Wednesday, November 30, 2016

frac tank berms

This will be the week of frac tanks.

I complained about frac tanks in this post, but I wanted to mention something specific to those 21,000-gallon tanks that I find ridiculous and technically dumb: the berms you can rent.

So, if you have a very particular client or sensitive site, they may want the frac tank to have a berm around it. These can be rented along with the frac tank. Example below from here:
This doesn't have a frac tank inside it, but it's the same thing that I've rented in the past.

A few notes:

1. The berm is made of reasonably thick stuff, but it's not all that strong. If renting one, you are just as likely to get a beat-up old thing with pinholes everywhere. You can make the delivery person spend ages patching it with chemicals (probably not good for your chemical evaluation/inventory) or heat-sealing with open flame (also a problem for many sites) or make a stink and get them to deliver another. Even if you get a pristine berm, the action of backing a 21,000-gallon tank over it (whether it's on pavement or gravel), lowering the tank, and inevitably scraping the bottom along the ground will put new holes in it.

2. Say the delivery person did not make a hash of the berm/tank placement. Note the relative amount of water in the tank vs. the amount in the berm (less than a foot). This is not appropriate for anything except very incidental spills during filling. The kind you could eliminate by just draping some poly sheeting around as needed. Also, if you've parked the thing on any sort of slope, you'll lose a big chunk of the already-limited storage capacity.

3. What the berm is very good at is collecting rainwater, especially in a reasonably moist climate like most of the east coast. So you'll leave it alone for a while (for example, while you're waiting for your wastewater characterization) and then a regulatory person or adversarial inspector drops by and it's a crisis because "the tank is leaking!". You could eliminate the rainwater issue by stepping on the edge and letting the excess water out, but to say that's bad optics is an understatement. So you end up pumping that rainwater into the tank, causing premature filling and unnecessary dilution.

One way to minimize rainwater collection is to pull out the L-shaped supports (you can see them as metallic glints in the picture above) and flatten the thing until you're actually going to start slopping water around. But those supports aren't actually all that easy to pull out, especially close to the sides of the berm. Far better to just tuck in some poly sheeting and maybe some spill pads as needed and then gather them up as you finish.

As far as I can tell, frac tank berms are an excellent example of "optical remediation" - they're functionally useless, but they make decision makers feel like they're being extra clean and careful. Far better to use actual good housekeeping to keep a site clean, but that doesn't look as good on the check box, I guess.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

shared hotel rooms

The second question in the AAM post I linked to in my last post is about shared hotel rooms. The original poster complains about coworker who are frequent travelers and who are refusing to share a hotel room. The OP thinks that the coworkers are being ridiculous/whiny, and Alison (and the commentariat) think that the OP's expectations are ridiculous.

I have only had to share hotel rooms in two situations: once, when a group of ladies were doing fieldwork just inside the "standard" radius to allow hotel stays, and we suggested that we'd prefer to share a room rather than commute every day; and in grad school, when my female research buddy and I would split a room for conferences. In both situations, the travel was of an extremely short duration (just a couple of days).

Long-term fieldwork is a whole other beast. If I'm going to be traveling on a regular basis, or for more than a couple of days, it's no longer some sort of emergency situation but a significant part of my life. And in the long term, I need to be able to recharge at night and develop my own system for making the room my own. I agree with the commentariat that I would far prefer a cheaper hotel room with minimal amenities over a shared fancy hotel room.

With that said, I know that some of my contractors (such as drillers) do share rooms. They tend to avoid the room as much as possible, and I often hear endless complaints about snoring and room temperature wars and bedtime disputes and bathroom habits in the morning. That's when the guys are friendly. If they're not, mornings can be... tense between crew members.

As a consultant, my travel is generally directly chargeable to the client. My travel costs are part of the package. I don't need to stay in fancy hotels (usually the government per diem for an area is a good rule of thumb for reimbursement), but I do expect to be comfortable enough to stay at there for weeks on end without it being a hardship, often working back at the hotel room long after the field day is complete. As I've mentioned before, I travel enough that it is a significant part of my life. If my traveling causes long-term misery, I'm going to be job-hunting to find a more reasonable employer.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


The fourth question in this post a couple days ago was more of a complaint, about being forced to punch in and out, including for lunch. The poster thought that this was "blue collar" and demeaning. Setting aside the "demeaning" bit, which came in for a torrent of criticism, it is strange to me that being accountable for ones' time is considered non-professional. Maybe I have spent too much time around consultants and lawyers, but I have always been required to track my time. That's how the clients get billed. Even for a lump-sum contract, we still have internal controls and time tracking, so that the organization has some idea of the level of effort expended for the work.

I do not use a time clock, however. Given that sometimes I end up flitting from one project to another, a time clock would be counterproductive. I picture something like:

Client calls with some crisis or another. *PUNCH!* I get off the phone, make a few notes, and then someone calls from the field on another project. *PUNCH!* My computer stalls out and refuses to reboot. *PUNCH!* While waiting for the IT department to do its thing, I get cornered in the hallway for a side discussion. *PUNCH!*

This is why I have a little notebook to jot down the time and a word or two about what I'm doing. It takes no time and is accurate enough for toting up all the hours at the end of the day. Really, it's neither difficult nor demeaning.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

voting and fieldwork

Having election day on a Tuesday is damn inconvenient for fieldwork. This is especially true for environmental consulting, which often involves close coordination with multiple organizations/contractors and work planned on short notice.

