Sunday, May 11, 2008

South of Weslaco

I graduated from college in 1969 and took a job mudlogging for a Texas company named Core Lab. The second well I sat was near the south Texas town of Weslaco. The well was a joint venture between Shell and Texaco and on its way to a depth of 13,500'.

Since this was only my second well, a senior mudlogger, Jack Bowie, was assigned to show me the ropes. Jack was as colorful as his name and show me the ropes he did. I would work the well site from seven in the morning until seven at night. Jack would usually spend the day doing other things and would check on me around quitting time when another mudlogger spelled us for the night.

Weslaco was very close to the Mexican border town of Reynosa. Usually Jack and I would leave the location and drive to Reynosa where the food, fun and drink were cheap. We often stayed out until the wee morning hours before returning to our motel rooms to clean up and then go back to the drilling well.

The well was a wildcat. That means it was more than a mile from the nearest producing well. The well was wild for more reasons than that. We were drilling through an extremely thick sequence of alternating sand and shale called the Frio. As close as we were to the Gulf of Mexico, the stratum was unconsolidated and we penetrated 300 feet or so ever hour. And there was gas, lots of gas, coming up out of the hole.

The gas and unconsolidated strata had caused problems on the well since the day it began drilling. The hole was crooked, dog-legged we called it, and there had been problems cementing the intermediate casing. Two drilling supervisors had already been "run off" and a crusty old tool pusher promoted to finish the hole.

I can’t remember the tool pusher’s name so I’ll call him Mike. Mike was of average height and build but he had a badly bent nose from some past altercation. He also had a resolute expression that caused the wild Texas roughnecks to take his directions seriously. He was a former World War II fighter pilot and it only took one look at his dark eyes to know he was likely good at it.

One hot July day found me more tired than usual from the past night’s cerveza drinking and senorita chasing. Jack was no where around and I reclined on the couch, "just to rest my eyes for a moment." I awoke to a sound peculiar to the giant drilling rig: silence. Awakening instantly, I rushed outside to see the backs of every man on location running as fast as they could, through the dry Texas cornfield, away from the location that had suddenly gone deathly quiet. Every man except Mike, that is.

Ten feet from me, he was moving faster than I had ever seen him move, twirling and closing valves, pulling levers, throwing switches. Finally, the diesel engines coughed, then sputtered, then again began circulating mud in the well. Seeing me looking, Mike grinned and walked over to the trailer door. As I stood with my mouth open and hands in my pocket, he pulled an old Zippo out of his pocket, fished a cigarette out of the pack in his shirt pocket, put it in his mouth and lit it. After a long, satisfying pull he looked at me and said, "Another thirty seconds and you and me would have been blown straight to hell."

Mike didn’t elaborate but Jack did when he finally returned to location. "The gas pressure’s so high that the mud’s not heavy enough to contain it. As long as the mud pumps are working, it’s cycled out of the hole. If Mike hadn’t restarted them, the pressure would have blown ten thousand feet of drilling pipe straight up into the air and all over this corn field. It wouldn’t have been a pretty sight."

Jack didn’t bother telling me how stupid I had been not to follow the roughnecks off the location. He didn’t have to because I’d already figured it out. That night Jack and I drank an extra Tecate for Mike, yet another unheralded oil patch hero that I’ve met, somewhere along the way.

http://www.ericwilder.com/

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