A Double Life

Rig type units lead double lives. We have the one we live at home with our families and the one we live when on the rig. The latter life is lived away from our families, for our families. Yes, it’s rough, crazy sometimes, and at times the pain makes you question whether the money is worth it. It’s funny too. Rig life is linked to family life, but family life is not linked to rig life. Most of us try to leave the rig on the rig when we go home.

Marriages last longer.

Life goes on when we’re out here in our closed little world. A couple of weeks ago one of my men lost his brother. He got a special helicopter just as quickly as the pilots could get spooled up and off the ground to come get him.

Two days ago a man received news that his son was killed in an automobile accident. The man lived in Mexico—the old one not the new one. He does not speak English. His supervisor brought him into my office and translated his thanks to me for getting him a special chopper. We shook hands and hugged, and he cried. I cried. For just a moment, we spoke the same language.

Several months ago I began working out in preparation for a sheep hunt in Alaska.  These hunts are very demanding and frankly not fun if you’re not in good shape. Having said that, there is no way of determining how good a shape you’re in until you go on a sheep hunt, so …  This next Friday I’m going to find out. Anyway, at home, in that life, I would leave the house just after five every morning with my backpack and walk 30 minutes away, then turn around and head home. For my other life on the rig, I purchased a weight vest to walk with. This morning my mud engineer walked into my office. He looked at the vest hanging on the arm of a chair, picked up one corner and let it fall. “This is a suicide vest. Just takes longer.”

Good humor.

Tuesday afternoon, I’m done with the vest, I’m going to give it someone I don’t like.

Man: an angel

I’m working on a manuscript for a friend who served as a combat medic, four tours, two in in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. This is a non-fiction story, so to familiarize myself, I researched how improvements in medical care and the presence of a medic affected to mortality rate during combat. I looked at all of our conflicts, all the way back to the Revolutionary War. If a space is blank, then no record exists. Notice the disparity in battle deaths and other deaths.

Just food for thought. Ref – American War and Military Operations Casualties: List and Statistics

# Serving    Total Deaths    In Battle   Other Deaths    Wounded

  • Revolution                              4435              4435                                       6188
  • War of 1812     286,730         2260              2260                                       4505
  • Mexican War      78,718        13,283           1733              11,550             4152
  • Civil War           2,213,363     364,511       140,414          224,097           281,881
  • (Union only)
  • Spanish-US     306,760           2446              385                  2061               1662
  • WWI            4,734,991          116,516        53,402            63,114               204,002
  • WWII          16,112,556        405,399        291,557          113,842              670,846
  • Kore             5,720,000           36,574           33,739             2835                 103,284
  • Vietnam      8,744,000           58,220           47,434           10,786                303,644

Are you wondering? Me too. Some were fought horseback and afoot, including WWI when the world was only 2% mechanized. The world geared up for WWII. We were 98% mechanized.

Do you know why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor? Where was Erwin Rommel going in north Africa? Why did Hitler invade Poland and make a beeline for the Baku?

OIL!

I’m aged, (but not too ripe yet,) and as young man who had to register for the draft right at the end of the Vietnam War, I heard protesters chant (they chanted back then) about the white man forcing the black man to go to Vietnam to die for him.

Vietnam Total deaths = 58,220.    Black = 7243    White = 49,826   Other = 1146

What does all of this have to do with medics? Heck I don’t know.

Michael Shaara wrote “Killer Angels.” Won the Pulitzer. It’s about the Battle of Gettysburg. Brilliant.

Man is an angel, but he’s the “Killer Angel.”

 

Humility

Job duties had me running on 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night for the past few days. Last night, I retired at 9:00, relatively confident that “duty” would let me sleep until 4:30. Somewhere in the sleep process the rig phone in my room rang. I answered a still wet shower shoe, a pair of Crocks, a TV remote and my reading glasses before I found the receiver. The clock displayed 9:40.

The other day I told a young lady she should refrain from using the word sucks. Vacuum was more appropriate. Forty minutes of sleep pulls a heavy vacuum.

Been listening to some of our political discourse. Immigrants, illegal immigrants, socialism, give-me, give-me, give-me. My goodness. Get a job, Spanky. Better yet, get a pair of gloves and get you some drilling rig. Twelve hours on deck or pulling slips on the floor in 95-degree heat and 98% humility will test your mettle. Notice the word after 98%. It’s applicable.

Speaking of humility.

Uri was born in Cuba. His momma loved the Russians—mostly KGB and military advisers—who came there in the 50s and 60s, thus his name. He was 18 and had had a belly full of communism. One night he and his best friend and their girlfriends shared a bottle of rum and decided they’d flee to the US. Over the next couple of months they pieced together a raft consisting four 55-gallon drums held together by re-bar and decked with wood. They ferried the components to the coast on their bicycles in the dark of the night and hid them in the jungle. Then again, after another bottle of courage, they pedaled to the coast, assembled their boat, and set sail. The four of them floated on the ocean waves at the mercy of the wind and currents and God for 17 days, surviving on peanut butter. Uri spent 2 years in a Florida prison. That was forty years ago. He runs a commercial dive company and has not eaten peanut butter since.

