Kentucky Oil Engineer Takes On the Texans

TIM ECKLAND, a large, jovial man in a lemon yellow Lacoste shirt and loafers, sits in the lobby of his hotel and plays with his worry beads.A long way from his home in Lexington, Kentucky, which he last saw two months ago, Mr. Eckland, owner of a construction management company, needs all his patience. He is trying to convince the Kuwaiti authorities that he has a "revolutionary hi-tech machine" to put out oil fires cheaper, cleaner, and faster than normal firefighting methods. He hasn't yet been given a chance to prove his untried system, but he says he has survived three meetings with the technical committee charged with looking into novel firefighting proposals, and now is winding up his final presentation. Officials say they have been bombarded with hundreds of ideas for putting out oil fires, most of which have gone into the waste-basket. But a dozen or so are thought to be still under study. Eckland's 'K-Cap', designed especially for the Kuwaiti wells, "avoids most of the dangers that the other contractors face, from the heat," says Eckland, because it blocks the oil flow below ground, where there is no fire. He proposes to lower a 50-foot chimney over the flames at a wellhead to suck them and any loose oil up, then to dig a 12-foot trench up to the well. Having stripped the casing away from the production pipe, workers would bolt the box-shaped 'K-Cap' around the pipe like a sleeve. The machine then blocks the flow, killing the fire. A valve in the K-cap could then be opened to bring the well into production immediately; or heavy mud could be pumped through the same valve down the well to stabilize it, Eckla nd says. With so few wells catching fire under normal circumstances, "there has been no way financially up till now you could develop new technology" to put them out, Eckland says. The methods being used in the oil fields today are the same as have always been used, and "the oil fire fighting business is very inbred, still the same people as founded it are running it," such as Red Adair. "When I founded my company I was told I didn't have a chance because I didn't come from Houston," Eckland recalls. "But I don't want to be from there, because I want to be identified with new technology."

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