Photo Credit: Jared Anderson/Breaking Energy

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a dynamic source of power – for oil and gas development, job creation and domestic energy independence.

Its reach goes far beyond any physical depths in which advanced machinery and innovative means of extraction penetrate thick layers of rock. Its proliferation is a matter of fact, which depends on sophisticated equipment such as specialized pumps, valves and lubrication systems.

And, before I dig deeper (pun intended) into this issue, allow me to issue this disclaimer: The political disputes involving fracking are a separate matter worthy of civil debate and the respectful exchange of ideas. My interest in this subject has nothing to do with championing one side against another, or immersing myself in partisan controversy.

But, since fracking shows no signs of abating, and because companies have an obligation to comply with environmental rules (in addition to safeguarding their own investment in men and materiel), it makes sense to train workers to properly operate the hardware that unearths shale gas, tight oil, coal seam gas and tight gas.

Without this certification, the very jobs fracking creates can just as easily vanish. Projects can stall or permanently halt because, far from the precincts of a major city or an easily accessible warehouse, oil and gas sites tend to be in remote locales with popup vendors for basic necessities.

Which is to say, unless workers know how to keep their machinery running – until they have the ability to readily repair specific pieces of equipment – fracking will be an unnecessarily risky enterprise.

The risk is mostly a financial one, which companies can control with guidance from wise teachers and gifted technicians.

I write these words from experience, where, in my role as Operations Manager for FD Johnson, a leading supplier of high-quality lubrication pumps and systems, I have a program (the “Lube School”) dedicated to safety and technical expertise.

Indeed, the principle of keeping a company’s machinery running is a variation on our own motto, which is the result of more than 80 years of commercial success.

That principle has practical importance for fracking, which requires the maintenance of the exact valves, pumps, systems and monitors that make this project possible.

Social License to Operate Dependent on Skilled Technicians 

An additional point of clarification: The only way fracking can flourish, with a minimum degree of opposition and a lessening of the spread of inaccurate information, is for companies to prove – and to have workers demonstrate – that, one, any disruption (to equipment) is not disruptive (to the public at large); and two, to have employees qualified to find and fix the complex machinery that governs fracking.

My responsibility, on behalf of a business that offers products from top manufacturers involved in this industry, is simple: To remind the supporters of fracking that their equipment will not operate without trained technicians; and trained technicians cannot work without the right equipment.

That maxim is true of the energy industry as a whole.

The emphasis on fracking, aside from its significance as a feat of engineering and economic productivity, is true of conventional energy development, from the construction of oil derricks in Texas and Louisiana to offshore drilling near the California coastline or in the Gulf of Mexico.

Or, if companies choose to build the vast infrastructure to initiate the equivalent of a massive public works project – if nothing else, energy exploration is a snapshot of the scale necessary to harness the power of nature – then these same organizations have a duty, financially and ethically, to ensure the smaller things (the pumps, valves and systems) enable the big things to keep running.

It is important that companies offer the schooling necessary to manage, troubleshoot, repair and maintain the equipment they buy.

There is also a “halo effect” associated with these actions.

Which means that, notwithstanding the importance of safeguarding an investment in equipment, there is the dividend of goodwill, or the value of people knowing through direct observation the attentiveness workers have regarding assignments of such intensity.

These technicians are masters of their trade. They risk life and limb, on occasion, to prevent the greater loss of lives; and they deserve to have the schooling – at a minimum, an insightful daylong seminar – to understand the nuances of the machinery they will use.

This commitment to excellence will make fracking safer and more efficient. It will infuse workers with the confidence to do their jobs with the intelligence they enjoy and the wisdom they possess.

In so many words: Keep the machinery of fracking running, now and for many years to come.

Brian Robson is an Operations Manager for FD Johnson, a leading provider of lubrication parts, pumps and valve systems that are often used for fracking.