Photographs Contributed by Bob Waters
After leaving Saudi in 1960, Jo and I spent nearly 3 years in Iran where I was working for a contractor drilling company out of California. When that job ended, Jo and I settled in Los Alamitos, California. We lived there from 1963 to 1971 and I worked as a Liaison Engineer for an oil tool company in Los Angeles. When things began to slow down for me in California, I decided to apply to Aramco again as they were looking for older folks with drilling experience, especially in Saudi.
I contacted both the Aramco office in New York and personal friends still living in Saudi. Word came back that I would be hearing from Aramco soon, and I would be hired back as a Petroleum Engineer. After a physical and the necessary processing, both Jo and I arrived in Saudi in 1971. There was no wait for family housing this time, thank goodness.
Back in the day Aramco had a separate payroll and separate badge numbers for each class. However, when I came back to Saudi in 1971, I could not use my old badge number of 9153 because the company had changed to just one payroll. An Arab had been issued my number, but nobody had Tommy McDowell's number, 9154, so I inherited #9154 for my second hitch. I was assigned to the Abqaiq District Petroleum Engineering Office.
Needless to say, things really had changed tremendously during our 11-year absence, however some things remained the same -- like the first time Jo and I went to the Abqaiq dining hall. Some of the Saudi workers in the buffet line said, “Hello Mr. Bob, how was long vacation? How is Bobby and Susan?” (Our children that were now grown up and living in the States). We immediately felt right at home. It was good to get reacquainted with old friends that we knew 11 years ago, and getting to meet new friends.
I worked about a month in Abqaiq and then was transferred to Dhahran to work in the Producing Department's Well Services as a Liaison Workover* Foreman for a contract workover* rig. Our housing was in a 7-unit apartment building. We brought our 2 miniature poodles named “Shuffer”, meaning "the looker" and “Yallah” meaning "let's go". Originally, dogs were not allowed in the Aramco compounds but since 1960, this rule had changed.
In 1971 the workover rig and the Water Well Maintenance Section were operating out of Dhahran. Initially, I spent a lot of time out in Ain Dar as a "days-off relief" for the Aramco liaison foreman. In short order we picked up a second rig leaving me with my own rig to look after.
The workover business picked up quite rapidly requiring more rigs. As a result, I began spending a considerable amount of time in the Dhahran Well Services Office developing contracts for the new rigs that would be arriving. During this time it was also recommended that I become familiar with the Water Well Maintenance Section, which I did. After a few more months I was taken off field duty and assigned full time to the Dhahran Office as an Assistant Superintendent of Well Services in charge of the Workover & Water Well Maintenance Section activities. That was before Christmas of 1972.
The Water Well Maintenance Section serviced water wells for all the Aramco communities as well as for the Drilling Department located in Abqaiq. They installed pumps in the water wells servicing drilling rigs as they moved to new drilling locations. At this time, the Water Well Maintenance Section was also getting involved in running extra-large submersible pumps in the water supply wells. This water was then pumped into the water injection wells located down structure from the oil producing wells serving as a method to try to keep the oilfield bottom hole pressure from being reduced too much as oil and gas were produced from the field.
Abqaiq Workover & Drilling Department
Our second housing assignment in Dhahran was a freestanding, small, one-bedroom house right off Kings Row on the West side of the old baseball field in a cul-de-sac. We really did enjoy that house much more, as it was more centrally located. We lived there for sometime before it was decided to transfer the Workovers and the drilling portion of the Water Well Support Group to the Abqaiq Drilling Department since the majority of the work was out in that area. This was in March of 1975. The only bad part of the move and promotion was that there was not adequate family housing available. Once again I had to move into a bachelor portable until one of the new houses was completed. During this time I sure missed being home every night, being with Jo, and partaking of her gourmet cooking.
I was promoted to a Workover Superintendent in charge of the workover rigs, and someone else headed up the Water Well Maintenance Section. Once my promotion came through a few days later, I was put on the housing list for a brand new, to-be-completed, 3 bedroom house, with an address of 711 (How’s that for someone that would eventually retire to Las Vegas, Nevada?!). I kept badgering the lady in the Housing Assignment Section every few days wanting to know if my house was ready until she firmly, but politely told me, “Bob, don’t call me anymore. When it's ready, I will call YOU.”
The new administration building housed the District Management personnel minus the Drilling Department. Our offices were in the old district office from the 1960’s, which was much closer to the Abqaiq Drilling Toolhouse and much more accessible for those of us that worked such crazy hours.
The old clubhouse was gone, having burned down, and was now replaced by an executive residence. The new clubhouse contained the new dining hall.
With time, the number of contract workover and drilling rigs increased. So did the number of support personnel. Eventually we were operating in the neighborhood of 16 workover rigs and 50 drilling rigs. It was decided to split the Drilling Department into two sections -- the Onshore Drilling Department located in Abqaiq and the Offshore Drilling Department located in Ras Tanura. Another split came later when the Workover Department was separated from the Drilling Department but they both continued to use the same Toolhouse and Drilling Support Services.
As the wells got older and the workovers got backlogged, some of the wells developed leaks at the surface requiring more equipment than one rig could handle. As a result, a new organization was formed from the existing groups. They called themselves the Well Control Group. This consisted of extra tankage to store water, brine and heavy weight drilling fluids to kill the wells, and extra piping, mud mixing equipment, etc. This group had members from all sections that would come together as needed when an emergency arose. A Drilling or Workover Superintendent or Manager usually headed it up using additional personnel from the Equipment Services group. They were very effective and capable in their work, except when there was a fire involved. If that happened we called in the Fire Fighting experts from the USA.
At one time I was responsible for as many as 6 workover rigs. As the numbers increased, we went from 1 Workover Superintendent to 4 Superintendents, each with 4 rigs, and that was when we broke off and formed a department with our own manager. Much to my chagrin, I was not selected to be the new manager. I was sorely disappointed then and remain so to this day. When the new manager was on vacation, I would relieve him as manager. But when he retired, they brought in a Parent Company Replacement, never once explaining to me why I was never chosen.
It was at that time that I requested a transfer out of workovers. I requested an assignment in Dhahran working in the Contract Division of Petroleum Engineering. That too never materialized, but nearing Christmas, 1981, I was transferred from Workovers to a newly created job as Drilling & Equipment Consultant working in the Drilling & Workover Services Department headed up by Dick Cain. The time I worked for Dick was one of the most enjoyable assignments I had with Aramco. I had nights and weekends off for the first time in many years. Dick was a “super” Manager in my eyes, and he and I retired on the same date - September 1, 1983.
1. n. [Drilling] ID: 1666
The repair or stimulation of an existing production well for the purpose of restoring, prolonging or enhancing the production of hydrocarbons.
2. n. [Well Workover and Intervention] ID: 4835
The process of performing major maintenance or remedial treatments on an oil or gas well. In many cases, workover implies the removal and replacement of the production tubing string after the well has been killed and a workover rig has been placed on location. Through-tubing workover operations, using coiled tubing, snubbing or slickline equipment, are routinely conducted to complete treatments or well service activities that avoid a full workover where the tubing is removed. This operation saves considerable time and expense.