Authors: Mark Campbell
Mr. Wallace turned around and held his arms out, smiling.
“Come on man, this is me you’re talking to!” Mr. Wallace said as he led them towards one of the water trucks.
“Yeah, I know, that’s why I’m worried,” John said with a grimace.
Mr. Wallace laughed and shook a finger in the air.
“Ah, come on now! Don’t hurt my feelings! You’re my favorite employee!” Mr. Wallace said with a fake grin.
“Since when did you supervise the pumps anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be off in the chem yard?” John asked.
“Didn’t you hear yet the latest?” Mr. Wallace asked, looking over at John.
“Hear what? Our van just pulled up,” John said.
“Tracy got canned this morning,” Mr. Wallace announced with a grin.
John blinked in disbelief.
“You’re shitting me,” John said.
“Nope!” Mr. Wallace said. “Some suit from corporate came in here in an Audi and let Tracy and a few others go. I’m running things now.”
“You’re in charge?! May God help us all,” John said, shaking his head.
Mr. Wallace laughed and kept walking.
A forklift sped towards them carrying a pallet full of sandbags.
Mike and John leapt out of the way just in time.
“Jesus Christ! What is all of this about, Hank?” John asked, shaking his head. “What’s the rush?”
“We’re having some problems equalizing the pressure!” Mr. Wallace explained, yelling over the sound of the nearby machinery. “I think they mixed too much sand and partially clogged the line!”
Mr. Wallace led them to the pressurization truck that was attached to the pump that fed into the wellbore.
“Where do we come in?” John asked. “I usually work the final stage, not the initial flood.”
“What?!” Mr. Wallace asked loudly, leaning closer.
“I said that I don’t normally preform this stage!” John shouted back.
“You work the trucks, right?” Mr. Wallace asked.
“Yeah just not this stage of it,” John said.
“But you know how to do it, right?” Mr. Wallace asked.
“Well, yeah, I just don’t understand why you pulled me and a rookie to do this,” John said.
“Those other idiots already messed it up once this morning and we nearly lost the well. I need someone who knows what they’re doing!” Mr. Wallace explained. “All you need to do is monitor the truck’s gauge and control the flow! The new guy isn’t doing anything special, but I need you working with someone who understands what the hell you’re saying. I just want him to keep an eye on the wellbore seal and the pump! Think you can catch him up to speed on the details?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine!” John shouted over the deafening whine of the pump.
“Good! Make sure he knows what to do!” Mr. Wallace said as he pointed at Mike. He slapped John on the back and started to walk away. “I have to, uh, go check on the mixing crew and make sure they don’t screw up!”
“Hey, Hank, since I’m working the initial stage I better get hazard pay!” John shouted.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll make sure to throw you something extra on your check,” Mr. Wallace said with a wink. He quickly retreated and covered his ears.
Mike walked up to John, confused.
“What just happened?!” Mike asked.
John shook his head, frustrated.
“I can’t tell if we just got promoted or shafted!” John admitted. “Either way, look, this is serious stuff so I need for you to pay attention, alright? We’re dealing with unstable pressure.”
“What do you need me to do?” Mike asked.
John pointed at the pump next to the wellbore.
“See that lever on the pump, the one right under the gauges?” John asked.
Mike looked towards the pump and nodded.
“Yeah, I see it!” Mike shouted, covering one ear.
“If I give you the signal, I want you to push the lever down and release the pressure on your end,” John said. “If any of the gauges go into the red, tell me so I can ease the flow on my end, okay? We have to get the pressure equalized and keep it there otherwise the whole damn thing will blow up in our face.”
“Yeah I got it,” Mike said.
John patted Mike on the shoulder.
“Good, now get over there and check those gauges!” John said.
Mike hurried towards the pump and studied the gauges closely. He nodded and stuck his thumb in the air.
John nodded and watched the gauges on the pressurization truck.
The needle was slightly above normal and stayed in the yellow area.
He lowered the outflow and watched as the needle slowly dipped back down into the green.
John frowned and shook his head.
“I don’t understand what the problem is!” John shouted over the rumble of the truck’s engine. “Does everything look good on your end over there?!”
“Yeah! Everything is in the green!” Mike hollered as he stared at the gauges on the intermediate pump.
“Guess whatever was blocking the line has already cleared. We’re running too low to crack the shale at this rate. I’m going to raise the pressure and see if she holds steady. Get ready!” John shouted.
He slowly turned the knob and listened as the fluid roared through the machine. The needle briefly spiked into the yellow but lowered back into the green.
John studied the gauges and smiled.
“Holy shit, I think we did it! It looks equalized! Old fucking Hank really does owe us a bonus now!” he shouted towards Mike. “Is everything still good over there?”
“Just a slight rise in pressure but none of the needles are anywhere near the red!” Mike yelled back.
“Good! I’m going to keep it here for a while before I try raising it again!” John shouted. “Keep an eye on your gauges and monitor for any major fluctuations!”
Mike nodded and gave him a thumb up.
John stared at the gauges on the truck and crossed his arms over his chest.
Several minutes passed but nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary.
John reached for the controls but quickly froze.
The pressurization truck’s gauges started to climb up into the yellow.
The machine started to whine and rumble as the pressure needles shook violently.
“Hey Mike!” John shouted. “Something’s not right on my end! I’m going to restrict the flow!”
