Working in Someone Else’s Office

By Chris Johnson

Originally written for the NGWA toolkit

Nothing technical today, but rather something social.  Specifically, how to interact correctly with your drilling contractor, at the job site.  While this is especially true for anyone new to construction, and especially to well drilling sites, it also applies to us old dogs as well, who think we know it all.  Keep in mind, that when we arrive at the drill site, we are going to work in someone else’s office.

Safety comes first.  Don’t show up to a job site without the proper safety equipment and expect the drilling crew to just look the other way.  Their lives are on the line as well, if you present a safety hazard to them, by being either ill-prepared, or untrained, or both.  So, arrive with all the necessary first line safety equipment (e.g. hard hat, steel toed boots, etc.) and be sure to use it!

Rule No. 1 – Get Permission.  Too often, actually far too often, a geologist or engineer arrives on a drilling site, and marches straight up onto the drilling deck (worst case) or into the dog house (next worst case).  The drilling crew operates as a unit, each person engaged in a routine, and precise series of movements to keep drilling pipe moving, and drilling progressing.  By introducing themselves, uninvited, into the working environment, these unwitting individuals place themselves and the drilling crew at risk.  So, stand somewhere away from the drilling rig, but where the crew can see you.  Let them acknowledge that they’ve seen you, then hopefully they will gesture you up to the rig.  While this may seem like simple, common courtesy, it is far more then that.  First, you allow the lead driller a chance to understand you are asking to come into “their office”, second, they can mentally factor you into the safety procedures at the drilling site, and third it is showing respect for their work, that you are seeking permission to “enter their office”.

Rule No. 2 – Respect the Chain of Command.  There is always someone in charge on a drill site, often it’s the lead driller.  Its almost universally easier to chat with the rig hands, as they usually have a spare moment as the go about their duties, while the lead driller must keep a constant vigil on the rig.  However, resist the urge to ask important questions of, or convey important information to, the rig hands over the lead driller.  Yes, you will need to be patient, but safety and overall effectiveness rewards patience.  Yes, you may need to say things twice, once to the lead driller and then again to the rig hands but start with the lead driller.

Rule No.3 – Ask and Listen.  As a rule, drilling crews will have drilled about one hundred times the footage that you, as a geologist or engineer, will have observed.  The same is true of well completions.  We are observers, we catalog and record information, but we are not drillers!  Ask questions and listen to the crew’s answers.  If you have project specifications, and the crew is required to log or record information as part of meeting those specifications, ask first to see and possibly photograph those records.  Do not assume!  I’ve been doing this nearly forty years, and work with drillers and rig crews that are less then half my age, but I still give them the time they need to explain and teach, and often I learn something new ever time I am patient.

Rule No.4 – No Gossiping.  This is a tough one, but as much as possible, avoid idle gossip about the crew’s boss, what the client thinks and so on.  Once you say something, you lose command and control over your words, and they can get twisted, for better or worse.  It’s better to talk about sports, cars or the weather.  Also, the crew is there to work, not to provide you with a social hour.  Its fine to develop a good working relationship with the crew, but they get paid to work not socialize, and this shows respect for their jobs, and their boss, and their company.  I have been burned badly by my own innocent chatter about this or that, when it gets back to the crew’s Boss, as some kind of directive I issued, when in fact it wasn’t.  Entirely my fault, should have kept my mouth shut!

Rule No.5 – Write it Down.  Tom Clancy once said, “If you don’t write it down, it never happened” and I take that to heart.  Write down conversations with the drilling crew that pertain to changes in the drilling program, or modifications to the well design based on field conditions.  Write down anything that will affect the cost of the project, or when it will get down.  Write down your observations of drilling fluid data and take a picture of the crew’s records as well!  If it involves the project, or the progress of the drilling, or the compliance with the specifications, or concerns about the materials brought to the site, or discrepancies in the directions provided to the crew, then write it down.  Nearly all of the time this is an exercise in penmanship, but on that rare occasion when you really need to “remember” or demonstrate your perspective on the events of that point in time, write it down.  When we are working in someone else’s office, this is important.  We need to document what was occurring and was said, at it relates to decisions reached on the job site, in the absence of additional input from the rest of the team.

Rule No.6 – Be Supportive.  While it is not a requirement, it is something of a jobsite tradition, for the geologist or engineer to at least once, bring the drilling rig crew some drinks or some food, or both.  The drilling crews are often stuck on the rig for twelve hours, far from resources.  On your way to the drill site, stop and get some snacks and drinks.  I would also encourage you to, in your routine phone calls to the drilling sit, ask is there is anything you can bring, and if asked, do your best to bring it!

These are not hard and fast rules, but simply courtesies we should adhere to in our interactions on the job site.  There may be others, and if you have one and want to share it, send me an email and I will add it to the list!

Best regards,