First-Hand:Memories of Working in Hydraulic Fracturing

Submitted by Carl Montgomery

For me, this story begins in the spring of 1972 in a small single A school district located in the town of Wiley, Colorado. I was the secondary school science teacher which meant that I taught all of the science and part of the math, drove a school bus and was the wrestling coach in both the Junior and Senior High School.

This was a time when the cold war between the US and the USSR was going strong and the United States was spending a lot of money trying to improve the scientific education of the American public. The NSF (National Science Foundation) was charged with improving the science curriculum in the school systems and I was a beneficiary of that strategy in that they were paying for most of my graduate education. I had already finished my Masters and was going to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado to work on my PhD.

I had decided that I was interested in Petroleum Engineering and was taking some courses that include a course on Completion Engineering. Near the end of that course the instructor had arranged for a field trip to observe a cement job on a well North of Denver. During the field trip I was in the “Dog House” trying to figure out how the “Drill-O-Graph” worked when this man, his name was Verg Snidle, in blue coveralls with chewing tobacco dribbling down his chin came up to me and asked “How would you like to go to work for a good company and have a bright future?” Based on the appearance of this fellow I was a bit skeptical but I took his card.

The next day I called him and he sent me out to talk to the Manager of the Commerce City, Colorado district. I just couldn’t believe that he was ready to hire me to drive a truck at a salary that was three times what I was making teaching school. I wanted to work in research so they told me that if I worked in the field for a year, learned to drive all their equipment and how to use all the technology they had in the company they would consider it. I finally agreed and he said come to work in the morning.

The next morning they put me in a big truck full of 10 tons of sand and sent me on my way. The engineer on location backed me up to a tub mounted on the back of a truck. After about 30 minutes of just standing there waiting for something to happen several very large engines started up that made an unbelievable amount of noise and just caused the ground the vibrate and shake under my feet. I learned later that those engines were turbo-supercharged Allison V-1710 aircraft engines left over from WII. They were originally developed to power dirigibles and were used duringWWII to power the Lockheed P-38, Bell P-39 Aircobra P-63, Kingcobra, Curtis P-40 Warhawk and early versions of the P-51 Mustang. The engine developed 1475 h.p. which equated to about 650 hhp and let me tell you that when those things fired off, they had no muffler, you thought you were in the middle of a war. Compared to a modern pumper, the pumpers powered by the Allison were fairly modest machines but were remote controlled and very easy to maintain (I became a fairly good Allison aircraft mechanic before that phase of my training was over). At the end of that first day as a “Sand Truck” operator I was hooked. I had never seen or heard anything as exciting, loud and mystical as what had occurred on that day. Not only could I make some money but it looked to me like I could have a lot of fun doing it so here I am years later writing this article.

A couple of other events happened to me during my training period that I still find interesting and would like to relate. The first happened about 3 months into the training period. I had become a fairly decent “equipment operator” and was sent to Farmington, New Mexico with my new Allison pump truck. They were doing some type of experimental treatment and needed some additional horsepower. I got there and they gave me two union hammers. One was made out of brass and the other was made from rubber which was hollowed out in the middle and filled with lead shot. When I got to location all of the treating pipe, and hammer unions were made of aluminum. We were going to pump a “gelled propane” frac and everything possible was being done to prevent any kind of ignition source. The trucks were parked about 1000 yards away from the well head and the aluminum pipe and special hammers were used to prevent sparks. The propane was brought onto location in pressurized trucks and “hooked up” to a special blender that used what was called a “slinger pump”. It was designed by a fellow named Warren Zingg and used centrifugal force to prevent the propane from vaporizing in the blender tub as the sand was added. In figure xx, Bob Hannah, another one of the Legends, is standing in front of a blender with two of these “slinger pumps”. The blender we used for the propane fracs only had a single “slinger” but was so successful and easy to control that it is still being used today but is known as a “Pod blender.”

My next short story happened very shortly after I went to work because I was still working as a sand truck operator. It was on a job in the Julesburg basin North of Denver in a field called the Wattenberg. Amoco had a very active frac program and was spending a lot of research dollars to improve the deliverability of their wells. A lot of very good technology came out of this work including the modern net pressure diagnostics that we use today. On this particular job after I got my sand truck spotted I was told to go see the engineer. He had the Amoco company man with him and they told me that I was going to add radioactive sand to the job. They gave me a black apron, a dusk mask and a couple of pint sized cans of material. They told me that when they started sand I was to sprinkle some of the material in the cans into the sand that was coming out of the sand truck and to be sure that I got some of the material into all of the sand that was run. They told me that on the last job they had tried this on that the operator had just dumped both cans of material into the blender as soon as the sand started and that is not what they wanted me to do. They explained that they planned to run a log after the treatment to see where the frac material had gone and that if I didn’t do this correctly I was going to cost the company a lot of money. I still expect to wake up one of these mornings glowing in the dark.