01 May 2010

A Bad Day At Work


Justice Putnam

I've had quite a few diverse jobs over the years. Making money was always secondary to playing music and writing poetry. That is not to say I only chose low-paying jobs, far from it. But I didn’t judge myself from my jobs. Working was only a way to make money to make Art. Several of those jobs proved to be fairly lucrative but very dangerous. One in particular caused a woman I was going out with to silk screen a T-shirt that I wore for years.

I was working for Gulf Oil Corporation in Production and Exploration. I held the position of Production Operator "A," which meant I was on a rung a little higher up the ladder. My responsibilities included taking care of the "Tank Farm" and administering to the leases up in the Yorba Linda Hills and out Carbon Canyon way.

A combination of events occurred, that if they happened alone, or just a couple of them happened at the same time, there would have been no problem. As it was, a dangerous situation could have been worse. I could have died.

Gulf Oil had been drilling those leases for years, so they had in place a Steam Injection technique that "softened" the hard deposits in the formation enough to liquefy and pump the crude out. Once piped to the Tank Farm, the oil was so emulsified, that the only way to separate the water and oil molecules was to "drop" the water out with a silicate. That took quite a while. Once the water was out we pumped to the 76 Refinery and they made plastics out of the oil. Hydrogen Sulfide, otherwise known as H2S, is a dangerous by-product of oil production. A bacteria grows, eating the proteins in the oils and the "waste-products" from that bacteria, the gasses, form H2S. If you smell rotten eggs, the concentration is such that you can walk away and live. It's when you don't smell H2S that you die. It takes only a fraction of a second, and your respiration is "cut-off."

Vapor Recovery Systems to "burn-off" the H2S were situated throughout the "field," with one large and final one at the Tank Farm.

My schedule was a bit different. I worked 3 days during day-light hours in which my responsibilities were mostly in the Field, and 2 nights alone in mostly the Tank Farm with an occasional quick tour of the leases to check for leaks or equipment failures. Tuesday through Thursday I worked from 7am to 4pm. Saturday and Sunday, my shift was from 7pm to 4am.

I arrived at work early one Tuesday morning and read the log for that night and previous day.

The log failed to mention that the Vapor Recovery Systems were down to maintenance the Steam Injectors. It also failed to mention that the Wells I was to take fluid levels from were "shut-in," thus concentrating H2S.

As it was, a cold morning in the hills meant any gasses would be close to the ground. The very first Well I came to take a “fluid level” just so happened to have the "fitting" in the "cellar." The "cellar" is a pit dug fairly deep to catch spills.

All these "events" conspired to almost kill me.

I "opened the casing" and attached my "echometer."

I didn't smell a thing. But I felt weird.

One thing I learned from the experience was, those who die are the ones who argue the most with themselves about what is really happening. I began to have those same arguments; but I thought of one thing.

I had experimented with many illegal substances in many different circumstances in many different parts of the world, but none of them made me feel the way I did at that Well. It suddenly occurred to me that I was being poisoned; I was dying.

I stumbled from the Well and got into my truck, I thought if I could just get a blast of fresh air, things would be better. I somehow made it back to the Tank Farm. An ambulance took me to St. Jude's in Fullerton. I was ok, but as a precaution, I was on a respirator for 3 days.

When I got out of the Hospital, my girlfriend presented me with a T-shirt that read,

"Illegal Drugs Saved My Life."

© 2005 and 2010 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

(Oil Refinery, Martinez, California / copyright Justice Putnam)

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