Hauling Water in the Oil Patch : The Good, the Bad, and the Customer

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The Three Questions

A gentleman interested in starting his own trucking company to haul water in the oil patch asked three very good questions:

    1. Who is the customer?

    2. Where do you take the bad water?

    3. Where do you get the good water?

The Good Water

The good water, i.e. fresh water, comes from the usual sources: Rivers, ponds, streams, or even (on occasion) from city water outlets.

That said, there is no greater challenge for any oil company than the task of securing access to adequate fresh water sources for drilling operations. It takes a lot of fresh water to run a drill bit a couple of miles down into the Earth, and quite often both individuals and governmental entities who can throw roadblocks in the way…do just that.

Any trucker hauling fresh water to drilling rigs will “pull” water from only those sources authorized for his company to use–or face the consequences. Likewise, those sources may change from day to day. Examples from my own past employment (as a driver being instructed by the dispatcher) include:

–ABC or XYZ pond.

–ABC or XYZ set of frac tanks, where other drivers have previously filled the tanks from “root” sources such as a pond or river.

–#123 City Outlet.

–Such and Such Creek at This or That specific location.

–Big Bad River at This or That specific location.

–Whatchacallit Canal.

Or not. Today’s approved “pulling” location may be tomorrow’s prohibited access.

Production water holding tanks.

Production water holding tanks.

The Bad Water

Bad Water is a term you don’t hear much in the patch. However, production water does need to be disposed of in a responsible way. Production water is the water that comes out of a completed well once the well is up and running, pumping crude oil (or natural gas) out of the ground. It can be nasty.

Hint: Do not drink this stuff!

Bonus Hint: Do not flick your Bic anywhere NEAR this stuff. Unless you enjoy being “flashed”, having an explosion blow you clear off the top of a tank and the skin off the front of your face. Which one young genius did on the Roan Plateau in Colorado during the time of my employment in that area. Twice. No I.Q. test has been administered to the company that failed to fire him after the first time.

The usual steps in disposal include:

1. From the wellhead, the water flows into onsite tanks for short term holding.

2. Tanker trucks haul the water from those tanks to a lined storage pit for temporary storage. The drivers who perform this service require specialized training to do this correctly; incompetence in transferring production water from on-pad holding tanks will produce a whole host of problems. Each and every load of water pulled from each and every tank is measured and recorded in considerable detail.

The storage pit applicable to a particular well will usually be located within a fifteen mile radius (or less) from the well location.

3. Other tanker trucks then reload the “bad water” from the storage pits and haul it to licensed disposal facilities–which are gigantic “pit farms” capable of handling enormous amounts of water. The disposal facility may be located 100 miles or more distant from the temporary storage. Due to the much longer driving times between loading and unloading, many more trucks are required to empty the temporary storage pits than were required to fill them…but these drivers do not need as much training.

The Customer

The Customer is the oil company responsible for any given oil well location, either during the drilling process or after. While a new hole is being drilled, the contact person is in most cases the “company hand” who lives on location and supervises the overall drilling operation (which is done by a specialty drilling company contracted to the oil company).

Some operations leave the choice of water haulers to the man who sees them at work daily (the onsite company hand) while others go for overall contracts decided by distant corporate offices. Either way, the man bossing the drilling rig pad can tell you who to see…and he’ll be the fellow signing off on your paperwork when you start delivering loads.

The company hand can make you or break you, so be nice!

Even if he’s not. Especially if he’s not. The paycheck you save will most certainly be your own.

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