When I received word that we were going to be running crude oil for a while, I didn't think about what this meant for our pumps here aboard HAWSEPIPER's global afloat HQ/pickle barrel.
Crude oil is pretty thin stuf, with a consistency similar to Kerosene. In our terms, we talk about the API density (an arcsine-transformed number (I believe) used to denote density based on a logarithmic scale. Crude contains all the stuff you need- the hydrocarbons to make light, medium and heavy oils, plus a shitload of water, too.
The water's the real bitch here. We've been moving heavy oil (think of black, tarry, thickened molasses) for the past two years. Since we have diesel-driven pumps, the pump shafts that run from the deck to the impellers are sealed with a traditional stuffing box.
If you don't know, a stuffing box is a metal collar that you stuff full of packing material- braided teflon line, in our case. Imagine packing the area around a driveshaft with cornrowed human hair, and you get the idea. In many cases, boat drive shafts are packed with the same stuff.
A miniature-sized example, above.
Here's the thing. The 7 layers of 1/2 inch packing that were on the old shafts were pretty old. As the packing ages, it needs to be increasingly compressed to keep a good seal.
Well, carrying dense, heavy oil, it didn't take much to keep the oil where it was supposed to be. Crude oil, being much thinner, wants to travel a little easier, and, in addition, has decent solvent properties, as well. So, when it came time to crank the pumps up to 100PSI, it was time to tighten up the stuffing boxes, which bottomed out while still admitting some oil, which had the undesired effect of freckling everything around the pumps with crude mist. Most notably, yours truly.
I took this picture AFTER scooping some old black out and some crude oil out. I then had to scrub the well with diesel oil then brake parts cleaner so I could disassemble the stuffing box. In the rain. Uphill both ways.
Long story short, I've got this shit in my hair, and I smell like a bible story.
26 minutes ago