Water Hauler Jobs Overview
Along with oil and gas, a drilling operation produces large amounts of salt water and other waste fluid by-products which have to be removed and properly disposed of. Large vacuum equipped tanker trucks are used to transport the waste fluids away from drill sites to regulated and approved disposal sites.
Such waste fluid transport and disposal requires “water haulers”, the folks who operate the tanker trucks used to haul away by-products. Water haulers differ from crude haulers in that they aren’t moving the actual product which makes the money for drilling companies, but they deal with less volatile (and therefore less dangerous) materials. Also, unlike their over-the-road trucking colleagues, water haulers are required to be somewhat physically active during the course of a workday. They are constantly getting in and out of a truck, walking around a well site, hooking up and unhooking hoses, checking gauges, and inspecting the progress of a tanker load or unload as it takes place.
So, what are water hauler jobs like in the oilfields? Well, a reputable employer will offer in-depth training on all aspects of loading and unloading a tanker trailer, of course, before turning a new water hauler loose in the field. But a brief overview of the water hauler’s day is described below:
- After leaving the company yard, locate the tank site (your destination) – a water hauler should have a map which gives the locations for all of the wells that will be serviced. The employer may have even provided a GPS device (although a professional driver should own one anyway).
- Check the well location upon arrival – an experienced water hauler, arriving at a well site for the first time, will make sure to be in the right location by checking the signs leading into the well site at the site entrance. These signs will give location details including phone numbers to call in case of an emergency (an experienced driver will have these numbers in the cab, also). The gate will be locked, and the keys will be provided by the employer.
- Open the gate, drive on in to the well site – most well sites will provide ample room to maneuver a semi. However, sites are almost always in remote areas and the service roads are bare earth. This means the roads will be muddy, dusty, rocky, very bumpy, or a combination of all of these. No nice, smooth, well-paved and properly marked asphalt warehouse parking lots here!
- Line up near the proper tank – identify the water tank; make sure you aren’t connecting to any oil tanks! Park the rig in the spot which gives the most convenient (and safest) access to the water tank, then set the truck brakes.
- Retrieve paperwork, gauges, and safety equipment – some employers will require drivers to set out traffic cones around the work area before beginning any unloading / loading procedures. And all workers (drivers and otherwise) around any well site will be wearing safety-toed boots, hard hats, fire-resistant clothing, and work gloves.
- Climb the stairs to check the tanks – the most physically demanding aspects of the water hauler’s job will involve climbing the stairs leading to the tops of 20-foot-tall tanks, and hooking up / unhooking hoses. While this is certainly an improvement over unloading a 53′ trailer full of mattresses or office desks in 100+ degree heat or subzero chill, a water hauler still must be in at least moderate physical shape. Going up and down stairs repeatedly during the work day is a requirement of the job.
- At the top of the tank, keep safety in mind – this is one part of the water hauler job where one must be very focused on safety and proper procedures. (As mentioned, an employer should provide adequate training which will include safety procedures for a new water hauler.) Once at the top of the water tank, the water hauler will locate the hatch which opens into the tank. But before opening the hatch, the water hauler should have an H2S (hydrogen sulfide – a common oilfield hazard) sensor in hand and should take a deep breath. Once the hatch has been opened, the gases which have built up in the tank should be allowed to clear out.
- Check the water level – using a plumb bob gauge, the water hauler can now check the depth of the water in the tank. If it’s at a high enough level (this will vary depending on tank size, employer, and other factors), it’s time to unload the tank. The water hauler will descend the staircase back down to the ground, then begin to make the connections to the tank.
- Connect hoses – using the equipment located on the tanker trailer, a water hauler will connect the tanker’s hoses to the (usually) ground-level port which leads to the wastewater tank to remove the water from the on-site tank into the tanker trailer for transport and eventual disposal. The water hauler will use various connection apparatus like “reducers”, couplings, strainers, and a sight glass (to check the fluid levels as they flow into the trailer) to get the job done.
- Check all connections, then open the valves – connections should be checked and the proper reducers, etc. should be employed to guarantee that a wastewater spill won’t take place during the loading process. Avoiding a potential disaster before the valves are opened will keep a new water hauler from experiencing a short-lived career!
- Set the trailer-mounted pump correctly – vacuum-equipped tanker trailers will have pumps that can “suck” wastewater out of on-site tanks as well as “pump” the wastewater out for disposal. Make sure that the pump is set to “suck” the wastewater out of the on-site tank and into the trailer, after checking the hose connections and valves.
- Set the PTO, then fill out your paperwork – now the water hauler climbs into the truck cab and engages the tractor power take-off (PTO). After a quick walk around to make sure that the tanker is loading properly, another visit to the truck cab will allow the driver to fill out the necessary paperwork pertaining to the load.
- Get ready to turn off the pump and complete the loading process – an experienced water hauler will be able to time out just how long it will take for the tanker trailer to fill up. Just before the tanker is completely loaded, it will be time to climb out of the cab, go back to wait until just the right time that the loading is complete by viewing the sight glass and gauges, then shut off the pump. The valves are closed up and then the hoses are disconnected and stored, the on-site tank port closed, and the traffic cones stored. All tools and safety gear are put away in the proper storage locations.
- Walk around the truck – while a complete pre-trip is unnecessary, an experienced water hauler (and professional driver of any kind) will walk around the rig and look for any signs of potential problems. As many tanks are located on sites with less than desirable service roads, it’s wise to keep an eye out for any hazards that can puncture truck tires or fly up and bust a tail light.
- Leave the tank site and drive to the disposal site – the trailer is loaded, paperwork is in order, hoses secured, and the gate to the site has been locked. Now it’s time to drive to the disposal site to unload the wastewater.
Water hauler jobs are some of the more lucrative driving jobs in the oilfields. In addition, they offer a professional driver a certain degree of freedom, as the ability to move around between well sites during wastewater loads and unloads is part of the job. A water hauler won’t be spending all day in one location, but also will undertake a certain degree of physical activity. Currently, water haulers can expect to make anywhere from $17 per hour and up, depending on experience (obviously a newbie water hauler can’t expect to earn what an experienced water hauler can). With overtime paying at time-and-a-half, $35 per hour isn’t out of the ordinary. Like all oilfield jobs, the real money comes with putting in the overtime. Also, gaining water hauling experience will allow a driver to go wherever the oil and gas industry is booming. There are plenty of water hauler jobs in Texas and North Dakota, of course. However, wherever fracking is taking place, the need for water haulers is significant.
To find water hauler – and many other fracking jobs – check out the Fracking Jobs by State page…