Hitachis Get Their Kicks on Route 66

Wed February 04, 2009 - West Edition
CEG




Chandler, Okla., like many a small town along the fabled 2,400-mi. U.S. Route 66, counts on tourism dollars to help make ends meet. But with soaring gasoline prices in 2008, fewer folks were making the ultimate road trip. However, those same rolling digits at the gas station pumped new life into the area’s oil and natural gas industry, with many of the new wells going in just a stone’s throw from the old highway.

Oklahoma has been through several booms and busts, the worst being in the 1980s. So this latest upswing was a welcome turn of events to area pipeline companies like Miller Brothers Inc., headquartered in Stroud, another 66 community.

“We’ve been in business for 30 years,” said Ron Miller, president. “Oil field is our specialty. But back in ’82 when things were bad, we got the opportunity to go to New York to put in a methane-gas pipeline at a landfill. We were supposed to be there for 30 days; we stayed in the state for seven years. We’ve been in a lot of different states since then doing methane and methane-to-electricity-system pipelines. Right now we have a crew in Nebraska. Landfill work kept us alive when the oil field was slow.”

Saving $ in the Oil Patch

Miller claims there’s at least 10 years worth of drilling just in the Chandler area alone, but that doesn’t mean he has a blank check with drilling companies. They watch their dollars like everyone else. That’s why they purchased an efficient orange excavator.

Prior to owning excavators, Miller Brothers had rented. But with the upswing in business, they knew it was time to buy.

Job-Site Supervisor Johnny Hubbell called the company’s Hitachi dealer and tested a Zaxis 200LC. The company worked it for 10 hours and were very impressed with its fuel efficiency.

Today, Miller Brothers is running four Hitachi excavators — two ZX200LCs, one ZX200LC-3 and one ZX240LC-3. If business continues to grow, Miller Brothers hopes to add more.

Work Zone Ahead

Typically the company handles short runs of pipe, although they have done long cross-country jobs. Turns out that whenever an oil well is drilled, three things come up out of the reservoir — oil, natural gas, and saltwater. Tank batteries are built to store the oil until trucks can haul it away, the natural gas is piped to a trunk or distribution line, and the saltwater is piped to a nearby disposal well that is centrally located amid several producing wells.

Electricity also has to be run underground from the disposal well to the well itself. So as long as new wells keep getting drilled, there will be lots of short-run pipe work. Trees and brush need to be cleared from the right of way on a lot of jobs, and that also creates extra work for an excavator and dozer team.

The Road Ahead

“We’ve got about 50 people working for us,” said Miller. “We dig the trenches, lay the pipe, fuse it together, and do what needs to be done. We’re working seven or eight crews just in a 50-mile radius from here, plus we have the one eight-man crew in Nebraska. We like using our own equipment, but decided to lease for the out-of-state job.”

Last year saw record-breaking growth for the company, and with more pipeline work on the horizon, Miller expects finding and keeping good operators will be a major challenge.

”We try to hire good operators who will take care of their equipment. We’ve gone through some who didn’t, and it gets expensive. The operator can’t look good without good equipment, and the equipment can’t show its worth without a good operator. Things right now are good. We have good operators, and we’re satisfied with our equipment and our equipment dealers.”

Tourists may get their kicks from driving on the famous route, but Miller Brothers gets its kicks drilling for oil near Route 66.

Miller Brothers Inc. is serviced by OCT Equipment, Oklahoma City, Okla.

This article was reprinted from Hitachi’s Breakout magazine, Fourth Issue 2008.