I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning my wife’s intonations and reading them, most of the time fairly accurately. This one has a mixture of fear, excitement, challenge, desire, and courage. She can see through the binocs as well as I can that the men up on that floor are totally occupied, almost like robots handling large steel objects very rapidly, wrapping chains around pipes, chains that snake over the rig floor, repeatedly, with never a gesture that’s not related to the immediate task at hand, which is to get several miles of pipe out of a hole, a hundred and twenty feet at a time, change a bit, and send that same pipe several miles back down the hole, in an environment of massive machinery, most of it moving, diesel smoke, noise, mud-slicked metal plates, vibration, and dirt.
“This one is destined for hydraulic fracturing,” says Albright, simply, as if she’d reminded us this was Wednesday. What she’s actually said is that in addition to the swinging machinery and tons of pipe stacked on end like a box of straws where four men are working constantly, after the well is completed there will be high pressure lines forcing a specialized mixture of fluids, sand, and salts through that pipe at the end. The pressure will be somewhere around five thousand pounds per square inch, enough to dismember a human being, or a cow, standing near a ruptured pipe. “One of these wells had a broken line a couple of months ago,” she says, again, as if she were giving us the time of day. “One dead; scalded and crushed. Two others hospitalized.” The Burkholder pause. “Don’t remember whether they both lived or not.”
We watch for a few more minutes. It’s a mesmerizing show. I’m surprised the derrick doesn’t tip over as a result of pipe weight, or that the whole stack of pipe, about two hundred tons of it so far, doesn’t simply go crashing through the rig floor.
“Ready?” asks Albright. She leans forward, reaches inside her light jacket, pulls out her handgun and puts it in the glove box. “You both clean?”
“Mine’s in my purse; I’ll leave it in the car,” says Mykala.
“Mine’s in my truck back at the motel in Oklahoma City,” I add.
Albright looks at me as if I were some kind of an idiot.
“Nice place for it to be if you ever need it,” says our host and driver.
“I have a wife who can put forty shots into a paper target’s head.”
“Keep her close,” she advises. “And put on your ID badges.”