Manual for Oil Patch Water Hauling with the 130 Barrel Tanker, Chapter Two: Loading Fresh Water


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

The Need and the Sources

Drilling rigs, whether for oil or for natural gas, use a lot of fresh water in their day to day operations. Without truckloads of the stuff delivered on a pretty much daily basis, the entire operation grinds to a downtime halt in relatively short order.

That said, it’s understandable that securing a reliable water supply is absolutely essential for any energy company. Because of this intense need, no stone is left unturned in the endless search for sky juice. Neither is it any great suprise to discover that what seems like a solid water source one day can be prohibited by local authorities or landowners the next. At various times during my water hauling years in Colorado, we “pulled” fresh water for our tankers from a variety of places, including but not limited to:

1. The Colorado River (at two points).

2. Various ponds both natural and manmade.

3. Frac tanks other drivers had preloaded prior to our shift.

4. Another tanker that had broken down and needed to be offloaded.

5. City water hydrants.

6. Reserve pits.

No matter where you’re operating as a water hauler, your source will at least be similar to one of these six source types.

Approach with Caution

Every fresh water source carries with it a degree of risk. For the driver who may be experienced at long haul (OTR) work, tight spots in major cities are the norm…but the offroad world of the oilpatch has a somewhat different set of traps for the unwary, hence this Warning Section.

Be wary of treachery underfoot. To illustrate my meaning, let’s list a couple of “things that happened” to me and my fellow driver one night.

–I drove into a super-tight area on Little Creek to pull a load from a manmade pond…and the bottom dropped right out from under my Peterbilt’s drive tires. What had been solidly frozen earth all winter was suddenly a nearly bottomless sea of quick-mud. I called my shift partner on the company radio immediately to warn him off. We were barely able to get me unstuck using the churning power of both trucks.

–An hour later, the edge of an embankment rimming the lower end of the pond suddenly gave way, nearly tipping my partner’s fully loaded tanker trailer over altogether. We had to unload his trailer, after which we were luckily able to pull the now-empty tanker back to secure footing . It was a very, very close thing.

I could cite other examples all night long, but you get the point. Until you have your trailer backed up, turned around, or pulled alongside to where it needs to be, and loaded, be wary.


Pulling a Load from a River, Creek, Lake, or Pond

First, one note about flowing water: If you back up into (or slide back into) a rushing river, your entire rig can get sucked into the torrent and go bye-bye forever. That actually happened in Colorado; one company’s overturned truck lay on its side in the middle of the Colorado River for weeks before they finally managed to drag it out of there.

True, it was a bobtail, not a tractor-trailer combo, but never think the longer rigs are immune to the danger. They aren’t.

The loading procedure, once you’ve safely parked your truck, goes as follows:

1. Chock your wheels. Every safety manual stresses this, but it can’t be said too often.

2. From the side tray, pull down the hose you need to reach the water from the trailer, but do not let the hose ends fall on the ground. If you do, you’ll break a lot of fittings unnecessarily. The “slickest” way to do this is to pick the “forward” end of a hose out of the tray, set it gently on the ground, and then “walk” the rest of the hose out of the tray so that you end up holding the “rear” end in your hands. Pun not intended.

3. Dragging the hose around the end of the trailer is common practice and usually not a problem. It’s best to have the female fitting in your hands and off the ground when you do so; the male end is much less likely to break from being dragged (especially because the latches are both on the female fitting).

4. Remove the metal travel cap from one of the trailer valves and attach the female hose fitting over the male valve outlet, making sure the two latches “snap in place” properly.

5. Attach a debris-stopping screen to the male end of the hose and then place it in (and completely under) the water.

6. Fire up the vacuum pump (engage the PTO). NOTE: Most experienced drivers start the pump running, building vacuum, before they exit the truck cab in the first place. This manual did not mention it first because we didn’t want to distract you from chocking your tires.

Oh, you didn’t do that yet? Well, go do it now, okay? We’ll wait.