Rene’ was 17 in 1977. He was also Cuban. The Cuban coastguard turned him back the first three times he tried to float his way to the US mainland. The fourth time he had it figured out. He lashed three large tractor inner tubes together and decked them with wood. He mounted a tree limb onto the decking and sheeted it with a couple of blankets. Even had a tiller. Must have worked well because he had to weight down the backend with rocks to keep the wind from capsizing his craft. Ten souls on various contraptions pushed out into a small river near where he lived late one night and were carried to the coast and out to sea. Rene’ ran his craft solo. Three days later, only three of them made landfall. Rene’ went to school and earned a degree in computer science and went to work at Ford Motor Company in Detroit designing cars. When he was laid off, he moved to the Gulf coast and got a job in the oilfield.

Of the three that made it to land, only Rene’ survives. Poor decisions regarding the drug trade and the use of drugs took the other two. Three days at sea on a boat floated by Firestone rubber cured Rene’ of his thirst for coconut juice. I mentioned Rene WAS Cuban. Now he’s American. Just ask him.

I have not seen Uri in several years, but I’ll bet money he’s doing just fine. Rene’ is out here with me right now, making a hand.

Iron Doesn’t Make a Rig

I’ve been between rigs for the past several months. That meant I spent my 14 days at work behind a desk at the head office. To roughneck types, whether offshore or on, that’s like being between contracts—a stacked rig as it’s called. If you’re lucky enough to keep a job, then your days are spent chipping and painting and cleaning and working on equipment, or looking for something to chip and paint and clean and work on. Ever watched paint dry or grass grow? Though, it is interesting to see the other side of the fence on occasion.

During this office-time I traveled to Houston to sit with an engineering firm to draw up some new operational procedures for a future project. The man who owned the place introduced me to his gaggle of PHD’s and engineers as Dr. Arp. I thought, “Oh yeah. Who’s your parent?” and never blinked.

He called everyone doctor, but I ran on the title for a week.

Doctor. Doctor. Captain. Captain.

Sometime ago I wrote about the Louisiana in one of my ramblings. It’s a rig I worked from 2014 until we released it in 2017. Some months ago the drilling manager told me we might get that rig back. My response, “So,” baffled him.

“That’s the best rig we’ve ever had,” he said.

I said, “No, that’s one of the best groups of hands we’ve ever had.”

My relief and I took out another rig in recent weeks, the Seadrill West Capricorn, and began drilling another deepwater well. Operationally, we have not had one hiccup, not one, and it’s no wonders. The Capricorn is manned with the same group of people who made the Louisiana the great success it was.

I know why too. The crews of the Capricorn, as they did as the crew of the Louisiana, dismiss every pre-tour meeting with prayer.

Continuous Deposition

I’ve been poking holes into the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico since 2003. The locations have varied from south of the Alabama/Florida line across to the Texas/Louisiana line, and as far offshore as the last reaches of U.S. territorial waters 200 miles out. Water depths ranged from 300 feet to 8200 feet. Guess what? I’ve seen sand storms that caused landslides.

Recently, we took a rig back to a well we drilled in 2007. The ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dove to do a bottom survey and take a look at the PLET (pipeline end termination), and other infrastructure required to produce a well in deep water. I was shocked at what I saw. Everything was half buried in silt and sand.

When you look at the oceans and the rivers, you see what, a pretty view, a place to fish or ski or play in the sand along the shore? A view of the surface is two-dimensional, like the floor plan of a new house or a stick drawing sketched on a piece of paper. Our view of our atmosphere and into reaches beyond is three-dimensional, because we can see depth along with height and width. We deep-water oilfield-types get to see the ocean three-dimensional—mountains, canyons, cliffs, valleys and plains.

Continuous deposition?

As the Mississippi River snakes its way down the continent, it erodes the land. Along the way, the Missouri, the Arkansas, the Red, the Illinois, the Ohio, the Tennessee rivers and countless other smaller tributaries add the silt and sand they have gathered from nearly 2 million square miles of earth. How much is it, millions of tons and millions of cubic yards? I don’t know that it’s even measurable with any degree of accuracy, but I know all of it dumps into the Gulf of Mexico. And I didn’t mention the Rio Grande, the Colorado (Texas Colorado,) the Sabine, or the Pearl rivers.

