Fuel’s Gold

| July 02, 2012

New drilling technologies and energy prices are driving the production boom. “As they bring new wells on, they’ll truck them until they can get them pipelined out to a common point facility,” Lessley says of crude coming out of the Texas wells. “We go out there and service the wells and keep the liquids moving off of them.”

One type of liquid is condensate from natural gas, the byproduct of running the “wet gas” through a separator before it’s piped. The other is somewhat heavier crude oil.

Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology, combined with seismic devices that can better pinpoint where the oil and gas are, give drillers the ability to reanimate old, slow-producing wells, Lessley says. Many existing wells can see production increased from 20 or 30 barrels a day to 130 to 180 barrels a day, he adds.

The Stumps are working the Marcellus Shale, where fracking has sent gas activity into boom mode through Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio and West Virginia. Owner-operator Mike Mace and the team of Steve and Doris Bixler also haul frack sand in pneumatic tanks to the area.

Years of unsatisfying work toting reefers and flatbeds left Mace on the verge of selling his 1996 International 9300 and exiting trucking. Then Mace leased to Reed Trucking of Schuylkill Haven, Pa., in 2010. Now, running sand regionally, “I absolutely love trucking again,” he says.

A large part of that is driver camaraderie. “It’s like you’re on the same level with the same group of guys” day in, day out, he says of his current operation. “You have your CB on, you talk to them – the communication is just unbelievable.”

Kristin Stump echoes that sentiment. “This is the most fun I’ve had in 11 years’ driving,” she says. “It’s a good old-fashioned trucking team and you get to know so many more people.”

The attraction isn’t all about teamwork, of course. “I think I was up around $140,000 before expenses” last year, Mace says, on just 41,000 miles, for an average $3.41 per mile. Reed books its loads through the KSM Brokerage, with rates adjusting weekly with fuel prices, Mace says.

Owner-operator Bixler entered the business following Mace, also finding a diamond in the rough. “For the first time in 12 years as an owner-operator, I’m really making money,” he told Overdrive as part of our reporting on high-paying niches in the January issue.

“The industry’s getting a lot more competitive,” he said in May. “We have a lot more people coming and trying to get into it – they’re cutting rates.” Companies also “scaled back a little bit as natural gas prices have gone way down,” Bixler says.

As reported in January, Bixler at one point could expect up to $6 per mile gross, but in May, after 12 months in the business, he’d banked $170,000 gross on 45,000 miles, or $3.78 a mile.

Mark Kathrein and Wendy Wing moved their 2006 Freightliner Classic (with an 84-inch sleeper) to hauling crude with the Lessley’s small fleet after having leased to FedEx Custom Critical for years. Similar opportunities exist there in Texas, but with crude oil a bigger part of a gas/oil mix. Kathrein and Wing got their start in crude briefly working the Bakken Shale area in North Dakota, where they’d heard a team might gross $300,000 yearly take-home on low miles.

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