Sigh… Its seems that all my blog posts lately have started with an apology for tardiness. Unfortunately this one has been a VERY long time in coming as well. Now, I’m not making excuses but I have read so many other cruiser blogs that had the same problem once back on land. Land life has a way of sucking all of one’s energy and leaving the creative mind a blasted wasteland of emptiness! Its just the way it is!
Ok, back to the topic at hand! Work.. I have had numerous messages asking me “What the hell are you doing up there?” To which I usually answer “Working in the oilfield!” To which I get a repeat message of “What the hell are ACTUALLY you doing up there?”. Well, technically I’m an Apprentice Pipe Fitter, but even that is a vague description. You see, oilfield work is like that. Its hard to explain as it encompasses so many things that you can’t really describe all the things. Instead, I have decided to write a post detailing 4 individual days of different work, followed by some pictures. I think it will be the best way to actually describe the things I have been doing!
Day 1 – Welders Helper
Now before I start into the meat and potatoes of this day, I should probably mention something. There was a point in my life where everyone was sure I was going to be a welder for a living. Then one day while standing next to a pipeline at –45C (not a typo) watching a welder kneeling in the snow as hot slag dropped on him that I had an epiphany. Why in the F*(# would I want to be a welder (no disrespect to welders, you are the toughest bastards I know).
So anyway, back to the day at hand. It was decided that since I had some experience it would be a good introduction to the company and crew to make me a helper in my first week! Frankly it was a good decision and I thoughly enjoyed it as the sights, motions and smells brought me back to a time where I wasn’t so fat and old! I was eased into work gently (welder helper is a pretty cush job in oilfield work) and got to know the team!
Yes, yes, I can hear you asking! “What the hell does a welders helper do”. Well…. We help the welder… Duh.. LOL…. Actually our job is to ensure the welder is operating at peak efficiency. Welders are like backhoes, dozers or even air planes. They aren’t making money unless they are working (burning rods). My goal is to ensure the welder is burning rods as much as possible. We ensure he has everything at hand and doesn’t need to stop. We refill his welding rods, grinding discs and buffing wheels. We hand him the rods or tools so he doesn’t need to get up. We do the light buffing and grinding on the pipe so he can load a new rod and go back to welding right away. We check the temperature of the object being welded to ensure the quality of the weld. We listen for his instruction to change the settings on the welding machine as he is welding. We clean up scraps or spent rods. We move his equipment to new locations….. We are essentially the welders “bitch”!
As you can imagine, the welder you are working with can make our job a cake walk or an absolute nightmare. However the boys at LSC are fantastic and Nick, Pat and Burton made my life easy! Other than laughing at my arc burn (a bad sunburn from the arc flash), they treated me fantastic.
Day 2 – General Grunt
I’m going to describe a single day here, but know that this was the majority of my days working out of the LSC yard. This was also the kind of stuff I reveled in. Its dynamic, fast, challenging and new all the time!
– Jump in the Skidsteer and unload the pallet of welding rods off the suppliers truck
– Drop skid of welding rods in the shop and then hand bomb them into the tool crib (ensure the right rods go on the right shelf).
– Back in the Skidsteer to move some pipe around the yard.
– Still in the Skidsteer, pick up some flanges and deliver them to a welder. Separate a couple out and deliver them to another welder.
– Oh shit, there is a bolt up job at the plant site. Grab another guy, hop in a tool truck and drive 40 min to a plant to help with a bolt up!
Ok the last point needs some explanation as I’m sure no one would have any idea what a “bolt up job” is! Well as you can imagine at a big plant they have tons of pipe running in all directions. Where 2 pipes need to join each other, there is a flange on each piece of pipe. Sometimes, between those 2 flanges are a piece of metal with 2 sides called a “Blind”. One side of the Blind is open and the other side is closed. This allows the plant operators to “Flip a Blind” (change to the closed side) and isolate a section of pipe for maintenance.
A “Blind” A Blind between flanges
As a bolt up crew, our job is to “Flip the Blind”. We basically undo all the bolts, pry the pipe apart (usually 100s of pounds pushing it together), poke the blind and gaskets out (don’t use you fingers unless you want to pick your nose with a stubby), actually flip the Blind, drop in new gaskets and then rebolt (following a very specific pattern and ensuring we hit the torque specs with a torque wrench). There are usually 3-10 of these to do on a “bolt up job”.
