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International Diplomacy

This is Ace Barnes just outside Bakersfield, California in 1998 on what became known as the "Bellevue" Fire in Lost Hills Field, a 17,000 foot vertical well drilled to the Tremblor formation in the Monterey Shale interval. This baby was a gettin' it for a week or so right off I-5 and more people saw this fire then went to the opening weekend of Costner's Water World. In the photo below you can see all the damn traffic pulled off the highway in the background.

When this blowout reached maximum "deliverability" it was estimated to be making 90 MMCFGPD and 2,000 BPD of gas liquids and condensate. You could see the damn thing from as far away as NE Los Angeles and it got the snot filmed out of it by anyone in California with a camera, which is everyone, naturally. I'll share some film of this well with you sometime.

This was one of the first big jobs that rolled in for the new, Boots and Coots International Company of Houston, where Adairs old hands put a bunch of money together and bought Boots and Coots, Inc. The painted all of our white stuff red, my good friend James Tuppen stayed with them a few years and was actually on this job with Raymond Henry, etc. Because the job was getting so much publicity the boys in Bakersfield thought it was only proper to get 'ol Ace Barnes from Odessa in the mix, even though he could only suit up in old, white Boots and Coots coveralls. He changed the front sticker on his hard hard, that was the best he could do.

Ace was 65 years old when he was on this job in California and when he was interviewed for the ten o'clock news one night the anchorman asked him if he wanted his kids to follow in his footsteps. His response was "nah, they couldn't keep up."

The boys from Houston got this job pretty much ready to cap in less than two weeks and then it bridged dead. The well was intersected from a far by the one and only John Wright and pumped full of cement.

I gave a talk about the history of well control at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in 1996 and Ace came over from Odessa to attend. He had a suit on, which stunned me, and when I introduced him to the crowd, he came to the podium and was absolutely scholarly and a perfect gentleman during the entire evening. He shook hands with people, took photos with everyone like a movie star and I didn't hear a cuss word out of him the whole night. When the gig was about over and I was rigging down my stuff I asked him straight away if he was feeling OK, that I'd never him seen so reserved and professional. He snarled and said screw this shit, pods; lets go get drunk.

So, we did.

Ace was a kind soul but on a job in Bolivia with David Thompson in the late 80's he stayed grumpy the entire time and ended up getting in a bit of row with one of the locals in a little village cantina one night after work. "Epic" was how David described it.

Seems they found this little cantina and liked it because the food was good, senoritas pretty and David taught everybody how to make passable margaritas. So every night after work they'd borrow a YPFB company truck and go to this same, quaint little joint with a cobblestone floor and red chairs. And an old mangy, yellow dog that was always lying under the table Ace wanted to sit at. Ace would holler at the dog to get the fuck out of his restaurant and for two nights in a row kicked him out the front door into the street.

The third night they pulled up to this same place and this dog was sitting on his haunches at the front door, waiting.

Before Ace could slide his foot out the truck and onto the street this dog jumped on his pants leg, snarling, saliva and fur flying everywhere, and flat tore Ace's Odessa ass plumb up. The two of them rolled around out in the street in a big dust cloud, the dog growlin' and Ace hollarin' at David for hep. Before the cantina owner came out and tied the dog up Ace's entire pants leg was missing from the knee down.

The fourth night the dog was laying inside, under the same table Ace liked, so he and David set somewhere else, all the while Ace mumbling about not messin' with that crazy sumbitch anymore.

The next night Ace went back to his original table, the dog walked in the front door and layed down at Ace's feet and fell asleep.

The last night they were in Bolivia Ace got to feeding it carne asada, found out the dog liked cold beer in a bowl and took to rubbin' the hound behind his ears.

It was all in the great scheme of things that Ace would rag you to death until you bowed up to him, then he'd start to back off a little. Not entirely, but a little.

The plane didn't leave until noon the next morning so Ace had the YPFB hand drive them to the same cantina for one last margarita for the flight to Santa Cruz and to say goodbye to his new Bolivian pods.


Valle de las Animas, the Valley of Spirits.

I spent some time in Bolivia with Boots and Coots, sadly only around a nasty blowing well and enough rain to drown a fish. But its people were wonderful and tolerated by very bad Spanish graciously. I want to go back someday; even from a jet, fixed wing plane and helicopter it was beautiful.

An excerpt from my diary in 1994, a portrait of my work boots on a rainy night in the YPFB camp with nothing to read but a Halliburton Red Book and listen to Big Joe read from his Bible.


I have yet t0 learn how to tell a good oilfield story without using bad oilfield language. I am sorry if I am offensive. Mike


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