Thursday, October 11, 2007

What Does Papa Do Anyway?

I’ve basically had the same job for the last seven years. One would think that my friends and family would know what it is that I do. That apparently not the case. It is not because my friends and family are not intelligent, they are all smarter than me (except for one person, and you should be ashamed of yourself idiot), rather it is because I’m horrible at explaining it.

Last week, I got the opportunity to go out ‘into the field’ as they say in the biz. My company is doing the engineering work for a pipeline project near Odessa, MO. This project probably sounds simple: There is a pipeline that goes under I-70 that is getting worn out. This pipeline needs to be replaced. However, rather than just digging the other one up, thus destroying the busiest highway in Missouri for an unknown amount of time, the more viable option is to drill a new pipe under the road and leave the other one in place.

‘The engineering work’ means that we were responsible for drawing up the plans for this project and other stuff that is beyond my feeble mind. One of my bosses (for I have one for every day of the week) is the Head Cheese for this project and took us out into the field (which is the way pipeline folks say ‘going outside’).

Below are some pictures and my attempts at explaining what is going on in them, with the stretch goal of helping the masses gain a better understanding of the size and amount of work that goes into these projects.

First of all, some rough facts. They are replacing about 3300 feet of pipe. The pipe is 20 inches in diameter. The total project costs about $5 million beans and involves 11 different companies on site at once. This is the first actual pipeline I’ve seen in seven years. Lets get started.

First of all, I got to dress up in a sweet outfit. If the guys in the field heard me call it an ‘outfit’, I would have gotten an atomic wedgie, but who cares right? With getting cool new clothes, it is necessary to dress up and drop some Beastie Boy poses in my office for no less than one hour before departing.

Ok, enough of that. This picture proves that I actually made it outside. This picture was taken at the drilling side of the highway. The trees waaaay over on the horizon is where the end of the project is. That is a long way. I also look cool. The Snap-On truck was locked.

This is an overview of the outlet side of the project. Those worm looking things are the pieces of pipe. The thing about pipe is that it is…metal…and hollow… and only comes in 40 foot long segments. Why only 40' long? How the hell you gonna move the stuff? It took me three years to figure that out, I always pictured some giant Play-Doh Pipeline Playset that would just do it on the fly, but that is not the case. In fact, it's ridiculous. Anyway, they move all of the pipe over on trucks, dump it off into the grass and start welding it together. It is kind of like making a super-straw at McDonalds out of many other straws, but with fire and steel and safety goggles. Remember, the pipe is 22” in diameter and this chunk of I-70 is probably the longest stretch of highway without strip club signs on it until you get to western Kansas. The poor field guys, not a lot of eye-candy out in the boonies.

Back on the drilling side. This is the drill. It’s basically just like the movie Armageddon without Ben Afflack. The drill pieces are about 40 foot sections of metal that is threaded on both sides (wonder why it’s 40’). The chunk of metal that actually bores/digs/whatever is screwed in between two pieces and reamed through the hole. Every 40 feet, they add a new piece of drill on to keep it getting pushed through. So the drill itself is basically a long extensor with one little piece in the middle somewhere doing all the work. Little math quiz: 1200 feet of hole, 40 foot segments. How many drill pieces do they need?

This is the mud pool. It looks like cement, but it is actually the lubricant that they pump through the hole to keep it from overheating and keep things moving. As it comes out, it fills up this pool and is siphoned off and ‘disposed of’. It is the fiber and prune juice of the pipeline industry.

This is one of the drill bits. Nasty looking sucker. The way the drilling works is like this. They push forward for the first hole, called the pilot hole. This creates the initial hole and is something like 6” wide. After the pilot hole is drilled, the hole will have the drill bit in it until the hole is complete, kind of the same reason you dont like having your drawstring come out of your kickass veleur Puma pants, cause it's a bitch to fix. However, you cant put a 20” piece of pipe through a 6" hole, no matter what they try in all the adult movies, so they go through several widening passess through the hole. The difference now is that, rather than push the drill through, they PULL it through (it has to do with torque and other fun mathy stuff). For this project they will make 2 or 3 passes (10, 24 and 36 inches), each time widening the hole. This is not a quick process, it can take several days for just one pass because you're drilling through dirt, rock, indian coffins etc, so there is plenty of overtime, smoking and coffee around while this is going on, except that on one end three guys are constantly adding new drill bits on and on the other end, three guys are constantly taking bits off.

Once the hole is created, you have to figure out a way to get the pipe in. I talked earlier how they weld all the suckers together, this picture shows the whole shebang. This is the pipe that will eventually go under the highway.

At every weld, they have to coat it with some brown snot and then check it to make sure that the snot is on correctly, otherwise the pipe will rust and oil will go everywhere, much like the Clampet’s back yard.

Here is another picture of the pipe from farther away. It’s remarkably bendable once welded together correctly.

So how do you get a 2000-foot long, thousand-plus ton of metal through a hole that is not straight? If David Blaine is not available, you have to weld this piece onto the end. Then you can hook up some bailing wire to it and pull it through. Of course this bailing wire is powered by a diesel engine. This was the most amazing thing to me that they just pull the whole mofo through. If that weld breaks and the pipe comes apart on the inside of the hole, it is bad. Really bad, and not even David Blaine can help you.

Once the pipe is through, they weld it to both sides and bury the evidence and move on. Our company has 40 of these projects through 2008. Our office currently has 15 people in it, one of them being myself, and you saw what I did when presented a pair of overalls, I called it an outfit and took pictures of myself….

Remember, safety is important.

This is a truck, it moves stuff. Probably milk or burbon.

These are three of my bosses. They were responsible for keeping me off the equipment and from laying down in front of trucks to take pictures.

So, there it is. Of course, I dont actually do any of the outside stuff, but there are people who keep track of all sorts of details about the pipe, size/diameter/thickness of metal etc, plus where it's crossing under the roads and all that stuff. These field crews send the data to me and I fumble around with it for weeks until I create a map of it. This map and associated database go back to the company that owns the pipeline and they use it for various purposes; submit to the guv'ment for tax purposes, so they know where to dig when the sucker explodes, so that they can finish their nation-wide hamster tube.

Anyway, that's a little more about what papa does for a living. Hope you enjoyed or laughed a bit, but I get paid for it. - Hooty


Skippy Sanchez said...

Well done, well written & highly informative. Don't give up your day job.

bluegrasslass said...

hey you forgot how to explain how the metal welded tube is flexible (isn't that against physics) annnd just how toxic is the mud pool annnd is that your flourescent pink glove in the drill shot? thx for the laugh...

Jaime said...

Skippy sent me a link to your blog. You are stylin' and profil' in the brown jumpsuit. It's a good look.

Jaime said...

I meant to say profilin', but you get the point.

Dr. Gonzo said...

I believe the glove was a scarf, and while it didnt belong to me, it is currently hanging from the mirror of my TransAm.

I love the brown jumpsuit. It doubles as my housekeepin' janitor uniform and gets worn every time i clean (ie: once every 3 months)

Joshua said...

Intergalactic Planetary, Planatarey Intergalactic !!!!!!

cmazz said...

I am a friend of your mom's and she sent this link to me because I am a petroleum geologist and she thought I would get a kick out of it. I did indeed. Very clever and very funny. cmazz

Lucas said...

Thank you! I'm always happy when my mother can associate what i do for a living with real people in the real world =)

thanks again! - L

Steve Hutmacher said...

Luke, itis me- your uncle Steve in Ohio. Nice work! I could tell those were your 3 bosses- each had their own outhouse. How cool is that?! Even I in my high position on my job, I have to still share mine.

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