Now I imagine you reading the above and thinking “Pah, that sounds easy!”. LOL.. Ok imagine that you need to fold yourself between 2 hot pipes, reach above your head, fit an 1 1/2” wrench with your hands, pull with all your worth to get 1/4” of movement, then pull the wrench off, move it and put it back on, and repeat. When done, you have 12 more bolts to go. Oh and its +30, you are wearing full coveralls, hard hat and safety glasses, and 1000s mosquitoes trying to drain you of every once of blood you have. Its even more fun when you need to bolt back up and try to get a torque wrench in there and now push 310 pounds of torque a shitton of times!
Day 3 – Line Locator (and a helicopter ride)
I’m sure anyone that has followed my Facebook is waiting for this one. I have received a bunch of messages wondering how the hell I got to ride in a chopper. A couple people even asked what offshore rig I was working on. LOL, nope, nothing like that!
I need to start this by telling you what a “Line Locator” is. Well, you know those guys that come out with a bunch of strange gear when you call the “Call before you Dig” number. Yup those are line locators. They use special gear to locate buried services (phone, gas, electrical, ect). You notice I didn’t say buried “objects”. Their equipment is specialized to find lines or pipelines (no its not a metal detector).Now believe it or not, but any company with a pipeline needs to do the same procedure, EVEN if its their own pipeline and they are the ones digging. As such, anytime a pipeline company wants to dig more than 12 inches they NEED to locate all lines in the area (30 meters beyond the dig area). This is even true in the most remote backwoods shitholes. That is the job of a line locators.
Now, the new(ish) government in Alberta has changed the taxes and lease costs on pipeline companies. Combined with the massive drop in the price of natural gas has made a whole metric shitton of gas wells no longer profitable. So those companies are now “Abandoning” those well sites to avoid paying those high taxes and lease costs. Abandonment requires the ground to be dug up and things to be plugged off! Ground being dug up means that lines need to be located (some companies have their own policy to locate the lines with 2 different companies). Line locating in remote areas requires 2 people. One who knows how to locate and run the equipment and a “meat head” to just walk and carry a piece of equipment (it’s a long technical description why). Enter “meat head” #1 (ME).
Ok, now we can get back to the day at hand…. Since I’m “meat head” #1, sent with the actual line locator I get a free ride in the chopper (ok ok, being the brother of the company owner probably helped here). However its not all roses and daisies. To get my chopper ride, I had to get up at 1:00AM so I could be at the shop for 2:00am. I then got into the locators truck and we drove north 4 hours (on some SUPER shitty roads) to arrive at the landing site for 7:00am. After and 1 1/2 hours of paperwork we finally loaded the chopper and lifted off to our first locate site. We then tromped around a mosquito infested muskeg swamp for 30 minutes before the chopper came back to take us to the next site where it was more of the same! Even then, I don’t think a swift kick in the nards could wipe the smile off my face when it was all over.
Day 4 – Pipeliner
Boss – “Hey, aren’t you living in your fifth wheel?”
Me – “Ya, out near Franchere, on my dad’s land”
Boss – “You don’t really have any services out there right?”
Me – “ Nope, we are trucking our sewer and water. We rely on our generator for power!”
Boss – “Would you be interested in moving somewhere else where you would have everything. An opportunity opened up down south and we need to send someone. It would be 20 days of work straight, then off for 7 then back for 21 straight. Good money. Down in Medicine Hat.”
Me – “Whoa, no days off for 20 to 21 days, and away from here?”
Boss – “Yes, but you are compensated well for it. Plus you would be doing all things you haven’t been exposed to yet. Isolations, digging, coatings, pigging. There is a bunch of cool equipment down there. Pickers, Skidsteers, Track-hoes and Jeepers!”
Me – “Shit, I need to talk with my wife. This is not a decision I can make by myself. You need to leave it with me” *scratching greasy hair with gloved hand*
Boss – “Ok, I need you to let me know by tomorrow morning!”
Such a short conversation, but a big decision. Party of Five really struggled with this one. Although the money would be nice and would allow us to buy some luxuries on the boat, we really didn’t NEED it. I needed more reason than money to make the jump. I talked with Rhonda (she wanted to go, but was OK either way), then mulled it over all day. In the end, my “Cruiser” side kicked in and I couldn’t say no to a new place and a new adventure. So I begged my Mom and Dad to drive 900km (560miles, 487 nautical miles), towing our trailer 700 of those KM to make our new home down in South-Eastern Alberta. Of course they did, and I now have another favor I have no hope of repaying!
