NOTE: If there’s anything on this page that you as a water hauler can use to train your new drivers, feel free to help yourself–as long as the manual you produce using my material gives me the credit and tells everyone where to find this page.
Terms and Types
Before we discuss hauling produced water (commonly called production water) in this section of the manual, let’s talk about a few bits of terminology.
1. Oil patch (or oilpatch), a simple little term that encompasses anything and everything having to do with either oil or natural gas production from start to finish, including the land on which the drilling rigs operate.
2. Strap. That’s what I got across my rear end more than once as a kid. You know, as in, “Fetch me the razor strap!” But when it comes to hauling production water, the word strap means a lengthy, crank-wound metal tape measure and/or the usage of that tape: “Don’t forget to strap that tank!” (Meaning, check the level of water and oil in there, wouldja!)
3. Production water. This is simply the most common way of referring to produced water, which is the stuff that oil wells and natural gas wells, um…produce.
NOTE: My water hauling experience took place in the natural gas drilling boom on Colorado’s western slope. If you’re in the middle of an oilfield and find this manual is inaccurate here and there due to differences between oil and gas production, hey, I remain open to updating where needed.
There are basically two types of “production water hauls” in the patch. In one situation, the driver pulls water from production tanks situated at various wellhead locations and delivers it to a temporary storage location, often a plastic-lined pit.
In the other, loads are pulled from the pit and taken either to frac tanks for reuse or to disposal facilities which can be more than one hundred miles distant from the temporary storage pit…and even in a different state. For example, our Colorado loads destined for disposal were taken to a site located in the state of Utah.
Two key practices must be taken into consideration for these longer hauls:
1. When pulling a load from a storage pit, don’t rip the plastic liner. The potential for such damage raises its ugly head when the water level in the pit is, shall we say, “way down there”. You may need to use more than one 30-foot length of 4-inch hose (with debris screen attached) to reach the water. And the fitting latches can snag the liner if you’re not careful.
People get really unhappy with you when that happens…potentially, people all the way from those supervising the pit to state officials to the dread EPA.
So…how to dodge the bullet? The simplest method I saw used (which I copied immediately) was to wrap the offending latches with duct tape so that there was nothing to snag. It’s a bit of a hassle, since the tape has to be removed shortly after it’s applied, but the avoidance of nasty consequences makes it worth the effort.
2. This is one time when you definitely want less than a full load…because (as mentioned earlier in these pages) a topped-off tanker will show you overweight when you cross the highway scales at the chicken coop.
Only experience will tell you exactly where to stop the fill. Other people’s experience, hopefully.
The Production Driver
Loads are pulled from production tanks at wellhead locations only by production drivers. These guys and gals are specialists. Their work is more detailed, more complex, and carries a greater risk of loss than does any other type of oilpatch water hauling. You cannot learn to do this by reading a manual. Don’t even think about it.
So…why am I writing about it at all?
Simply this: I would have loved to know a little bit about the production driver–what’s involved–before I actually became one. When my employer informed me that I was going to start learning the production water business (in 2008), I freaked.
On the inside.
Didn’t want to do it. Hated the thought. Production drivers were all snotty, nose-in-the-air A-holes. AG-G-H-H-H-H!!!
On the other hand, it wasn’t like I was working as a water hauler for the sheer fun and games of the thing. I needed the job. Telling the boss to take his “step up” and shove it wasn’t going to improve my odds of keeping beans on the table.
In the end, I not only got good at the job–became a topflight production driver–but evolved to the point that I didn’t really mind being one of those A-holes. So, a few random thoughts on the process to maybe shorten your time in the freakout mindset . You know, just in case you get the call someday.
1. Absolute essentials in your toolkit for production work (which aren’t needed otherwise) include a strap (long steel tape measure), a plumbob (goes on the end of the strap), a plastic bottle of baby talc (talcum powder), a batch of production tickets (specialized forms for writing down key stuff), a supply of numbered metal seals (different for each oil company), a crescent wrench, and certain specialized fittings.
2. Production tanks are routinely enclosed in a lined containment area which is (often) defined by a low, corrugated steel wall. The idea here is that if water (and/or oil) spills from one of the tanks, it can be kept from contaminating the surrounding countryside.
3. You’ll be dragging a lot of hose here. The tanker trailer can’t climb the wall (or punch through the fence, if that’s all that happens to be in place at that location). It’s a rare production “pull” that requires only one length of hose.
4. Prior to pulling a load, strap the tank from which you intend to get your water. This process requires a number of steps:
A. Climb the ladder to the catwalk that puts you in a position to open a lid and take a looksee.
B. Open said lid–but watch out. Some of this stuff is under a bit of pressure in there and can -whoof!- fumes all over your face. Plus, some of it is na-a-asty stuff. If you don’t have the knack of keeping your face out of the way and–like Bill Clinton–refusing to inhale when you’re awash in chemically enhanced power-mist…. Hey, you’ll either figure it out quick-like, you’ll quit, or you’ll get hurt.
C. Strap the tank. Most of these tanks will contain both oil and water. Water-on-metal is often difficult to pin down…until you apply a bit of talcum powder in the area where you think the water level should be. Then the exact measurement jumps right out at you, right where that bright white powder stops, having been washed away as you lowered the plumbob to touch tank bottom and then reeled it back in.
Quick story: I once had a senior production driver accuse me of pulling (and dumping into a storage pit) an entire load of oil from a production tank. Long story short, the fellow had issues. He knew I’d ended up working the location without my strap, which had jounced out of a faulty sidebox during the night, and he clearly figured he could “nail” me for the transgression.
Unfortunately for him, he blared this out over the company radio…and I fired right back, telling him he was severely “mistaken” (which he was). No, I’d not had my own strap, but I had borrowed a strap from the well sitter who was parked on location the entire night and who’d actually watched me strap that tank.
After our radio conversation, he re-strapped the tank and “discovered” he’d made an “error” the first time; it was all good.
D. Oil floats on water. You need both figures.
Starting to see why this is something for which you must receive serious on-the-job training? Eh? Eh?
5. If there’s enough water in the tank to load without pulling oil, then–after you write down the water and oil heights on a production ticket–it’s time to actually set up to pull the load. The fitting (or fittings) needed at the tank end can vary, so we’ll not go into them here. However, once the hose is properly connected between tank and tanker and there is vacuum pulling at the tank valve, it’s time to…
6. …Break the seal on the tank valve. The seal is a security device; if someone has pulled water–and/or stolen or accidentally discarded–oil from the tank, a missing or broken seal will provide an instant clue to the fact that something isn’t as it should be.
7. Open the tank valve–which is where the crescent wrench comes in. These tank valves do not come with their own handles.
8. Stick the broken seal in your pocket; you’ll need to record the number on the production ticket shortly.
9. When the loading process is complete, a new seal is applied to replace the one you destroyed…and the numbers of both seals are entered on the production ticket.
10. Back up the ladder you go. Time to strap the tank again, recording the new (lowered) water height on the production ticket–which also contains the well location and tank ID number.
That’s enough for now. As I said, becoming a production water specialist is not something you want to tackle without a senior driver on hand to show you the ropes.
Next (and final) Chapter: Miscellaneous considerations.