Tips for Preparing for Cold Weather Drilling Jobs
As the weather cools and we start getting ready for winter, we generally think of winterizing the rig and other equipment. This is pretty standard, and I have written about it several times before. And most of us know pretty much how to prepare our equipment for winter. This month, I’d like to write about preparing ourselves for the weather. After all, the rig won’t run itself.
The further north you operate, the more preparation and precautions you need to take. It is different on a cool day in Orlando than it is on a cool day in Plentywood, Mont. Severe cold takes some special preparations. First is clothing. The key is layering. One heavy coat won’t do it unless you have the right foundation. The first layer should be fairly thin and moisture wicking. I have some Air Force surplus 100-percent silk long johns that work well. I have told my friends about them, and several of them now wear them. One of my friends says it feels like when he wears his wife’s undies. Well … I don’t know much about that, but they work great.
Next is a good insulating layer. Personally, I like Merino wool. The silk layer under it keeps it from itching. After that, a good windproof outer layer, like Carhartts, works great. I can usually wear this until the temp gets below 20 degrees Fahrenheit without any problems. After that a good wind, and waterproof coat will take you through most winter weather.
Don’t forget good boots, socks, gloves and headgear. A lot of heat can be lost through the head so a good hardhat liner is important. It should come all the way down to below your collar, and have a face flap for when the wind picks up. In really cold weather, a full balaclava (ski mask) will help. Makes you look like you are going to rob a bank, but the rig isn’t a fashion show anyway. Gloves are very important in cold weather, and having a couple pairs on hand really helps. Keep one drying on a heater or engine, and rotate often, especially if your hands get wet. Good boots are a necessity. Since we all wear steel toes, keep in mind that the steel toe will radiate heat pretty well. Good thick, insulating socks are important. I wear 100-percent wool. I guess you get used to the itchiness. For more severe cold, there are steel-toed boots made in Canada that have thick felt linings that do very well. I’ve never been able to wear them unless the temp is below zero though. They make my feet sweat and then they really get cold. Take the felt liners out every night and dry them for the next day.
Once you are properly rigged up, you are ready for the day. I like to dress just a little lighter than I think I will need, so that I don’t start sweating. This will drain body heat faster than anything. Your amount of activity will let you know. Once I was on a rig doing a job where I had to be on the floor for hours. I didn’t have to do anything except be there if they got in trouble. I was wearing my usual gear plus some heavy insulated coverall, and was quite toasty. When we got out of the hole, I was helping the crew break down my tools and worked up quite a sweat. I wasn’t too worried; I knew I was going to leave the floor soon and warm up. When we got the tools laid down, I left the floor on my way to my truck, when I realized that I had to go. Right now. All we had on that rig was a Porta-John and it wasn’t heated. I didn’t look forward to that, but I went in and started shucking clothes. As soon as I sat down, I realized my error. I was sweaty, and the seat was 25 degrees below zero. I froze my nether regions to the seat! I didn’t want to jump up and remove skin from a sensitive area, so I sat a few minutes until body heat thawed me out. Learned a lesson. It wasn’t the type of john where you take a book anyway.
Another time, I was getting tools ready to go in the hole. I made all my notes and drawings in the truck because the weather was nasty. About 20 degrees below zero with a 40 mph wind. All I needed was the measurements to be ready. I got out of the truck and started calipering my tools on the rack. Since I had to write, I had my gloves in my pocket. The wind was howling from my left side, and my left eye was watering so bad I couldn’t see anyway, so I just held it shut. About 30 minutes later I was done and got back in my truck. That was when I realized that my left eye was frozen shut. I held my head by the vent in the dash, on high, until my eye thawed out. When it finally got open, it looked like I was looking through a shower door. All blurry. It wouldn’t clear. I finished the job a couple days later and went straight to the hospital. The doctor looked and said, “You have a frostbitten cornea.” I was imagining blindness, when he told me to take it easy and wait. Sure enough, in about 10 days, it cleared. I use goggles in those conditions now.
I’m back in Georgia now, semi-retired, and will, hopefully never have to work in those conditions again. But, you never know. I keep two big crates of artic gear, just in case.
For more Wayne Nash columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/wayne.