NICHOLS: On pipelines and other trivia

The search for hidden resources in the great North East has gone on for many decades with a high degree of success on the part of the drilling companies. When I was a stripling back in 1951 I, with the rest of our family were exploring in the territory now known as Del Rio or Monias. Back then it was just wild and wonderful freedom for us kids isolated from the more developed areas of the North East by deep river gorges and almost-impassible swamps. 

About 20 miles south south west of Fort St. John on the west bank of the Pine River gorge we discovered an abandoned and capped well head. The lure of hidden gas obviously had drawn the drillers to that remote spot, difficult of access over an ice bridge. Near the capped well we found a huge pipe wrench of the type then used by roughnecks to connect the drill stems as they penetrated deeper and deeper into the dark unknown. That wrench remained with us for years until it, too, became only a memory.

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Two or three years later we saw lights in the dark of a summer night on the hill side west of Big Lake. What was going on? We had to find out. So, on our horses, we trotted up the hillside to discover the crews of a seismic company cutting roads for the blasting trucks. The search for hidden wealth was going on 24 hours a day.

In the early years of seismic exploration the methods were unrefined and really quite invasive and destructive. Drill trucks following the caterpillars would punch holes 100 – 150 feet into the earth down which dynamite charges would be inserted; the blasts rattling windows within a couple of miles. Frequently these blast holes collapsed into craters six or eight feet deep and the detonation wires were left to nature.

Over the decades seismic exploration became progressively more sensitive, accurate, and much less invasive while the evidence of the early attempts to discover the treasures of the earth had long since yielded to the unremitting second law of thermodynamics (the same law that is drawing lines in my once-smooth face) and cannot be traced.

Over those same decades the North East became known to contain one of the richest reserves of natural gas in the country. We have been connected by pipe to the consumers of the South, and North East and South have mutually benefited from the riches we draw from the earth.

That one abandoned wellhead we boys found in 1951 is now surrounded by hundreds of producing wells in one of the busiest production areas in the North East. For years it was approached in winter over an ice bridge near Taylor. No more. Scores of worker vehicles travel the Jackfish Road every day to the various work sites. Back in 1951 that road wasn’t and we got into the area by several day’s bushwhacking with horse and wagon, saddle horse, and on foot. How things have changed – and continue to change!

So what is my opinion on the activities we pursue on the face of the good earth? Mixed. Having spent a few of my early, impressionable years living in the glorious freedom of a quasi-19th Century lifestyle, I don’t yet feel entirely at home in the 21st Century. Occasionally I still feel like I am living in two worlds and yearn for the freedom of horse and saddle and a Winchester 30.30. (My mother? Well, she’s been gone for ten years but life couldn’t have been easy for her while living out of a wagon box.)

Mixed, I said. One part of me wants the feel of the wind in my face from the back of a spirited horse where I haven’t seen anyone for days. Forget it, old man! That part of your life played out and vanished 60 years ago. There ain’t no going back – not for any of us. Once upon a time we could live on moose and blueberries, a rather scanty and tenuous existence, to be sure. No more. There are too many of us to hunt and gather; agriculture has to provide the food. And industry has to supply the jobs. 

I didn’t get to thoughts on pipelines. Next time, maybe.

In the meantime, and time can be mean, “[the Creator] has made His wonderful works to be remembered [and appreciated]; ... He has given food to [everyone],” we are reminded by the ancients. 


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