WARNING: Do not go to Step 7 until you have at least a few pounds of vacuum showing on the pressure gauge. There may be chemical-tainted residue sitting inside your tank. You don’t want that spilling out and into your fresh water source, ever.

7. Throw open the load valve, then stand by to monitor the process as water is sucked through the screen, up the hose, and into your tank.

8. In most cases when hauling fresh water, you’ll want to load your tank as full as you can get it. One exception is when you have to haul the load over sections of highway where having your rig weighed is a possibility…because most 130 barrel tankers filled to capacity will put your total rig weight well above the normal 80,000 lb. limit.

At any rate, close the load valve when your load has reached the desired level.

9. Head on back to the cab and shut off the vacuum pump (disengage the PTO).

10. Disconnect the hose from the trailer and replace the load cap on the trailer valve.

11. Pull the hose up out of the water, disconnect the screen, and put the screen back in the fittings box.

12. Put the hose back in the side tray.

13. Pull the tire chocks, put them back wherever they go while you’re driving, and…you’re loaded.

Not in the recreational sense, you understand. Your tanker is loaded. With fresh water.

Frac Tank

Pulling a Load from a Frac Tank

Loading from a frac tank requires the same steps as above, with the following exceptions:

1. The male end of your frac fitting screws into one of the valve outlets on the frac tank.

2. No screen is used. Instead, the male end of the hose is inserted into the female end of the frac fitting attached to the frac tank.

3. You have two valves to throw instead of one. The trailer valve is opened first and closed last.

4. A bit of room must be left in the top of your tanker so that when the valve on the frac tank is closed and the hose disconnected at that end, there’s still enough vacuum left to suck the hose dry (and thus avoid a spill).

5. Don’t forget to unscrew the frac fitting from the frac tank and take it with you when you leave. Forgetful drivers have lost more frac fittings than unlucky politicians have lost elections.

6. When you first close the frac valve, watch for leaks from the valve. An occasional valve can be a real bugger to get sealed right, and the slowest of leaks could get you fired.

Loading One Tanker from Another Tanker

There are just two “different” things to remember here:

1. The double female fitting goes onto one trailer’s load/unload valve–doesn’t matter which one.

2. Only the pump pulling the load is used. That is, this is a case of “always suck, never blow”.

Loading from a City Hydrant

This manual wouldn’t touch telling you how to do that with a thirty-foot hose. Cities are, for one thing, touchy critters. When they do allow a water hauling company to pull city water from one of their hydrants, the way the local bureaucrats want it done is always extremely specific. Permission is subject to revocation at any time. The water hits your tank under city pressure. Steep grades are sometimes involved. Parking can be an issue.

All of which (and more) means that you’ll need detailed training from your company bosses (or senior drivers) before tackling a hydrant.

Next Chapter: Blowing off a load.




2 thoughts on “Manual for Oil Patch Water Hauling with the 130 Barrel Tanker, Chapter Two: Loading Fresh Water

  1. Thank you for these instructions Ghost. They are funny and instructive. I sell tractors for Western Stars, and I want to learn more about water hauling, especial rigging pumps to tractors. How long does a pump run to fill a 130 or 165 barrels tank?

  2. Appreciate the comment, Alex. I’ve never worked with a 165 barrel tank–80, 100, and 130, but never 165–so I reckon we’d need to extrapolate from the 130 barrel size to figure that one.

    Which can and does vary, depending on (a) the sucking power of the pump you’re using, as they’re not all identical, and (b) the level of the incoming water source in relation to the tank. If you’re pulling from a loaded frac tank or upright tank where the water source is higher than the tanker, ten to fifteen minutes may do the job. But the lower the source, the longer it takes. Those pumps have only so much lifting power. If you’re trying to reach from the bottom of a deep reserve pit, for example, it can take “forever”. I recall one location where we could barely pull at all and took well over an hour to get a tank loaded…and then we finally got down low enough (60 feet or so below ground level, if memory serves) that the water wouldn’t come up at all; the pump did its best but no go.

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