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Photo Shoot In the Eagle Ford Shale Area - Boomtown in Southeast Texas

March 28, 2013 - There is a boom going on in an area of the oil patch known as the Eagle Ford Shale - comprised of 20 counties just south of San Antonio, Texas. We have seen a substantial increase in work at epic because of this boom, and earlier this week I had a chance to go and see it firsthand. I was sent on assignment to photograph a mobile water testing lab on a working drill site about 30 miles east of Cotulla, Texas.

While you might think that is the middle of nowhere, you couldn't tell by the truck traffic and hustle and bustle of what was surely a sleepy South Texas town just a couple of years ago. In 2012 the Eagle Ford Shale supported over 116,000 jobs and a $61 billion impact on the Texas economy. At this time 5,400 Eagle Ford wells have been permitted and that number is expected to grow to over 24,000 by 2022 as estimated by the Texas Railroad Commission.

Ground Zero for the region is the town of Cotulla - which looks very much like what a gold rush town must have been like in California in 1849. All kinds of heavy industry trucks move through town on a 24/7 basis - Oil and gas wells don't shut down at night.  The boom was caused by the proliferation of two technologies - horizontal drilling and fracing.  One requires lots of pipe, and the other lots of water, sand and chemicals. These materials get delivered by trucks - lots of trucks. Everywhere you look are trucks. People are concerned about the effect this work may have on the environment, so studies are being conducted on how best to treat the oily water that comes up from a formation (called Produced Water).

There are many issues for a photographer who wants to work the Eagle Ford to contend with that have little to do with cameras or other photo gear. Safety is of prime importance to everyone including the landowner, the driller, and the employees working on the project.  Before you can get onto a drilling site you must first go through Safeland Training - a formal training course so you can understand the dangers on a rig site, and how to work safely. I completed the course and also took an H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide or Sour Gas) course. This is a deadly gas and just 10 parts per million can be fatal - there are no second chances - pay attention in class - react quickly or die. 

To get to the well site, we drove the FM 469 blacktop out of town to the edge of the Storey Ranch - a 1200 acre working ranch in La Salle County. Once at the ranch we drove another 5 miles of rough, unpaved road.  Some of the potholes reminded me of a subway entrance to Grand Central Station!  Before getting on to the site, we had to go through several security checkpoints. And you are not allowed on the site without the proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).  I had to stop in town and get a pair of Flame Retardant (FR) jeans and FR shirt (yes, they are expensive).  I also purchased a green hard hat and gloves.

Once on the site I met with Project Manager Frank, and his assistant Bobby. Both warned me of the rattle snakes and cactus that are everywhere - and you don't want to let your guard down for either of them. With all that out of the way, I began the photo shoot at 11:00am and got a number of shots that will be used for their scientific studies, and PR purposes to promote the Environmentally Friendly Drilling (EFD) Program sponsored by HARC (Houston Advanced Research Council).  Click here to see a panoramic photo I shot of the interior of their lab.  Enlarge to full screen, then use your mouse to move around the room, or the scroll wheel to move in and out.

It was a long dusty day, but the client was pleased with the photos and that makes it all worth the time and trouble which is just part of working in the oil patch. I can't wait to go back!



Posted by on March 28, 2013

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Frank checks the clarity of water from the new system.

Bobby pulls a sample of Produced Water from the tank farm.

Produced (Oily) Water from a storage tank before being treater.

Bobby is a plumber by trade and can take this equipment apart blindfolded.

Lower assembly of a water filtration unit.

Some of the testing equipment used in the lab.

Frank compares a sample of oily and processed water.

Texas A&M Mobil Testing Lab.

Hundreds of heavy equipment trucks use this gravel road every day.

Natural gas flare - at night it shines bright enough to read a newspaper from.

Cotulla had a population of 3000 in 2009, and 10,000 today.

There is no shortage of snakes in the area.

NewPark Mat system went down fast and looked great.