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Gritty Guarding

Knock! Knock! Water delivery.

It smells rough  inside the Old Girl this morning.  Dog farts and burnt coffee are not a tantalizing aroma mixture.  Tuco the Dog loves Alpo meaty dog food but it invariably gives her gas and she finished off some Mexican food leftovers last night.  That gas busting outta her dog butt this morning woulda  pushed that Chinese rocket right into orbit last week for sure.  I had the stovetop percolator just coming to a boil this morning when I had a rush at the gate.  10 minutes on high heat would have cooked a skillet of bacon; it certainly did a number on my coffee.  Oh well,  maybe I just need to step outside and breath some of that caliche dust air for a bit.

I have probably said a hundred times that oil field gate guarding is not rocket science but then again it is not for everybody either.   Most of us that have been there and done that know it is not sitting under the sunbrella sipping a cold beverage but it is not ditch diggin’ either.  The true nature of the job lies somewhere in between.

A past frac job

Our current assignment outside of Carrizo Springs is typical of most oilfield gate guard jobs.  We have 5 pads at some point of completion and more pads scheduled for construction.  On our arrival we had one frac crew, one workover rig and one flowback crew in residence.  Busy enough but not hair on fire crazy busy.  We quickly settled into our practiced and comfortable routine.

All that changed at 11:33am on a bright morning last week.  An outbound frac crew truck pulled up right beside the RV and the guy said ‘We have a 911 incident and the emergency crews are enroute.  Do you know the 911 address here?’   We didn’t   — that was only one of the things we would discover we were ill prepared to handle over the next 72 hours.  Let me go over some of the things we learned and share some observations with all of you.

During the course of normal events, we have certain information we gather as routine on every assignment.

  1. Ranch contact info — the landowner or managers phone number.  Any info on people who are on a ‘do not enter’ list.  Most of the time that will be nosy neighbors.
  2. Local law enforcement – direct dial number
  3. Border  Patrol  — Usually two numbers.  One for the office and the other one for dispatch AKA the radio room
  4. Medical facilities – The closest hospital/emergency room AND directions on how to get there from your location.
  5. 911 address – We asked every company man for days-literally- if they knew the street address for this location.  None of them did.  In hindsight, we should have pursued it more vigorously.  We failed to do our job properly in this instance.

All of this information should be written down in one place and kept handy.  We found writing it on the cardboard backing from the log in sheets made it more durable for long term use.  We keep it clipped on the wall next to the door.

If you do have a serious incident here is an overview of what we experienced and what we learned.  While it will most certainly vary from company to company, the basic premise and goals will be close.

