RNI mechanics keep trucks running in Utah's remote Uinta Basin
Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
“We primarily serve the gas rigs, but we also do some work with oil rigs,” Price says. “We take fresh water to the drilling rigs, and we haul away what is called production water, which may contain brine and hydrocarbon residues. We also collect drilling mud, which the rigs reuse.
“Rigs use a tremendous amount of water in the drilling process, because these gas wells run as deep as 14,000 feet. At least 1200 barrels are needed when a rig commences drilling operations. Much of the drilling and fracing water used in the production process is recovered when the well is completed.”
The fresh water is pulled from RNI wells and from local rivers that RNI is permitted to draw from. RNI drivers haul production water to a network of six collection pits that was established when the company was started.
The pits were designed by Chapman, who had built water plants before starting RNI. Water is offloaded into a catch basin, and oily residue is skimmed off and removed for disposal. The water then flows into a collection pit that is 10 to 12 feet deep and lined with a polymer material. A series of sensors and monitoring wells help ensure against leaks. Natural evaporation — aided by a sprinkler system — is used to reduce continually the amount of water in the pits.
Hauling water is a year-round operation, and it is hard work. Drivers haul up to 15 loads a day. Some have regular production runs, while others are sent to drilling rigs that need service. During the busiest of times, RNI employs two drivers per truck and keeps the equipment running almost 24 hours a day.
Winter can be the busiest time of the year, because that is when natural gas demand spikes in many parts of the United States. Winter driving in the Uinta Basin is no picnic for the drivers, though. Work conditions can be brutal.
Drivers must contend with extreme cold, as well as mud, snow, and ice. Temperatures during the winter of 2007-2008 dropped as low as -45°F. This winter has been almost balmy in comparison with temperatures going no lower than -30°F. Snowfall can exceed two feet. Drivers spend hours putting tire chains on and taking them off during the course of a shift.
Even during the warmer months, the work is hard. RNI looks for truck drivers who have a good work ethic and a willingness to work safely and provide good customer service. During the boom times, RNI hired quite a few drivers straight out of a vocational training program, and a number of these new hires were women. Many had a commercial driver license but no tank or off-road driving experience.
“We're willing to give a chance to anyone who wants to work,” Chapman says. “That goes for truck drivers and truck mechanics. We do a lot of training, and we were even providing temporary living quarters for some of our new hires last year when the boom was at its peak.”
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