Once our new home was set up, I started my new adventure when I walked into the laydown trailer as a 40 year old with 1 month pipelining experience over 20 years ago! A daunting moment when 8 of our 12 person team were young enough to be my children!
I could write a whole post of the things a “pipeliner” does. I will just say that “Goon Spoon” is a very accurate description for a shovel.
As of this writing, I’ve now almost completed 2 shifts (a shift lasts 21 days) and am happy to report that I’ve grown muscles in places I didn’t know I had muscles. I’m even happier to report, “Them youngin’s ain’t got nothin on me”!
Facing the other way. Just a small covered area for storing some items. However, there sure are some pretty views!
One of the jobs I helped with. 16”pipes (no idea what they will be used for).
Another project I worked on. I was a welders helper on this steam pipe and valve. LSC is one of a handful of small companies in Alberta that is capable of welding on steam lines. Its hard to judge the scale but that flange on the close end is 6” thick. The whole assembly weighs more than a pickup truck!
A random shot of a gas plant I worked at one day! No idea what plant or even where this is. All gas plants look the same. This is the type of place we would do a “bolt-up”.
However, no bolt-up on this day. Instead I was a “water collector” for the day (wa wa wa water boy). Explanation time… One of the main pipelines was being pigged (cleaned). My job was to collect samples of the water being pushed ahead of the cleaning pig. The company then tested the water to determine what pollutants are in the pipelines. I have no idea what they do with that information, but I’m guessing the environmental group uses it to help reduce the environmental impact. The environmental procedures I encountered at all these plants were insane. These companies all strive for ZERO impact (not possible, but they are always pushing closer).
Pipelineing…. The next pictures are from our time in Southern Alberta. Here my coworker Steve has just broke ground on one of the natural gas wells that will be abandoned. As the “spotter” its my job to watch him dig and make sure he doesn’t hit the actual pipe. The actual gas well is the small pipe sticking up to the left of the hoe. Yup, that little thing is what keeps Canadian’s asses warm in winter. No pumps, donkey heads or steam injection, just a pipe going 1000s of feet into the earth.
Here is a good overview picture of the equipment we use every day. A picker truck with heavy trailer, a skidsteer and a mini track-hoe.
The final product.. I’m standing on the natural gas well that has been abandoned (its pipe is no longer attached). The welders have reconnected all the pipe that will stay in service. Another coworker (Kody, who turned out to be my second cousin, for real) and I have applied the coating to the pipe and its ready to be re-buried.
For you nerdy pipeline people, the long black leg heading away from the camera is a well that will continue to operate. That pipe is 35 year old zap lock pipe (yup glued together pipe). We tied it back into the main line with a Y-lat so it can be pigged in the future. The main line is 35 year old yellow jacket with a wall thickness of 0.185 (yes really, no its not 0.125).
For those of you wondering… Yes I can operate a track-hoe now. In this picture I’m “walking” the hoe to our next dig. I’m not good enough to dig around the pipe (not even close), but I could dig you a hole if you needed to bury a dead horse. Its also wicked fun to use the hoe to smash shit (old fence). Its jaw dropping how much power these machines have, even though they are “mini”. I grab old steel pipe fence and crush it with the bucket and thumb like its spaghetti. Yes I laugh manically as I do it!
The 80s were a different time. No one really cared about the environment and threw all kinds of shit in the pipeline ditches. As such we dig up all kinds of crazy shit. Here we dug up an old newspaper (and a whole bunch of other junk, including tampon applicators). After 37 years buried in the ground this news paper is completely legible. Hhhmmmm, sure makes you wonder how many generations are going to have to deal with our landfills!
You may have noticed in the other pictures the lack of ANYTHING. Where we are working is true %100 desert, complete with cactus (and cow shit). Travelling the world has made me look at my birth home in a completely different light. I never before realized how diverse our Province truly is. We have desert, to mountains, to plains, to badlands, to rain forest, to tundra. The only thing Alberta is missing is ocean.
It’s the driest year in southern Alberta in over 20 years. As such fires are almost a daily occurrence. On this day, the fire grew so big that our crew was called in to help fight it. %75 of our team left our site with suppressors and fire brooms. They came back all sooty and coughing, but all smiles as the fire was beat. It burned 100s of acres before it was stopped.
Animal life abounds everywhere. In my time down here I have seen rabbits, gophers, badgers, wolverine, mice, mule deer, prong honed antelope (so many), elk, porcupine, coyotes and hawks (I’m sure I’m forgetting some). The rabbits have no fear of humans and will let come within a couple of feet before they hop off.