I finally got back to work, after spending most of the summer at home with my bride, Lottie. She had some health issues and I was worried, so I spooled up and went to Georgia for the summer. Funny thing is, the weather was perfect up here, but way too hot there. Now, I’m back, and fall is here. It seems a little later this year. Last year, the first freeze was Sept. 15; this year, it’s October already and still fly-season. But it’s coming. I went today and got a bunch of gear to winterize my new trailer: heated water lines and sewer lines, skirting, etc. I figure if I don’t do it now, I’ll be on a job when the weather turns and come back to a frozen shack. I’d like to avoid that, ‘cause I spent last winter in a dry camp with no water or sewer, and I can tell ya that a porta-john is not fun at 20 below. Froze my nether regions to the seat once. Not the kind of place to take a book, but that’s another story.

When I arrived, I spent a few days sharing a trailer with some other hands, which was OK but not perfect. Too crowded when everyone is in. Now, my company has rigged me up a new trailer of my own, so that problem is solved, and Lottie can come visit whenever she wants. Home cooking and fringe benefits. Makes my day.

When I got back, I found out the boom was marching right along without me. I arrived, got settled and started making the rounds to let folks know I was back in town. Before long, the phone started ringing, and it was like I never missed a beat. One of our competitors managed to set some bridge plugs that they couldn’t retrieve so I went out and fished out a pile of ’em. Funny thing is: I know the guys that set them, so I ragged on them pretty hard. “Y’all just keep stocking the pond I fish in, thank you very much ...” They were, somehow, not impressed.

The Bakken boom has grown more mature, with a growing need for service of existing wells

The Bakken boom has grown more mature, with a growing need for service of existing wells. Source: iStock

As usual, traffic is a nightmare here. If the weather is bad, you have to deal with people that have never driven in ice and snow, let alone black ice. If the weather is good, it is road construction season, which it is now. Traffic backs up for miles sometimes and patience is the order of the day. The other day, I got passed by a vibratory roller. That’s slow, but at least we get there right side up. They will keep building roads until it is too cold to move dirt. You don’t really need a calendar here to tell the seasons, which are: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. Road construction season can also be broken down into mud season, dust season, fly season and mud season again—all within three months.

The nature of the work is starting to change slightly up here. A few years ago, when this boom started, drilling was everything and all my work involved open hole work on big, directional drilling rigs. The drilling is still going strong (190 rigs in the Bakken right now), but there are thousands of wells that are already drilled that need service. There are a ton of workover rigs servicing the newly drilled wells. This is a slightly different type of work and requires slightly different tools, which we are accumulating as the need arises. Another big difference is the experience level of the crews. The drilling rigs are pretty well crewed up and know their business pretty well, but some of the completion and workover rigs are green as grass. Nice, new rigs to work on, but nice, new crews to work with. Some of them don’t really know which end of the derrick goes in the air.

A while back, I was working for a major service company. When they recruited me, they said they had all kinds of schools they would send me to, to learn all kinds of new stuff. Turned out, they sent me to defensive driving (sixth time), first aid (12th time), basic rig safety (I taught that one...) and other corporate time wasters. Eventually, I asked them if they would send me to a refresher course to renew my well control certification. The vice-president-in-charge-of-his-own-career asked me why I needed that. I told him that I was often out on a well with a completely green crew that had no idea what to do if the well kicked and I wanted to help however I could since I was there anyhow. With corporate reasoning straight out of “Catch-22,” he explained that if I was certified and a well got away, blew out and burned the rig down, they would be liable. I asked him, “What do you want me to do in an emergency situation?”

 He said,“Just keep doing what you’re doing ...” That is one of the many reasons why I now work for a company with common sense.