Aposematic's Blog

Conspicuous and Serving to Warn

The Really Smart People Know How Dumb They Are!

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but it is necessary for the plot of this post. (Kind of like nudity in a movie!)

I have a bachelors degree in civil engineering (BSCE) from The University of Kentucky (UK) and a Masters degree in Business Admin. (MBA) from McNeese State University (MSU) in Louisiana.

Here’s the story:

When I graduated with my BSCE from UK, I took a job with a multinational oil field services firm. My first position was located in the Gulf Coast area, specifically, New Orleans, LA. Being from Kentucky, where wells are drilled off of the back of a pickup truck, I had never even seen a drilling rig before (other than the pickup truck type). I’m talking about a real drilling rig. On my drive to New Orleans, I kept seeing these huge platforms with these huge derricks protruding way up into the sky…I was starting to wonder what I had gotten into.

On arriving at my new job location I was introduced to several other engineers and several operators. Operators are what the laborers are called in the oilfield. These laborers do things like drive the huge trucks and handle the oil well equipment and tools, and do the rigging necessary to service a well. Engineers run computer programs that control the tools and interpret the tool results (called logs). The purpose of all of this is to verify if the well has producible oil or gas and where in the well it is located.

I remember, on that first day and week, how I thought, what a ragtag group these people were, especially the operators. I mean really, they appeared scruffy and dirty, and many spoke as if they had never gone to school at all. (Note: Remember, I was new to all of this, and I mean no disrespect as you will learn if you keep reading.)

The new hire program went like this: New engineers were put with an experienced engineer for on the job training for six months. During this six month training period, two months of formal classroom and practice well logging on practice wells was included. Usually this formal class was scheduled between one and two months after first hired. I was sent to the formal class after just two weeks of being hired do to time constraints. After completing the formal class I returned to my assigned district office to continue my six months of on the job training with an experienced engineer. However, after only two more weeks of on the job training, I was turned loose as a field engineer on my own with one operator. (Remember, I was completely ignorant of what I was doing but I thought I knew it all—three weeks of on the job training and two months of formal classes, and a college degree.)

My first few jobs on my own involved running TDT logs. (I won’t go into the details of a TDT log because there are several manuals inches think each on the subject.) Basically a TDT log is used to work over a producing well or abandoned well to see how much of a producing sand/zone is left or is it time to move to another producible sand/zone or are there any other producible sands/zones in the well. This type of log is usually done on a wellhead ((no rig, just a christmas tree (a series of valves and gages stacked on each other used to control the well) sticking out of the water)). The TDT log was one of the tools covered in the formal classes and I had run at least a dozen in the practice wells. Everything went great and about eight of these jobs went so well the office started calling me TDT. Needless to say I felt like I could do anything.

During those first few jobs, I worked with only one operator. I had to assist the operator in rigging up to service the wells. That required me to operate a crane, put tools together, rig up pressure equipment, drive the winch that ran the tools into the wells, and then help rig down after the job was completed. I was very lucky to have a very good and knowledgeable  operator (as I would find out not all were as good as he). Needless to say, but I must, I gained a ton of respect for my operator. He, more than anyone, was responsible for those first few jobs going smoothly. (I think the office put him with me, me being green and all, to keep me out of trouble.)

One night I received a call from the dispatcher to replace an engineer that was sick. I had never worked with any of his operators and had never performed the required service, not even in class or practice. I thought , no problem, I could do it, everything was going great. I set up the job with what I thought was required and off we went. Without going into detail, the job was to punch some holes into the wells tubing so mud (fluids used to control the down hole pressures from blowing out wells during the drilling process) could be circulated and kill the well (equalize the pressure so the well would stop producing).

Sounds so simple, and it really is if you know what you’re doing…I didn’t. Unlike my operator, communication between myself and the operators I was working with that night was not going well, perhaps they thought I knew what I was doing and they left me alone, a big mistake on their part and mine.

I’ll shorten this and just say how dumb I was that night. Lowered the gun (small explosives inside a tube that when fired would punch holes into the tubing in the well) into position and prepared to fire the tubing puncher (gun). The well had 6,000 psi tubing pressure going into the hole (this was a gas well). We had rigged up 10,000 psi pressure equipment to hold the pressure while we performed the service. What I didn’t know and apparently the company man (the oil companies representative in charge) didn’t know either, was that the original mud on the outside of the tubing and inside the casing was of such a weight (pounds per square foot) and we were punching the holes in the tubing at such a depth that we should have been running 15,000 psi pressure equipment. You can guess what happened next. The well blew out and pressure surges exceeded 14,000 psi and basically all hell broke loose. (No lives were lost or injuries occurred, thank God.)

To make a long story short, I am one of the lucky formally educated people that is smart enough to know just how dumb I am. I don’t know how many times those rough bum looking but very smart operators saved my ass, but I know it was a lot. It sure is a shame being intelligent does not correlate with being smart.

PS: Sorry to everyone. I did not realize, when starting this piece, how much explaining I would have to do just to say…some intelligent people can be really dumb.


July 8, 2009 - Posted by | Education, General

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