Monday, February 15, 2021

Remnant: Oilman meets lawyer

---Note to my readers: This is fiction. I knowingly take artistic license in places. I have some readers who work(ed) in the petroleum industry. I will be eternally grateful if you point out egregious errors so I can fix them and not perpetuate errors/stereotypes. ---

Brett Stillwater was doing what Brett Stillwater did for a living. He was solving problems.

Connecticut was the ass-end of nowhere for an oil man but that is where he was.

The pipe was on its way by truck from Houston. There was pipe that was closer but the bean-counters decided to ship from Houston.

The closest large diameter boring machine was in the Chesapeake region and was scheduled to be on trucks by 9 tomorrow morning and even with the storm barrelling up the east coast, should be on the job site by first-light the day after.

Welders certified for welding petroleum pipeline were already on-site and Brett had little doubt that the interstate pipeline that supplied the vast majority of the natural gas to New England north of Connecticut would be back in business in five, maybe six days.

That is what Brett’s firm paid him to do. Solve problems and get the energy flowing again.

And then the lawyer stepped out of the rental car. Brett knew the type: $1200 dollar suit, $500 shoes, $400 attache case, sculpted hair and a pencil-thin neck.

It was never a good day when one of those guys showed up on the job site.

It was a study in contrasts. Brett weighed 260 and had a bit of a beer gut. His chest and upper-arms suggested that he could throw iron with the big-boys and his face had been blasted by the sun everywhere from Utah-to-Uzbekistan. Hard-hats don’t cast much shade.

The lawyer wore makeup and his hair was styled and innocent of ever having set beneath a hardhat. The lawyer was a hot-house flower and out of his element. He daintily stepped through the semi-frozen mud to get over to Brett.

Handing over the paperwork the lawyer said without preamble “You need to shut down. Court order.”

Brett contained a sigh. “Why?”

“This stretch of the Farmington River holds a recently discovered population of the Yellow Lamp-mussel and it is an endangered species” the lawyer informed him.

“A mussel. What the hell is a mussel? Is it some kind of snail-darter or dace or smelt?” Brett asked. In spite of his battered appearance he was a highly educated man. He held a Master’s in Petroleum Engineering from University of Tulsa and could have had Ph.D. if he wanted to take the time off work to finish his thesis.

“It is a clam” the lawyer told him.

“A clam?” Brett echoed.

“The silt from the ruptured gas line threatened them” the lawyer said.

“Then tell the damned terrorists to stop blowing up pipelines” Brett said in what he thought was a perfectly reasonable tone.

“The judge issued an order to stop work until remediation plans had been reviewed” the lawyer said.

Brett quickly scanned the document.

“What if we run the pipeline through the bedrock, 10 feet beneath the bottom of the river?” Brett asked.

Brett had reviewed the geological studies. The rupture had scoured the bottom of the river down to bedrock. If there was one thing Stillwater knew how to do, it was to read seismic data and ground-penetrating radar imagery.

The lawyer drew himself up. Even though he was just a delivery boy he still considered himself socially far above this sunburned guy in battered work boots.

“Sorry buddy. This is way above your pay-grade. Time for you to pack it up and wait for the upper office to sort things out” Then the lawyer minced back to his rented Nissan and drove off.

Once the lawyer had cleared the job-site, Brett got on the radio.

First he called the CAD (Computer Aided Design) team. “I need to have you do some studies. I need ‘most economical paths 11, 16 and 21 meters below the bedrock on the river's bottom. If you need more imaging data, tell the sounders to get on it. If you need more seismic data, get it."

Like bloody hell he was going to stop work. He had no doubt that paralleling the original pipeline was no longer viable. For one thing, there was a huge crater in the middle of the river bed. Brett also had no doubt that the most economical 11, 16 and 21 meter paths would not come close to that crater.

This wasn’t Brett’s first rodeo. He knew that the science weenies loved metric and he knew that the likely result was that the path must be at least 5m, 10m, 15m or 20m below the bedrock.

He already knew that when the boring machine showed up he was going to have it start boring along the 16m trajectory and as soon as the Computer Aided Design team had a path he would get more steel pipe heading this way. If he had to send it back, well that was just the price of doing business. 

The exact wording of the court order did not tell him to stop working on the pipeline. The court order said that the pipe could not be put into operation until the plans had been reviewed and approved. From where Brett stood in his size-thirteen Red Wing work-boots, that was all the difference in the world.

He planted the seed of 10 feet (3 meters) below the bedrock and the eco-warriors would bargain for 10 meters thinking it would be a show-stopper. By the time they demanded 10 meters his crew would be making the final welds completing the line at 16 meters.

But it would take a boatload more pipe. He had to start farther back because he could only curve the pipe so much. He just needed to know where to park the boring rig when it showed up.

Brett recognized the lawyer as a delivery boy. And the kid would have shit his pants if he knew Brett’s pay-grade. Brett hauled as much home every year as the senior partner in the firm the pencil-neck worked for. If you factored in the lower taxes in Texas and cost of housing, Brett Stillwater's net paycheck was eight-times what that of the condescending lawyer's.

Brett was very, very good at solving problems.



  1. Harvard lawyer meets guard house lawyer in the wild...

  2. Oh so true. My dad was a pipeline guy.

  3. In the Wyoming oilfields I worked with guys that were flat out amazing problem solvers. A big diesel motor broke down, a mechanic fabbed a part for a piston in a old semi van we used as a shop and we had the diesel motor back together before the part could ship out of Utah. Never had another problem with that motor, ever. Master diesel mechanics are amazing, I was lucky to work with them. They taught me fabbing tricks that I still use.

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  5. The problem, as I see it, is that people like Brett are doing their best to support a failed system that hates them. Sure, he makes great money, but in the end, no matter how hard he works, the system collapses.

    Atlas Shrugged is a fine manual for life these days.

  6. Great story so far Joe, pm me if you want.


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