There are many places I would rather be at 9:30 at night than driving on a bumpy “lease” road in South Texas. A “lease” road is a primitive road paid for by an oil company that has leased the mineral rights from a land owner, which is usually a rancher in these parts. These roads are built where the rancher wants them built and built as cheaply as possible. The purpose of the road is to haul the drilling rig and equipment in and out of the site as well as transporting the oil and by products off the site for years to come. There is always a posted speed limit but the roads are so rough you can’t speed without tearing up your pickup. The massive holes and bumps are causing stomach to revolt! The questionable character behind the counter of the truck stop I stopped at a few hours earlier assured me the two slices of pizza I bought were fresh. Upon eating it, I realized he was quite the salesman, and I was a sucker. And now I was paying for it a second time.
I can see the lights of the drilling rig through the brush. Mesquite trees are thick with plenty of yucca and prickly pear and other vegetation mixed in. This rig was only about 250 feet tall, some are much taller than this one. They are always lit up like a Christmas tree adorned with white lights and can be seen for miles. Finally, I turn one last corner and pull onto the site.
The protocol when visiting a drilling site is to check in with the “company man”. He is the oil company representative and he runs the show. Most of the actual tasks are performed by sub-contractors like the company I work for. Even the drilling rig is owned and operated by another company. I step into the company man’s trailer. He is busy watching a computer and doing some calculations with his back to me and doesn’t even look up, this is pretty typical. Many company men act standoffish and are rude to guys like me. Company men are “in charge” and like to remind you of that every chance they get. In the corner of the office there is a flat screen TV hanging with a movie playing. We maybe in the middle of nowhere, but there is always a phone and TV in the company man’s trailer. I watch for a few minutes, Steve McQueen is in a dialogue with Yul Brynner in one of my favorite movies, The Magnificent Seven. The pair are questioning the presence of a lone horseman that seems to be following them on horseback from a ridge. Below the tv is a monitor that shows what is taking place on the rig. I can see that the vertical depth of the well is a little more than 9,000 feet and the well stretches nearly 20,000 feet in total length including the horizontal leg. The company man is still ignoring me. I know he heard me walk in, the roar of the three huge Caterpillar powered generators outside is almost deafening when the door is to the trailer is opened. I look out in the darkness and watch the casing crew sending pipe up to the rig floor to thread together and send down hole. It looks like they just got started by the amount of pipe still piled up on the racks. It takes a whole lot of 50 foot long sticks of pipe to reach 20,000 feet. Finally the company man acknowledges my presence and gives his blessing on where to park the trailer I am dropping off for our upcoming job. It only takes a few minutes to unhitch the trailer and be on my way.
I make my way back down the lease road toward the highway. It always seems to go faster on the way out. I reach the entrance gate and wait to be checked out by a sleepy eyed woman who looks to be in her sixties. I always make sure I am kind and polite to the gate guards as that must be a boring job. Sitting in a camper next to a gate all day and night. Signing in and out every vehicle that comes and goes from the lease, they can have that job, far too boring for me. I notice the sign for the lease, 18,345 acres of this ranch have been leased by this particular oil company. That is pretty typical for these parts. I know of one ranch that has 83,000 acres leased out for oil exploration! That is a lot of land!
As I pull my truck onto the highway I check the time, 10:30 PM. By my calculations I should be back in the yard by midnight. And if all goes well, in bed by 1 am.
But nothing ever goes according to plan, there are emergency repairs to be made and I finally clock out at 1:45 AM. Just another long day in the oil field!