BELOW IS A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE BOOK. (Hint: Click to enlarge any image, then back-arrow to return to blog article).
My new novel, called Fracman, is about fracking and shale-oil-gas and earthquakes. The story is about two oilfield careers: an older, cavalier risk-taker called Jordan, who is contrasted with a younger risk-averse conservative named Kelly. After many workplace incidents of tension and clash between the engineers, who are thrust together to work on fracking wells, the story turns into a romance as they strive to settle their differences, which include her Christian beliefs.
However, while Kelly gradually comes into a relationship with God, Jordan’s career arc goes south due to a series of mistakes (think Greek tragedy). Is there redemption? The ending of the story is tumultuous.
Fracking and earthquakes are a hot political topic (e.g. Bernie Sanders wanted to ban all fracking). Earthquakes associated with drilling wells and fracking is a great concern in Oklahoma, where the largest-ever quake occurred recently on 3 September 2016.
I have made 20 presentations on this topic in the past year, designed for the layman, both here in ABQ as well as in the mid-west (Tulsa area). A lot of conversation is going on about whether fracking causes earthquakes.
The book’s scope contains a brief history of fracking: starting in the coalbed methane industry in the 1990s, through the shale-gas beginnings in early 2000s, on to shale-oil in Oklahoma after 2010, where it culminates with earthquakes induced by the oilfield industry. The story follows two engineers, a man who already has a high reputation as a fracman, and a young woman striving to break through the glass ceiling.
In the central corridor of the USA, people in Oklahoma and Texas are rattled by the quakes. Some are buying expensive earthquake insurance and others have filed lawsuits against oil-and-gas companies.
The fourth-largest earthquake occurred in Oklahoma on 6 November 2016, and everyone over there is anxious about it. Earthquakes feature in Fracman, again depicted realistically.
Ian, the Gray Nomad
FIRST FIVE PAGES OF MY BOOK FRACMAN:
Jordan the Fracman was pushing the limit of casing pressure, to try to get all the frac pumped away. Kelly his associate engineer watched in fear as he pushed the pressure farther than she had seen him do before. She yelled at him. “Shut it down Jordan….you are going too far.”
Jordan waved her away, and stayed focused on the pressure timeline on the computer screen. He avoided looking at Kelly. “I think we’ll be alright……just another ten minutes,” he muttered, although his words were forced out through scrunched lips and betrayed his anxiety.
A second image on another screen revealed a pattern of dots which represented microseismic data: microearthquakes generated by the frac. The dots were bunched together and outlined the size and shape of the frac. When this image was updated a couple minutes later, it showed a string of dots shooting away from the elliptical collection of previous dots.
“Jordan, you’ve intersected a fault,” screamed Kelly, jabbing her finger at the string of dots on the screen.
Jordan looked at the image. “Calm down Kelly…..we’ve seen this before. These are minor faults and don’t usually mean much at all.” Jordan nodded to the operator to keep on pumping, even though the pressure was still rising. “Only seven minutes to go.” He exhaled audibly. Kelly was shaking her head.
Suddenly, the coffee cups in the frac van started rattling, and two of them fell to the floor. One broke with a crash. The whole van was shaking by then, and the frac operator yelled, “It’s an earthquake. We gotta get out of here.”
PART 1: SAN JUAN BASIN (1992-1998)
CHAPTER 1: SAN JUAN BASIN
“Whoosh” was the sound as a mix of gas and coal and water screamed up the well to the drilling rig. The mixture was diverted through two horizontal blooie-lines for a hundred feet, before blasting out against an earthen berm. Kelly jerked backwards involuntarily. Although she had been warned what to expect, it was all so sudden, and as loud as a crack of thunder. The burst lasted ten minutes, then dissipated dejectedly as the final bunch of coal particles fell to the ground beneath the berm.
The drilling rig was in the heart of the San Juan basin, one of the premier gas-producing basins in American history. This means natural gas, like the gas which powers a home furnace on cold winter nights. Kelly had been sent out there as part of her introduction to well completions, the group she was assigned to in her Houston home-base. Cavity completions were one type of well completion, specifically adapted to coalbed methane wells. Much more common were hydraulic fracture completions, or frac completions, that had been around for 45 years and were used on over 70% of all wells of all kinds. Kelly knew the company plan was to introduce her to frac completions later but they encouraged diversity with new employees.
The rig, taller than a four-story building, was located in a valley close to the Animas River which flows from the spectacular mountain town of Durango down to Farmington in the desert. Not well-known is the full name of the Animas River — Rio de las Animas Perdidas, which means River of Lost Souls. Had she been a psychic, Kelly might have felt an omen that misfortunes were about to enter her life.
