The first drilling rig I ever set foot on was the Faith 4. As the Black Pearl is to pirate ships, so is Faith 4 to drilling rigs. Faith 4 is a rig from the old school, built in the sixties and somehow still drilling with the much newer rigs that dominate the Red River and Bakken formations.
She’s in pretty rough shape, with plenty of rust. The old rigs have “Kelly drives” which can only pull a joint of pipe or string of pipe straight up and down. The newer “top drives” can use hydraulics to manipulate a pipe side to side and forward to back. This ensures that the pipe doesn’t crossthread when it is rotated into the pipe sticking out of the drill floor.
A “joint” is a section of pipe, usually about 42 feet long for casing.
When running casing pipe, the Kelly drives require a “stabber” to go into the derricks and manually position the pipe so that it threads in correctly when the power tong operator torques it in below.
Casing is the pipe that holds a bore hole open after it is drilled. The drill pipe with the bit on the end is removed before the casing is put in place.
As a stabber perched up on a narrow board in the derricks, I make sure every casing joint is positioned properly.
The crew on Faith 4 are some of the true salt of earth folks. When I went up into the derricks to place my board, I was having some trouble wrestling it into place. All of the sudden, I saw one of the smallest roughnecks climbing up the opposite side of the derricks like a spider monkey at an incredible speed. There wasn’t a ladder on that side, so he was swinging between cross joints batman style without a harness. He soon reached my level and we had the heavy Douglas fir plank in place.
The owner of the Faith Drilling Company lives in a small trailer house shack on the location (it takes a rig 10-30 days to drill a hole before moving to the next gravel pad to drill the next well). He is an old guy, but full of energy. The years of roughnecking haven’t slowed him down. Whenever you talk to him, he always starts laughing and joking, and then he tries to playfully fist fight you.
The Faith Rig still practices what is known as “throwing chain,” which was phased out on most rigs several years ago in favor of a specialized tool to “make up” (screw together) pipes. Here is what throwing chain looks like. Losing fingers is common for chain throwers.
Faith Drilling is a glimpse of an America that is fading. The America where a wildcat rig, held together by bailing wire and chewing tobacco can make a living. The America where can do and hard work were what pulled the dragons from the ground.
The driller is the man who runs the controls on the rig. See this.
The driller peeled off his gloves that were soaked in the invert mud, the diesel and calcium and lime combining to smell like cat shit. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag. With the cigarette still dangling from his mouth, he pushed his yellowed hard hat to the back of his head and peered down the bore hole, through the elevated rig floor. Fumes from deep under the earth poured out, and I hoped his cigarette wouldn’t ignite any of the gases. He took another drag and looked at me again. “Faith” he said. “Now there’s a word ya don’t hear too often anymore.” He turned to swear at a roughneck who let the pressure washer spray get too close. “Sometimes Faith is all that keeps a rig goin’.” He took a wrench and tapped the drill pipe, impaled in the earth.As if on command, I heard a rumble as the oil erupted out into the sky from the drill pipe, raining down sticky black tea. “Yes sir. Sometimes a little faith….”
(The last paragraph is fictional)