Oil Riggers: Episode 7/8

Wednesday 20th May 8.00pm

This gripping documentary series follows life on the oil rigs of west Texas. In this episode, Viking’s third well is put in jeopardy when poisonous water spews out of the ground. The Longhorn hits a pocket of potentially explosive gas. And Big Dog driller Justin loses patience with underling Derek once again.

As the 50-day window to drill three wells draws to a close, the Viking rig leads the pack. The platform is making excellent progress on its third well, and veteran driller Wayne hopes that his hard-working boys will be promoted from the evening shift to the daylight slot. Of the three eight-hour shifts that comprise an oil rig’s working day, the daylight stint is the most prestigious.

Wayne and his lads are none too impressed with the current daytime team. Arriving at work, they discover their colleagues have accidentally flooded the rig with flammable diesel fuel. “Definitely a dangerous situation right there – we could burn the whole damn rig down!” Wayne says. “As far as I’m concerned, we deserve the daylight job.”

Wayne’s crew prove themselves worthy of the promotion when they work an eight-hour shift in a raging electrical storm. Alarming as this is, an even greater challenge is in store when the rig then drills into an underground stream and water comes gushing out of the well. The torrent could wreck the well completely and, to make matters worse, sensors show the water is contaminated with hydrogen sulphide (H2S). The workers are banned from the platform and only Wayne and rig owner Mike LaMonica are allowed to stay.

Mike fears that the outpouring of water is too great for the well to support. “We’re screwed,” he says. A confident Wayne insists the flow is less severe than first thought, and is keen to keep on drilling. After risking his health to examine the poisonous water up close, Wayne reports that the flow is within safe limits. The veteran roughneck is proven right and the crew is permitted to continue drilling. Mike is impressed by what he has seen of Wayne’s work. “He’s a good driller. Wayne and his guys definitely have daylight potential,” he says. Days later, Wayne’s team is awarded the coveted daylight shift.

Over at the Longhorn rig, Josh’s hands pick up the pace to get their second well finished. The least experienced member of the team is Michael, Josh’s half-brother. Michael endures two sobering incidents this week. First, he almost loses his fingers when a chain whips back on him. Later, he is high up on the derrick performing cleaning duties when the alarm sounds, alerting hands to an outburst of toxic H2S gas. Josh suspends operations until the gas has vented, but poor Michael is left in a precarious position until the danger has passed.

Meanwhile, at the Big Dog platform, worm Derek is wearing out his colleagues’ patience once more. His inability to grasp straightforward tasks after weeks of training frustrates his boss, Justin, and experienced roughneck, Brian. Cocky Derek, however, has his own take on the situation. “They’re intimidated. They know if I learn too much, I’ll take over,” he says, with a grin.

However, Derek’s lack of focus means he sometimes puts himself in harm’s way. While Brian is repairing a piece of heavy kit on the tower, Derek blithely stands beneath him. “He’s off on another world,” says Justin, despairingly. “I can’t never get him to focus on what we’re doing.” “He knows his days are numbered,” adds Brian. But with the Big Dog stuck in last place in the race to strike oil, the pressure is on the entire team to pull together and get the job done.

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