John lowered the outflow but the gauges continued to rise into the red. Panicking, he quickly turned the flow off completely, but the pressure continued to rise.
“I don’t get it! It’s like something is pushing up against the flow!” John shouted.
John ducked as the seals that connected the hose to the pressurization truck started to crack and jets of water started to shoot everywhere.
An alarm started blaring.
The other workers nearby dropped what they were doing, abandoned their forklifts, and left their equipment behind as they ran away from the well, shouting in Spanish.
Hahn stepped out of the trailer and stood on the small wooden patio, staring in horror as the alarm wailed overhead.
“MIKE! THE LEVER! Push it down and release the pressure!” John shouted frantically. “DO IT NOW! We’re going to lose the well!”
Mike, trembling and sweating, tried to push down on the lever but it wouldn’t budge. The needles on his pump shot up into the red and the gauge’s glass housings burst one after the other while highly pressurized water started erupting from the seals around the wellbore.
He stumbled backwards, shielding his eyes from the glass fragments that pelted his face.
John stepped back as he heard the steel groan and felt the earth tremble. He watched as the pump Mike was standing by slowly started to expand. The fuse boxes erupted in a shower of sparks. The cover on the wellbore started to protrude upwards into a dome-like shape as steel rivets popped off one by one and ricocheted off of the rig’s beams overhead. Steam and water started to spray from the degenerating seal and the long pipe that ran along the middle of the rig down through the center of the wellbore started shaking violently.
He knew it was too late to save it.
“MIKE! Forget the pump! It’s gone! Just get the hell away from there!” John shouted as he started to run away from the pressurization truck.
“Wait! I can do it!” Mike shouted back as he wiped the blood away from his badly lacerated face. He pushed down on the lever again, groaning loudly as he put his bodyweight against it.
The lever resisted at first, but slowly then it slowly started to lower.
“Leave the goddamn pump alone and get away from that thing!” John yelled.
“No, it’s okay! I already got it moving! I almost have it!” Mike shouted as he pushed down. Sweat started to bead across his forehead and run down the back of his neck. His arms were shaking and growing tired but he was determined not to fail.
John started running towards Mike, shouting at him.
“Look around you goddammit! It’s already too late! Get the fuck away from–”
The valve attached to the lever exploded and flung Mike away from the machine like a ragdoll.
Mike tumbled backwards and landed a few yards away from the ruptured pump.
John froze in his tracks and threw his arms over his face. He lowered his arms as he looked over at Mike with a pale expression. He couldn’t hear anything over the tinnitus that stole his hearing.
Mike got up on his hands and knees, coughing and trembling.
Behind Mike, the entire rig started to shake. Steel support beams started to fall off as the pipe that ran along the center of the well twisted and ruptured. The wellbore seal exploded and shot a massive geyser of water and sand hundreds of feet into the air.
The ground shook.
Mike panicked and scrambled to his feet as he tried to run away.
The ruptured pump next to Mike started to spew a back, gooey concoction out of the broken valve, slathering Mike with the tar-like substance.
Mike tried to shield his face but he was covered in seconds. Undeterred, he kept running towards John.
At first, it simply looked like oil, but then John noticed that the substance was moving on its own accord, sluggishly crawling up Mike’s body towards his face.
Mike, finally realizing what was happening, became terrified and stopped running as he tried to swat and shake the substance off of his clothes and keep it away from his face.
It was no use.
John, confused and frightened, stood frozen and watched as the substance forced its way into Mike’s gaping mouth.
The pump next to Mike erupted into a fireball and sent droplets of the black substance everywhere, splattering a few gawking onlookers nearby.
John and Mike were knocked several yards away from the rig by the sheer concussive force of the blast.
John landed hard on his back and the back of his head struck the ground.
His world faded to black.
The ground around the wellbore opened up and caved away, destroying the slab and partially swallowing the twisted oil rig. As the hole widened, the water trucks that surrounded the rig disappeared down into the hole. Pieces of the well started to break away and crush the hapless onlookers standing too close.
After several minutes, the earth stopped shaking, the hole stopped growing and a billowing cloud of dust settled over the scene as workers rushed to help their injured brethren.
Hahn stood on the trailer’s small patio and stared at the organic black substance that covered most of the bodies. He watched in revulsion as the substance slithered along the ground and made its way towards the corpses trapped underneath the debris.
His eyes widened…
“Stay back! Don’t touch the bodies!” Hahn shouted from the patio’s railing, but his orders fell on deaf ears as the frightened laborers ignored him and tried to do what they could to help their coworkers.
He was about to run down the patio and repeat his plea, but stopped when he heard sirens approaching from the distance.
They’d be there in a few minutes and it’d be too late to do what needed to be done.
Hahn pulled out his phone and quickly dialed a number. He hurried down the steps and rushed towards his Audi.
After only three rings, someone answered.
“Yes?” a voice asked.
“One of the pumps just ruptured. It’s here,” Hahn quickly said.
“What’s here? What are you blathering on about?”
“The same thing from ‘91.”
The voice on the other end hesitated.
“The Persian Gulf strain? Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Hahn answered. “I’m at the site now. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Is the situation contained?”
“No,” Hahn admitted as he closed his eyes. “We have multiple fatalities and first responders are already nearing the scene. Our security team won’t have time to contain this at the site.”
“Pack up and get out of there while you still can. We’re sending outside resources.”