The Oil Patch:  Going to Town

Gunnar, what are you laughing about!

The Oil Patch:  The Explosion

New three-fers.  These are from Jenny.

You’re a good picture taker, Gunnar.  Notice that the Christmas stuff has disappeared. 

We normally put Christmas away in January when we’re in Tioga for Addie’s birthday.

Time to go to town and pick up some extra groceries.

This is about a mile from Jenny’s house.  See that big row of apartment buildings in the  background?

There are ten of them now, finished one year ago.  When Jenny and Chris moved to Tioga in 2008, there were none of them.

This apartment building was finished three to four years ago.

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Tioga is celebrating its centennial this year on June 15th.  Jenny, who is the church secretary — among other things — hired Dale Ahlquist of EWTN and GK Chesterton fame, to be the featured guest speaker.

This is property owned by Christopher, one of his parcels that could become location for a Car Wash.  His other properties have now been developed into the Black Gold Suites Hotel, rental units for Arabian Storage, and the Main Stay Suites.

This new building is the new Tioga headquarters for Hess Oil, an oil company and main employer in Tioga.  Chris said that Hess is the original big employer in the area since 1951 and the discovery of oil.

This newest building at Tioga is home of Neset Consulting Services.  Owner Kathy Neset moved to Tioga in 1979, said Chris.  She provides geological services to the oil companies. 

Coborn’s grocery store is under construction today.  Chris said that Coborn’s is based out of St. Cloud, MN, and is relocating from downtown Tioga to get more space.

Remember when a city’s water tower looked like this?  Chris said Tioga built a new water tower two years ago — north of town about 3/4 miles — and they still haven’t used it.

This is where Addie, a 5th grader, and Gunnar, a 3rd grader, go to school.  They are excellent students.  It’s called Central Elementary because there used to be two elementary schools in Tioga and the population dwindled after the original oil boom of 1950’s.  That was before fracking technology.

These new duplexes in Tioga were completed maybe three years ago.

The oil tankers are waiting in line to be loaded with crude oil at the Rail Loading Export Facility.

The line of oil cars seems endless and you can’t get them all in one picture.

Chris said there are 110 rail cars (oil tankers) per train.

Chris said that semi-trucks are bringing crude oil from the wells to this rail facility — seen here from a distance — to load up the empty rail oil tankers.

Chris said the primary refineries for Tioga oil are located on the East Coast and the West Coast, maybe also Oklahoma.

From a distance, the oil well pumps — which are scattered from Minot west to Tioga and to Williston — don’t seem so big.

You get a much better perspective when you stand right next to them …

… or look up at them from below.  This particular oil well is less than a mile from their home.

Addie and Gunnar found a slippery ice patch in the Oil Patch and could hardly stand up on it.

Jenny said, “Mom, take a picture.  That’s what you call an oil drill.  It’s drilling for oil.”

And this is what you call an oil well pump.  Oil was found and is now being pumped.

This is the Natural Gas Plant at Tioga, also called the Natural Gas Refinery.  Chris said this is where they strip out certain gases — ethanes, butanes, propanes, and other byproducts, some of which goes to a plastic company in Canada.

The place is so big that you can’t get a picture of it on the ground.

But Christopher sent me an aerial photo he took last week from a plane.  Thank you, Chris.

This is the Compressor Facility — the “gathering station” — located four miles south of Jenny’s place.  An explosion occurred here on Monday, February 10th, four days before Allan and I arrived.  It was still the foremost topic of conversation.  Jenny and the kids and I went to check it out.

An enormous crane was lifting out a large 36-inch diameter oil pipe that had ruptured.  It was being lifted from where it exploded to a vacant space nearby.  The explosion site itself was surrounded by steel fencing, part of which had melted and bent out of shape like soft licorice.

Chris had explained to us that the gathering station is a whole network of pipes where the natural gas that’s being collected from wells in the surrounding area is compressed, in order to regulate the flow of the gas into the gas refinery at Tioga.

The cable is now taught and the ruptured pipe is ready to be lifted.  Can you see the jagged edge hole that blown out of it?

Everything was moving like in slow motion.  It was a nice sunny day so we didn’t mind hanging around for a little while and watching the operation.

We asked one of the worker men what happened.  He said there was an ice chunk in the 6-inch pipe coming from the wells, that blew off the cap.  The cap struck the 36-inch steel pipe which caused a spark and an explosion. 

Chris explained that in the process of constructing and installing the pipe system from the wells to this gathering station, and then working the pipes with a pig, it’s possible that the pig missed something in a low lying area — metal or other debris — which could have accumulated moisture that may have been in the system and then, in the subzero deep freeze we’ve all been experiencing, the moisture froze and turned into a bullet.

Allan explained that the pipes are filled with water to pressure test them, and then a pig is used to push the water out, along with any debris.  The pig of which they speak is not the four-legged variety, of course, but it does have a round elongated belly.  The snout is pointed, not flat, and the body is like a rubber lake buoy in shape and texture.  Forcing a snug fitting pit through a pipe cleans out the pipe — usually.

I learned that when there is no gathering system, the only option is to flare the gas, burn it off immediately near the well head.  Otherwise there’d be a cloud of natural gas over the area and it’s very explosive.  The gas is ignited in a flare so it doesn’t become a bigger problem.

The explosion shook homes as far away as White Earth.  It spooked cows four miles away.  Residents in downtown Tioga felt the shocks, but there was no threat to the public and no one was injured.  Jenny and Christopher and kids were the first people on the scene.  Said Jenny, “Before any emergency vehicles appeared, we were sitting there on the edge of the road going, Wow!  Wow!  Holy Cow!’  It was like a bomb went off.  Our hearts were thumping.”

Said Chris, “When I heard our garage doors rattle, I though, What the hell!  So I got Jenny and the kids and said, Let’s go for a ride.  Then we saw the explosion in progress.  We’d hear a boom and the flame was so huge we thought itg was an oil truck just over the hill, but it was three miles away yet.  Should have had a bag of marshmallows.”

Because of the shortage of housing, the school brought in small FEMA trailers and parked them next to the school.  Teachers rent them for $700/month.

And, yes, there are still Man Camps in Tioga and the surrounding oil drilling areas.