I do know a few people who had reasonably long (multi-day) fieldwork commitments this week, and they were able to put off that work a day and travel in the morning after voting yesterday.

For the most part, I have either had office work or was able to postpone fieldwork on election day. The one exception was my first presidential election after graduating from college. I wasn't terribly assertive with my own management back then, and when I was the sole representative for my firm on a drilling job, I didn't push back and try to reschedule the work around the election.

I ended up spending most of election night at the hotel bar after dinner, watching the returns come in with a handful of strangers who were also stranded there. We were all coming from different states and we all had our own particular local interests, so it felt like a group of expatriates.

Now that early voting is more of a thing, hopefully I won't miss any more elections. Or at least I'll be better about getting my absentee ballot just in case.

Was anyone else out in the field or otherwise traveling yesterday?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Frac tank logistics

I had a good couple questions on my last post, and once my response in the comments reached two paragraphs, I thought it would be better to split it out into a separate post.

So, how do I clean frac tanks, and why do I worry about cleaning them, instead of the person I rented them from? And if I clean frac tanks, do I have a death spiral of cleaning ever smaller containers? (...paraphrasing)

So, the frac tank company rents out tanks to everybody. You see them by the side of the highway and on big construction sites for clean water storage. I arrange for them to store water contaminated with all sorts of stuff, although usually not with hair-raising concentrations (those get segregated separately as hazardous waste, and usually end up in smaller containers, like drums). I've also used them to store exotic mixtures of water + stuff to treat contamination, like oxidants and nutrients for bioaugmentation (feed bugs that break down contamination). The frac tank company is not expert in oily water or treatment chemicals or random contamination. So they require that the tanks be returned clean. I admit that I have not previously worried about how clean they were upon arrival to the site, because honestly, by the time you get to 21,000 gallons, that's a heck of a lot of dilution.

I always arrange for a transportation and disposal contractor to get my investigation-derived waste (IDW) off-site and to do the tank cleaning. And I usually have them deal with the tank/roll-off rental (for a modest mark-up, of course), because then it's their responsibility to clean the containers sufficiently that they'll get be accepted back.

When we're developing wells (removing fines!) or drilling, we'll always end up with sediment in the water. And we can arrange for bag filters and secondary settlement tanks and all that, but we'll inevitably end up with at least some gunk on the bottom of the containers. So the IDW contractor, who has all the appropriate certifications and equipment to go traipsing around inside contaminated tanks, takes a power washer to it and gets all the gunk out. Usually someone is standing by to suction the water+gunk into a drum. And since the water that was in the tank has been characterized and accepted for disposal (which is why the tank is empty now), the wash water is the same stuff, only diluted, and it goes off to wherever the rest of the water went. The drums get recycled (washed out, worst of the dents banged out, cooked, maybe get a new coat of paint) and then off they go to the next drilling job.

When I first started out, it was a bit of a surprise how much time was spent on things like cleaning tanks compared to science. But that's the environmental consulting business - science is fine, but a big part of the job is logistics.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

liquid waste storage

This is the natural follow-up to my previous post on solid waste storage.

We tend to keep our liquid investigation-derived waste (IDW) in either 55-gallon drums, poly tanks, or gigantic frac tanks.

Drums for liquids are the same as drums for solids, as discussed earlier. They're easy to drive around and pump off if needed, but troublesome if you're dealing with more than a couple hundred gallons.

I usually prefer poly (plastic) tanks, which range up in size from 150 gallons or so (about the maximum that you can put in a full-size pickup) up to a couple thousand gallons. The poly tanks tend to be much easier to open/close (which you may do often if you're just filling them a couple of buckets at a time) but still hold enough water to be useful for larger jobs. Also, if you have mildly corrosive water or treatment chemicals, these hold up better than the steel drums. About my preferred size (225 gallon) example here from ebay:

If I have a very large water sampling job, or an intermediate-sized drilling job, I may go with a much larger poly tank (this from rain for rent):
I've used these quite a bit - they vary in size (this one is almost 5,000 gallons, so on the larger end). The taller ones get a bit precarious to climb up. They have a top cap you can easily spin to open/close, and they have discharge connections at the bottom so that they don't need to be entered to be cleaned - you just need to aim a power washer or steam cleaner at the sides and empty from the bottom. Staff who are doing heavy-duty water handling can also directly connect to the bottom rather than dragging a hose to the top.

But sometimes, you find yourself handling lots of water. After a certain point, you'll need a frac tank. The biggest standard tank is 21,000 gallons, and if you're going to be doing a lot of deep drilling or potentially exciting drilling (karst? faults?) and need to containerize the water for disposal, you may get a couple of these (from Adler):
Oh boy. Frac tanks. I have strong opinions about these. If you need them, you need them. But what a pain. They need, like, acres of space to be dropped off. You need to perform confined-space entry to clean them. And I'm always paranoid that some local troublemaker is going to go ahead and open the front porthole (halfway up the face on the right in the photo) when the thing is mostly full and we'll have A Big Problem. Although I will admit that if I need a nice "quasi-aerial" photograph of a busy environmental investigation, the top of a 21,000-gallon tank is the perfect place to stand.

I'm sure that my counterparts in the oil and gas biz think that my frac tanks are hilariously small (they think the same of the drill rigs I use), compared to the manmade lagoons that they might make for a fracking project. But this is as big as it gets for me, thank goodness. I have a hard enough time keeping them properly sealed and secured.