The ROV is a very expensive submarine that is flown, or driven, through the depths of the ocean. We can’t see where we’re going or what we’re doing without headlights. Just like on an automobile. Sometimes, there is so much silt, depending on current and location in relation to the mouth of the Mississippi River, that it’s like driving a car with the bright lights on though a snowstorm, even 50, 60 miles offshore.

There is a reason the Gulf of Mexico is called a continuous deposition basin. The rivers are continually dumping their load. We’ve seen places where the sediments finally became heavy enough on the side of a canyon or mountain that a mudslide occurred.

Eventually, in the far, far future, the Mississippi River will be at the bottom of another Grand Canyon and there will be a highway from Brownsville, Texas, to Cuba.

Twisting off

What’s the best way to quit a job? Two-weeks notice? Get mad and scream, “I quit!” around your foot in your mouth? In Drilling Rig 101 we call it “Twisting off.” The term comes from twisting off the drill string, while drilling, which is never a good thing

I know of one instance when a hotheaded mechanic who was working on a stubborn piece of equipment screamed, “I quit,” threw his tools down, and stomped away. The tool pusher called the office and asked for a replacement, but when he looked outside 30 minutes later, the man who had quit was back working on the same equipment.

The pusher walked out and asked, “What are you doing?”

The man said, “Working.”

The pusher said, “You said you quit.”

The man said, “I’ve said that before.”

The pusher said, “Yeah, I know, but I believed you this time.”

 

I’ve heard several tales about men who left a lasting impression when they twisted off. One guy dropped a handful of 12” long, 1 ½” diameter blowout preventer bolts into the wellbore when a driller dared him to quit.

A mechanic boarded a rig in Santa Barbara, California. He quit a week out of port with no means of getting off the rig. He rode it for the next 65 days, all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Hong Kong, and never hit a lick.

There is another way to quit that never made sense to me. Don’t do your job or break the rules and get fired… on purpose. In other words, put the onus of getting rid of you on someone else. We have rules out here that must be adhered to. No fighting. No stealing. No drugs. No sleeping on tour (pronounce tower.) No cell phones outside the living quarters. We didn’t have to worry about the latter in the olden days. Now … I know a guy who recently went home aboard a helicopter called especially for him. He has to tell his wife and kids Angry Birds cost him his job, 28 days before Christmas.

Who’s Hungry?

It must have been my third day on the rig when I looked across the vast plain of cotton fields that was/is west Texas and espied a small cloud of dust coming up the road. It’s so flat out there between Brownfield and Earth, southwest of Shallow Water, not far from Levelland and Sundown, that a man can watch his dog run away for 3 days, so whomever was still a fair piece away.

Ole drill noticed my attention focused on something other than the scrub brush I held and the great-unwashed handrails screaming for my attention, so he eased up beside me. He observed the direction of my squinted-stare and joined me, shading his eyes with his open hand. He whispered, voice dripping with reverence, “It’s the company man. Get the other two roughnecks and go down and scrub on the substructure. Don’t look at the man, and whatever you do, don’t talk to him. You don’t know the language.”

Five minutes later, a white Ford LTD floated onto location in a whirlwind of red dirt and skidded to a stop. An old man in is mid forties stepped out. He stretched, bent over and tucked his pant legs into the top of his cowboy boots, then grabbed a shiny aluminum hardhat from the back seat and jammed it onto his head.IMG_1060

I guess I was looking when I should have been scrubbing because I saw him wave at me. I trotted over.

“Where can I find a worm?” he asked.

I turned and pointed at the doghouse where Ole Drill stood watching from the doorway.

The “Company man” grinned and said, “Come with me.”

Turns out he was looking for me, the worm, the new hand who didn’t know diddlysquat. He wanted me to hold the dumb end of a derrick-tape so he could measure some casing and do some add-sums and goes-intos.

Everyone is or was a worm at one time or another; though, it takes some hands longer than others to shake the title. There are men with 20 years of experience and men with 1 year of experience 20 times.

Well, now I’m the “company man.” I’d like to think that I appreciate worms more than some of the company men I worked with back in the olden days. Some of those guys either didn’t want to teach you, didn’t have the time, didn’t know how to teach, or didn’t have any knowledge to pass along.

Over time, I have seen subtle changes in worms as the sense of entitlement permeates into our culture. Not all, but more and more don’t want to learn. And the lack of drive is most always accompanied by a lack of respect. No offense, but the “HR” departments are so concerned with hurt feelings and avoiding lawsuits that they can’t see a man’s qualifications, or lack of, through the glasses of equality and PC-ness.

Not everyone gets a trophy in drilling rig. No demand for good ole boys out here. I’ve heard “He didn’t make it” but never followed by “Bless his heart.” More like “Good riddance.”

A new hire should either have or want a mortgage, a wife, three kids, a boat, and a 4×4 pickup with big tires. If they’re not hungry, don’t hire them.