Eagle Ford Shale

I wrote this story in the summer of 2016 while working in south Texas. This was only my third or fourth attempt at writing a story about my adventures.

August 2016

There are times when my job in the oil field relates to my volunteer firefighter job. Like a firefighter I get called into action and I must react quickly at times and rush to the aid of my coworkers that are in need of my services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, there are usually no lives in the balance with my paying job.  When I am not working in the oil field, I am a volunteer firefighter for a rural fire department in Lingleville Texas. 

Today I am working in my shop repairing a semi-truck when I get the call. One of our high pressure pumps we use on location has an issue. A filter had broken and dumped a few gallons of oil on the ground. As I rush about the shop gathering the necessary parts, oil, and tools to make the repair my phone rings again. This time it was one of my other drivers calling to say his Western Star truck was leaking red oil on the ground right behind the front bumper. After a game of “10 questions” I determine that the power steering cooler was cracked. This is a common problem with these trucks. The repair isn’t very difficult by today’s standards, but the front bumper must be removed. I keep several spare coolers in my parts room. So I quickly add to my list of tools I need to take and grab a case of power steering fluid to add to the 15 gallons of synthetic gear oil I had already loaded up. The biggest challenge I face is that the two breakdowns were in the complete opposite directions.

I work in the Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas. The Eagle Ford is spread out over 26 counties with the majority of the exploration taking place south of San Antonio. Our yard sits in a pretty central location about 30 miles south of San Antonio near the town of Pleasanton.   

After fueling my service truck I hit the road around 4:30 pm. My first stop is about 60 miles to the east near the town of Karnes City. I am in a hurry, but I won’t break the speed limit. I don’t think I could talk my way out of a speeding ticket with an excuse about repairing oil field equipment. While it was an emergency to me I don’t think a deputy would agree.

I arrive on location to find the situation exactly like they described. The rig was still running the 9 and 5/8″ diameter casing into the freshly drilled 5000 foot hole in the ground. I glance at the rack of pipe waiting to be lifted to the rig floor and guess I had about an hour to complete the repair before the pump was needed. So I dive right into my work. I don’t bother telling the crew I am here as they were all sleeping in their trucks. Doing well cementing work like we do is a 24 hour a day 365 days a year endeavor. The drilling rigs never sleep, so our guys take advantage of every chance they get to sleep. The repair goes smoothly and I crank up the 650 horsepower Cummins engine to test my repair. It appears that all is well. Just as I am finishing I see the supervisor walking from truck to truck waking the crew. It is time for the safety meeting that takes place at beginning of each job with the rig crew. I finished in perfect timing. I quickly pack my tools and head toward destination number two.

Typical Eagle Ford drilling site

I head south out of Karnes City through Kennedy Texas and turn southwest to Three Rivers. My destination is in the southwestern part of the oil field near Laredo. Laredo is a border town on the Rio Grande. There are many drug runners and illegal immigrants that flow through the country side in that area, so it makes me very apprehensive to travel there at night. There are also many, many Border Patrol agents working tirelessly to protect our borders from this illegal invasion.

My stomach has decided it needs to be fed so I stop at a Subway in Three Rivers. This town is aptly named as there are three rivers, the Nueces, the Frio, and the Atascosa that converge here. None of them are very large, but they are called rivers none the less. As I scarf down my sub sandwich driver number two calls. His name is Vicente. He is a nice man, a very hard worker, but his English speaking ability is almost nonexistent. So I regularly practice my Spanish with him, which isn’t near as good as it was when growing up in South America.

Vicente is, understandably, wondering when I will arrive at his location, as it is now about 8:30 pm. He is parked near a drilling rig trying to wait patiently for me. A quick check of my phone tells me that I have about 2 and a half more hours of driving. I relay the info to Vicente and thank him for understanding the situation.

Somewhere between the towns of George West and Freer my classic rock station decides I am out of their listening area, and while it had been fading in and out for some distance, is now completely nonexistent. I start searching for a new radio station only to find my choices are limited to Spanish polka music or Country. I am not a fan of either, but my disdain for country deems I choose the Spanish polka. The first song is sung by a man pinning away about a lost love accompanied by a trumpet and tuba.

There is no moon tonight, not even a sliver. As my diesel powered truck drones into the Texas night I wondered if this was the area that General Santa Anna led his troops through on their march toward the Alamo in 1836. What must it have been like to be a soldier in that army.  The long days of marching in very uncomfortable boots carrying a heavy musket with all the supplies needed to sustain oneself on your back. Sleeping on the cold ground under the dark Texas sky hoping a critter of some sort did not decide to cuddle with you for the night. All the while wondering what fate awaited the next day.

My thoughts are interrupted by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. This was about the first I had seen in 20 miles. A cattle truck all decked out in lights was headed north, possibly with a load of cattle for a sale somewhere in the morning. Now my music choice is another man belting out a tune about being in love with a senorita from Chihuahua with beautiful black hair accompanied by an accordion and a bass guitar keeping the rhythm.

Finally just after 10:30 I turn off the highway and check in with the gate guard at the lease road. My paperwork says it is 3 miles into this ranch to the rig location. Thankfully this road isn’t very rough and I can actually maintain the 20 mph speed limit without jarring my fillings out. The lights of Laredo can be seen just to the southeast lighting up the night sky. To the southwest is the Rio Grande River that marks the division between Mexico and the US. I am sure the lights I see in that direction are in Mexico.

A drilling rig lights up the night sky

Vicente is more than happy to see me and he jumps right in to help. We remove the front bumper, change out the leaking power steering cooler, reattach the bumper, and top off the reservoir with oil in about 45 minutes. All this work was accomplished with the assistance of my pickup headlights. Upon completing a quick test to ensure there are no more leaks I pack up my tools. I have about a three hour drive ahead of me back to my camper that I stay in while working my hitch.

Finally around 3:30 am I crawl into bed. The odometer in my truck showed that I had driven 370 miles tonight. I fall fast asleep because the alarm will go off at 7 am. I decide I can sleep in an hour since I was out so late. I must get up and do it all over again the next day, I must always be at the ready to rescue my coworkers when they break down.

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