.  On the way down, and as the well is created, it is grouted—concrete is pumped down to line the hole.  It is critical that the grouting is done responsibly—that the right concrete for the conditions and the right amount and procedures are used and experienced engineers are in charge.  The problems that have shown up are from careless drilling.  Our company is very very fussy to do this right—you don’t want to pollute the water and have all the problems that come from that any more than the folks who live nearby.  So when you hear about that kind of thing, it means the drilling company hasn’t done things the way they should.  We spend a lot of time getting things exactly right—doing more than what is needed instead of cutting corners.  Oil wells make enough money that there is no excuse to do them on the cheap.  

The holes go down deep—maybe 10,000 feet and then turn and head off in side directions—maybe even 5 different pipes.  Each pipe is double – a pipe and a liner.  There is a shortage of pipes, and some of the foreign ones are not good enough quality to use.  The American steel industry is starting back up some plants just to make the miles of pipeline (maybe 15 needed on a well).  Takes them a while to get the plants back in production, but should create jobs for mining iron ore and steel making.   Most of the steel comes from recycled materials now. 

Living in ND is difficult.  Housing is hard to find and expensive.  Going out to eat is a problem—way to many folks to get served quickly.  The most profitable McDonalds is out here and it doesn’t serve inside, just drive through.  Even Wal-Mart doesn’t look the same—stuff is not put on shelves, just left on pallets.  They can’t get enough employees and things sell so fast. 
You don’t want to go out to a bar—too much chance of getting in a fight.  Just like the wild west.  

Anybody who can pass a drug test can get a job if they are willing to work—lots of overtime, lots of truck driving jobs; even construction as they build more housing.    Very good pay for most jobs—have to or people won’t work for you.  There is no tolerance at my job for any folks who are on drugs or even come in tipsy—don’t want anyone messing with your safety and the well being done right.  

There are about 218 drilling rigs active right now. You can find out that stuff at   My son is headed to Alaska later in the year where a group of Texas investors have been drilling upslope from the existing oil wells.  You know, production up there is down, and they think there is more oil further up the hills.   He might go to Australia next year.  They are heavy into natural gas there.