Dave Pierson gets Halliburton's Casper workers ready for the field

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

At 4:30 a.m. at the McMurry Training Center northeast of Casper, the stars are huge and bright, but oil and gas industry instructor Dan Pierson focuses his eyes on the ground.

He’s teaching 26 Halliburton trainees to fit together pieces of two-inch iron pipe.

Pierson repeats instructions over and over in catchy singsong.

“Clean and dope!”

“Clean and dope!”

“Clean and dope!”

Trainees dutifully take turns brushing dirt from the pipe threads before painting the threads with dope, a lubricant.

One trainee gets a bit carried away with the dope-painting, coating the threads with what Pierson deems an excessive amount.

“‘Kay, that’s good,” Pierson says. “You’re not Vincent van Gogh.”

* * *

Pierson is teaching pipe-fitting as part of what the industry calls rigging up.

At a real producing oil or natural gas well, crews would lay down pipe and connect it to a well head. Materials such as cement, chemicals and water would be pumped down the well. Pipes can be two, three or four inches in diameter. From the well head, the pipes would be attached to a pump truck. The pump creates pressure and forces materials down a well.

A retired drilling rig and the top third of another rig have been placed at the McMurry Training Center for practice. The environment is simpler than what trainees will encounter in the oil patch.

The point is to familiarize trainees with the equipment.

“Nothing is pressurized,” Pierson says.

There are no vibrations or loud noises, although sometimes Pierson shakes parts of the rig with his hands, which forces trainees to find their footing fast.

* * *

Interspersed with the “clean and dope” orders, Pierson sings another set of instructions.

“Whoever wings it, swings it!”

“Whoever wings it, swings it!”

“Whoever wings it, swings it!”

Trainees take turns screwing and hammering in wing nuts that connect the ends of pipe.

If you think pipe-fitting is self-explanatory, you’d be wrong.

Pierson shows trainees how to carry the five- and six-foot pipes. Two people carry the pipes. One person walks to the right of the pipe and the other walks to the left.

Pierson shows them how to hammer the pipes. Hammer must be facing down and sometimes the swinger must physically move to get the best angle over the wing nut. “Change your angle! Change your angle!” Pierson says.

As one trainee is about to start swinging the hammer, Pierson shouts, “Hold up!”

He walks to the area. An empty plastic water bottle lies on the ground. Pierson kicks it away with his steel-toe boots.

He chides them: “Housekeeping, gentlemen!”

* * *

Pierson, a farm boy from northwest Iowa, is 25 years old.

The McMurry job brought him to Casper two years ago. He had a friend who worked at McMurry and his in-laws live in Casper.

Between Iowa and Casper, Pierson worked in irrigation and ran heavy equipment for the city of Greeley, Colo. He coached football at a Christian high school in Greeley, which is where he learned how to communicate with different types of people and discovered how people learn.

Pierson, who estimates he’s trained more than 1,000 people, has some theories on training.

Instructors must understand each class’s experience levels.

Some trainees have more industry experience than others. By the end of the first day of training, Pierson has figured out who is new and who is experienced: The ones who have worked in the industry before tend to nod their heads as he talks.

“If they’re green, their eyes get real big,” he says.

People doze off if an instructor rattles on for more than 20 minutes, Pierson says.

“I try not to talk a lot,” he says.

Instead, instructors should encourage the students to ask questions. Some students are shy. Take them aside and make sure they don’t have any questions, he says.

* * *

The trainees, new hires or rehires from Halliburton offices in Brighton, Colo., are staying at a Casper hotel for the week.

The McMurry Training Center is a regional training center for companies that contract it, such as Halliburton, Pierson says.

Some of the trainees are engineers. Most will be on “frac” crews, appearing after the well has been drilled to assist in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are pumped into underground formations at high pressure, breaking open rock to release trapped oil and natural gas.

The frac crews will work in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, which is mostly in western Colorado. Parts of the D-J Basin stretch into Wyoming and Nebraska. The frac crews will be at wells that are mostly pumping crude oil, Pierson said.

Training days at McMurry can start early and end late. Pierson wants trainees to be as prepared as possible for the oil field. Many of the trainees want to rack up hours, too, since they get paid for training.

In the oil field, frac crews can work 100 to 120 hours a week, Pierson says.

* * *

At 7 a.m., the Halliburton trainees are in the classroom.

“Turn to page 43 in your training manual,” Pierson says.

On page 43, trainees learn to write a job safety analysis,

abbreviated to JSA.

“For every job, there’s hazards,” Pierson says.

To demonstrate JSAs, Pierson does one on lawn mowing.

The job of mowing can be broken down into smaller tasks: The worker pulls the mower from the shed, inspects the yard, inspects the mower, mows and returns the mower to the shed.

With each of those tasks, there are potential safety risks, Pierson says. For instance, there may be a hose in the shed that the worker can trip and fall over if it’s not removed.

Pierson directs the trainees to work in small groups to analyze the safety risks of lawn mowing, ranking them by frequency and danger. They discuss ways to mitigate the safety risks.

* * *

At 9 a.m., Pierson is teaching half of the training class how to climb a drilling rig, while the other half learns to chain semi tires with another instructor.

Class has been in session for almost five serious hours. Pierson lightens up.

“I love heights,” he says.

Pierson recruits the class’s only female trainee, Nikki Goldstein, to demonstrate how to use a harness. Goldstein is a mechanical engineer who rock climbs for fun.

Goldstein discovers a crack in the plastic of one of the harnesses. She tells her fellow trainees to discard bad harnesses because they’re not safe.

“We have a couple harnesses that are bad,” Pierson said. “That way you know to check it.”

Pierson takes the class to a rig and makes each trainee climb twice.

Afterward, the instructor and trainees drink water in the shade and wait to switch tasks with the other half of their class. Pierson jokes with trainees about farming, marriage and Iowa.

By noon, his work day ends. The students will continue with another instructor for several hours to pack in more practice time before the live game on the oil field.

“It’s like playing with Legos — they’re seeing what it’s like before you buy the lumber and start building,” he said.