The Blue Ridge, Ga.-based company started up just four years ago. “My previous employment had nothing to do with this line of work - I was a vice president of a New York-based consulting firm,” which begs the obvious question: So how did you get mixed up with the water well hydrofracturing industry?
“I had a well of my own frac'd 10 years ago or so,” explains McGinn. “Originally, a driller came out and put in a well that we were told by the [general] contractor was producing 5 gallons per minute. When we ran out of water, I called the driller and said, “There must be a broken line here or something because we've got 5 gallons per minute. 'No,' the driller replied. 'You're getting half a gallon a minute.' So while the contractor and the driller pointed fingers at each other, we were getting nowhere. The answer, of course, was to drill another well. I had another well drilled 200 feet or 300 feet away.” That only made McGinn the proud owner of two wells that could only make half a gallon a minute. “The driller knew very little of hydrofracturing except that a guy up in north Georgia did that sort of thing,” McGinn continues. “He recommended I call this guy to see if he could find some way to get water out of these wells. When the fellow did come down to frac the well, I stayed home that day so I could watch. He did a really good job and I thought to myself, 'This is really interesting.' I like equipment and stuff so I thought that when I retire, this is something I should look at. So I watched it - for years. I concluded that this would be fun and totally different from what I had been doing - a great little business.”
Getting StartedMcGinn soon did retire from his consulting gig and after a brief transition period, concentrated full-time on his hydrofracturing venture. “At that point, we had a crew doing the work and they were having lots of difficulties - getting stuck, breaking stuff; it was one thing after another. The capper is they both quit with no notice. Jeffrey and I were at Jubilee and when I checked my telephone messages on Saturday, they said, 'By the way, we won't be coming in on Monday.' So Jeffrey said, 'Why don't I drive the rig, and you and I will take care of things that way for a while?'”
So that's what they did - until they ran across a guy McGinn describes as “absolutely terrific.” Russell Ware was hired with the idea that he would run the hydrofracture rig and McGinn would help him. “We trained him for about four months,” McGinn relates. “Then when he and I went out the first time, he told me, 'I'm a little hesitant about doing the video examination, and if we get stuck, I'm going to get blamed. Why don't you run the rig and I'll do the helping and driving?'” So that's what they've been doing for the past couple years.
“Once the rig is in position, I run the frac cycles, do the video examination and handle all the customer stuff. And it's worked out very nicely that way,” McGinn stresses.
Spreading the Word"We rely very heavily on drilling contractors referring work to us,” notes McGinn. “And that means the drillers have to buy into the notion of hydrofracture having a value, and they have to buy into the notion that their responsibility with the customer is to help them make an informed decision. If hydrofracture is a better option than drilling another well, that's what the drillers should recommend. It has taken some time to get them to do that, but we've managed to get that done. Over this period of time, most of the big developers know us now and they'll call us immediately when they've got a problem. And most of the drillers up in this area refer all of their hydrofracturing work to us. So over the past four years, we've built that bridge; the drillers understand that hydrofracturing is a legitimate technology.”
Furthering the cause, McGinn has taught a couple of classes at Jubilee and he teaches for the states of North Carolina and Georgia as well. Speaking of drilling contractor education, McGinn offers: “Lots of drillers have been to seminars and classes on hydrofracturing that talk about pumps and equipment and hoists and cables and packers and all that stuff, but they really didn't focus on why hydrofracturing works and the actual physical impact on the well that makes it produce more water. I think there's this underlying notion that there is some sort of voodoo going on.”
In his position, McGinn recognizes the need to stay at the leading edge of the industry's advancing technology. “There are a few guys around the country who are really bright and have a good grasp of this stuff,” he remarks. “I've talked at length with these people about hydrofracture's impact on a well, how you can measure it and what kinds of things improve the well development in terms of application and pressure. We've learned a lot and have developed a pretty good understanding of what the physical impact is of what we do, why this stuff really works and, as a consequence, how to make it work better.”
On the hardware side, McGinn says, “We constantly are improving our equipment. We have a hydraulic packer that Flatwater Fleet made especially for us. It was a design we came up with while Flatwater had something similar on the drawing board. It works exceptionally well; it makes a huge difference. And we have the largest frac rig that Flatwater Fleet has ever made, I believe. When it's loaded, it's about 75,000 pounds. It's a 2000 International model - all-wheel drive, about 37 feet long, 13 feet, six inches high and carries 3,200 gallons of water. It's a monster. It has a 6-ton crane on it, a Myers triplex pump and a big compressor - and all of this stuff is hydraulically driven.”
Taking advantage of the latest technological improvements is part and parcel of Mountain Hydrofracture's de facto credo: “We're constantly looking for ways to do our job better,” says McGinn.