  1. Be prepared to ASK QUESTIONS in order to do your job properly.  These folks will be operating under a great deal of stress.  To help them and do your job properly,  you need to know what your job is.   ASK QUESTIONS if you are not crystal clear on what their expectations are. You must be on the same page-period.
  2. Be assertive.   It is time to put your big boy pants on and control the gate.  If one of the partners is the shy, easy going type that has trouble standing up to gate traffic you are in for trouble.  I found standing in the middle of the road when a vehicle entered and physically blocking access until they came to a stop was a good way to set the tone.
  3. Until the incident is over, you and your partner are going to be under a ton of stress–more than you can imagine due to the increased responsibility.  Both Miss K and I had trouble sleeping and she even lost her appetite.  We both commented afterwards that the stress levels were much higher than we expected.
  4. For the first few hours control of the incident is going to be dynamic. Initially, the ranking Company Man on the pad will be in charge.  He is going to notify his superiors of the event.  The first guy on scene will be the ranking Company Official that is closest in the area. Eventually control of the incident was put in the hands of an Oil Company gentleman out of the corporate office in Houston. It took him several hours to arrive on site.
  5. Most likely,  the area will be ‘locked down’.  This is when the gate guards start earning every bit of that daily pay and then some.  Make sure you are given clear instructions regarding lock down procedure.  In our case, it was very explicit. 2 companies were allowed to pass inbound in addition to law enforcement and emergency services.   NO traffic was allowed to exit the location.   Any exceptions were to be verbally approved by the person in charge. Make sure you and the person in charge  come to an understanding on how you will communicate.  We did it via cell phone.
  6. Get your log sheets in order.  They need to be complete and very accurate.   Ours were collected 2 times during the incident and returned.  The first time was about 8 hours post incident when they were establishing the timeline of events.  The original log sheets for the 24 hours encompassing the incident were retained and they gave us copies back.   The second time they collected 96 hours of logs at the close of the incident, made copies and returned the originals to us.  LOG EVERYTHING including who you turned away.  Anyone allowed in had an additional notation ‘ok per John Doe’.
  7. Identification of parties attempting to gain entry was critical.  You have to handle it quickly and efficiently.   Miss K and I would ask the nature of their business and ask for a business card.  In some cases where we felt unsure, we would ask for picture ID as well and match it to the name on the card.  We came to realize collecting all the business cards and asking them what they were doing on location was a wise move. We had several times in the next few days where we needed to contact a specific individual and the cards came in handy.
  8. Have a place set aside close to the gate and off the road for parking.  Vehicles attempting to gain entry and not on the allowed list were asked to pull over and wait while I made my phone calls to the person in charge.  I would always apologize for the delay and explain we were operating under very explicit and clear guidelines.  Most people were gracious and followed instructions.
  9. Use your head.   A few hours into the incident I had turned away sales people, service people like septic pumpers and maid service and folks just needing to get invoices signed—  all with no call to the person in charge.   He had his hands full.
  10. The information we shared with inbound traffic was minimal.  “There has been an incident and the pad is locked down.’  If they were allowed access, they either knew or would soon know what had occurred.  It was not my place or my job to share information with the traffic.  It goes without saying that no media was allowed.
  11. Any inbound traffic was instructed to report directly to the company man’s trailer prior to any interaction with anyone on location. All the cell phones were collected from all personnel on site.
  12. No cell phone communication resulted in an unforeseen development.  Contractors had sand trucks on the pad,  there were all manner of service trucks there as well.  After several hours of being unable to get in touch with employees on site,  they started showing up at the gate to see if everything was OK.
  13. Within a few hours of occurrence,  we saw a stream of lawyers,  safety officials, CEOs and corporate higher ups from every company directly involved with the incident.  At its’ busiest,  I would say there were over 150 individuals on location.
  14. OSHA will show up to conduct its’ investigation.  Once they leave, the Company will proceed with their investigation.
  15. Approximately 10 hours after the incident,  people not directly involved were released and allowed to leave.  Make sure and get the information on who released them and note it on your log sheets.
  16. Miss K had some cheapo business cards printed up for us last year.  I was thankful we had those ready to go for this event.  We handed out handfuls.
  17. Some folks were allowed to leave for the night and return the next morning during the lock down.  It stands to reason if Lawyer John was admitted on Day 1 that when he returns on Day 2 he should be allowed to enter without going through the vetting process a second time.  Be smart about your job.

While the entire event was unfortunate, it was a definite learning experience for the both of us.  Should we be faced with something similar in the future, we will know better what to expect.

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4 comments to Gritty Guarding

  • WOW. There certainly is a lot involved with that job! What about GPS coordinates? Ever think those might come in handy? I usually try to find out those coordinates when I don’t know the address of a place we want to go. Sorry about the smells. We get that with our dog sometimes when she eats strange things. Ugh!

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    • Andrew

      We were quite busy for the 72hrs after the incident. We do have GPS coordinates.

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  • I really hope the individual(s) involved with the incident is alright…when I worked out of Midland / Odessa on the pump pulling crew, there wasn’t near the organization like you describe…consequently, I laid under a few tons of fallen gear (after the chain snapped) for long minutes. Then a half hour ambulance ride. But then, that was many years ago.

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  • rvfulltimer

    andy, Having been an
    emt on an ambulace in New hampshire before becoming a fulltimer 13 yrs ago I’ have to say what a good job you did keeping you head together during a serious incident. It’s the hardest thing to do but IF you do, Common Sense usually takes over for the good. ATTABOY/GIRL you two

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