WATFORD CITY — Pat Young did a dangerous oil field job so many hundreds of times he figured there had to be a better way
He thought about it for a long time, stood in front of it, studied the problem, drew the angles then went to the shop with drawings and his idea.
He works for Greg’s Welding in Watford City, a shop that does custom and roustabout work in the oil fields. His idea for the Pat-Loc takes a potentially dangerous brake lock on a well pump jack and makes it safer.
His invention is exactly what Tioga is looking for to include in its upcoming inventors’ competition. The town recently rebranded itself the city of “Energy and Innovation,” says its economic developer, Dennis Lindahl. It’s got the energy with oil and gas production all around, but needs the innovation half of the brand to possibly build a manufacturing base.
Lindahl said inventors can submit their products and win $5,000 in a competition in August, enough to help with patent fees and other costs.
“We hope that by funding inventors, we can recruit them to town and become a business incubator,” Lindahl said.
Young’s device costs about $3,200 and allows a worker to stand outside the well’s safety fence, pull a lever and either release or set the pawl, or “dog” as it’s sometimes called, that sets the brake on the oil well pump jack.
The brake drum is in a narrow, unforgiving space beside or between the nodding donkey heads, which are 20,000-pound counterweights, easily capable of crushing a roustabout. The pawl sets the brake holding the heavy heads in place whenever the oil well is shut in for maintenance or production reasons.
The way it typically works is that, after power is cut to the well, a roustabout climbs onto the jack and pounds the pawl into the brake drum notch. The way it’s supposed to work is the well operator should bring in a bucket truck, or man lift, so that no worker is actually on the pump jack, which can be slippery in rain or winter ice, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration standards.
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In the real world — because of expense, time and inconvenience — many times the company man will forgo the man lift and look away when the roustabouts climb the fence and go onto the pump jack to set the pawl into place, says Young.
“It’s ignorant for us to be up there when the company men have their trucks pointing the other direction,” Young said.
He built a prototype along with Joe Trupia, general manager, who’s now handling sales of the product. Trupia said the device saves companies the expense of a man-lift crew and gives roustabouts a safe way to set the brake. Companies that are diligent about using a man-lift pay at least $1,500 for few minutes’ work, a figure that can quickly add up if a well requires frequent maintenance, he said.
So far, the Pat-Loc is designed for Lufkin, Weatherford and Ajax pump jacks and orders are starting to trickle in, according to Trupia. It’s all rigid steel, not cable, and “good luck trying to break one,” he said. Equally important is that installation does not require welding or power tools so well operators don’t need a “hot work” permit.
“We can install one within an hour,” Trupia said.
Young said he’d like to see his Pat-Loc on every pump jack because the risk of a man falling or brakes failing is real.
“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be on them,” he said.
Lindahl said the Pat-Loc is the result of necessity breeding invention. He’s looking for other entries and is in contact with another oil field inventor, who’s come up with a scanner that can detect pipe failure in saltwater disposal systems, preventing spills. He said the Tioga development group will send out competition press releases soon.
“We’ll be looking for things that have to be manufactured and bring them to our town,” he said.