In a beautiful site, with Cottonwood trees changing to gold as Fall set in, the rig was surrounded by steep hills that contained sandstone benches jutting out one above another, each separated by a slope of softer shale rock. After climbing to the top bench on the previous day, Kelly had been surprised to see the tracks of a mountain lion, which had made her a little nervous. She looked around warily, as she recalled an incident in which a mother was hiking with two youngsters in this area. One of the youngsters darted away to pee behind a large boulder, when a growl and a cry was heard. Confused, the mother ran around the boulder to see a large lion carrying away her four-year old by the neck. Frantically the mother ran after the lion pelting stones at him. The lion dropped the child and ran off, but she was too late….the child died in her arms.
Kelly Owens was a young petroleum engineer, age 22, who had recently joined the oil and gas company called Bundaleer. Attractive, but not pretty, with shoulder-length reddish hair. She fit into her work jeans quite nicely, as the other rig hands noticed – she was the only woman at the well site. The year of 1992 was still early days for female engineers at a drilling site, and companies had to retrain many of their rig-hands to change their sometimes crude language and actions when a woman was present. This situation cemented Kelly’s goal of succeeding as a petroleum engineer in a man’s world. As a salient part of this, she had to earn respect from men like Bates, the drilling foreman.
“Well, what d’you think of that?” asked the rig foreman in a deep voice, referring to the whoosh of the well blowdown. Bates McCollum was close to six feet six inches and a hefty giant with a strong jawline, which she imagined to be typical of a guy used to making quick decisions. Although his body-language usually matched his physique — strong and exaggerated — in this instance he smiled at Kelly and gave a quick wink.
“Amazing.” Kelly nodded but decided not to wink back. She was still feeling her way in this her first field job, one which historically was an all-male setting. She was determined to succeed, and as a bright young engineer she wanted more than food and drink to impress the rig foreman. “I find myself thinking about what this does to a coal seam – the gas source — down there at 3,000 feet”.
Bates spread a small frown above his eyes, and pulled on his earlobe. “What do you think it does?” asked Bates, always willing to test any bright young engineers the company hired.
Kelly paused and took a swig from her water bottle. If she felt confident, she liked communicating with men. She had a knack of teasing a little, not quite flirting, but close enough that most men responded positively.
“Well, the sudden pressure drop when you open the valve at the wellhead breaks up the coal at the bottom of the well, because coal is a soft rock, and the rapid flow of gas and water carries smaller pieces of coal as well as coal dust up and out of the well.
“Okay”. Now Bates came alive and he pointed the index finger of each hand at Kelly’s middle. “So the underground coal is broken up. Some of it is carried out of the well, as you say. And we already know some of it, the heavier pieces, stay in the bottom of the well, and sit right there until we clean them out. So a cavity begins to form around the drillpipe, right?”
He paused and stretched his arms away from his brawny chest. “What I really want to know is….. how large is this hole….. this cavity behind the drillpipe?”
Kelly was smart enough to suspect a motive behind the question. “Do you already know the answer and are just testing me?”
“Hell, no!” Bates raised his deep voice to add emphasis. “Lots of steak dinners have been bet on how big this cavity is. Nobody seems to know.”
“Really,” she replied with a twinkle in her green eyes. “It can’t be that hard to figure out.” It was an impulsive statement, running out of her brain like water out of a garden faucet as soon as it’s turned on. The insecure part of herself immediately worried whether this was too rash a statement. Her hands became clammy.
The words stopped Bates cold. He leaned back and his eyes bored into Kelly’s face. “How would you figure it out Kelly?”
Kelly glanced away, threatened by the force of his penetrating eyes. Her eyelids started twitching, which they did when she felt insecure or stressed. The twitching, which the doctors couldn’t cure, was embarrassing to Kelly because it would force other people to break eye-contact and look away from her. Although she had developed a bag of tricks to quiet her twitching eyelids, it always took a little time.
The insecurity Kelly felt at Bates’ question lay in her history — she found it hard to trust another person to believe in her and her ability. To compensate for this insecurity she tended to speak up and challenge everything. She became a fighter.
Kelly spoke slowly and carefully. “Just measure the size of the cavity hole using some kind of a tool that can go down the well.”
“Impossible!” Bates shook his head vigorously.
“Why?” Kelly asked quickly. A little too abruptly, she thought, and she winced mentally.
But Bates didn’t appear to notice, as he followed up with his own challenge. “There are tools that measure the size of a hole, but not if its larger than a foot in radius. We expect this cavity to be several feet in radius.”
Kelly’s mind raced from one idea to another. To organize her thoughts, she delayed by taking another swallow of water. Suddenly, a small sense of excitement welled up inside her and her eyelids stopped twitching. “I’ve got it. I think there are sonar tools that can measure the size of large caverns that they store natural gas in for emergency use. Maybe we could use one of them.”
Bates laughed. “Not bad for a newbie,” he nodded graciously. “I haven’t heard about such tools.” He pulled on his ear lobe again. “Maybe you should check your idea out……I think it’s a good one.”
Kelly relaxed and her face lightened at Bates’ compliment. She had passed the first test, and her heartbeat skipped a little in private joy.
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The Gray Nomad