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.

Time II

I wrote about the perception of “time” a blog or so ago. It’s relationship to the period we roughneck types spend on the rig versus off the rig and how one timeframe drags and the other moves at the speed of light, or so it seems. The why of it all came to me, or at the least a line of thought that’s as good as any argument I can think of.

Kids look forward to things—Christmas, birthdays, driving, high school, first date, prom, baseball and football and basketball games, fishing, hunting, college, leaving home, marriage and kids. Childhood years drag from one event or milestone to the next.

Then life is life with jobs and school and taxiing our own kids to and from all the things. This time of life goes by in spurts, and then the kids aren’t kids anymore and they leave and have kids of their own and the cycle begins again.

Our time on the rig drags because we look forward to something cherished—family, or kids, or a vacation, or hunting or whatever. Our time off flies by like a night asleep because we don’t look forward to going back to the rig. It’s like looking forward to a root canal. Make sense? No? I know.

Well, I’m a month away from my 61st birthday. Time is going by so fast it’s unbelievable. I realized that it’s because I’m looking back. Whether with regret or with nostalgia, looking back speeds up time. If you drive a vehicle forward, looking back, you’ll hit something before you know it. I think life is the same way.

I’m going to start looking forward to my 90thbirthday.

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Going Crazy

When I was a kid, I’d see my dad walk out of the house, headed for his pickup, and I’d ask him where he was going. He’d say, “Crazy. Want to go?” I always wanted to go, but to him that was a figure of speech, or a way to be humorous. I never got to go crazy with him.

Before long, I had my own family, and one day, when my oldest daughter was four of five, she asked me where I was going, and I said, “Crazy. You want to go?”

“Yep,” she said.

We lived in Montana at the time, in the mountains, so she tagged along as I went outside and changed the oil in my pickup and mended some fence. When I finished, I headed inside, and she stopped me and said, “Dad, I thought we were going crazy.”

“Honey, that’s just an expression.”

She started to cry and said, “Dad, I want to go crazy.”

I thought: well, you told her you were going somewhere, but you never left the house. To her, crazy is a place. She feels like you did when you were a kid and got left at home. I loaded her inside the pickup and we drove around. So happened that I had a bag of Smarties in the truck. I love them. I gave her some. She stood on the seat next to me and ate her candy—yes, this was back when a kid could do that in the mountains, even ride in back.

“Is this going crazy?” she asked.

“This is going crazy,” I said.

She nodded and smiled and held out her hand for another little roll of candies. I drove aimlessly for 20 minutes or so, then returned home. She ran into the house and told her mom that she got to go crazy. She was happy.

We went crazy a lot in the coming years. The next two kids as well. Whether driving or walking or horseback riding or camping or sledding in the snow, and we always had Smarties to hold us over while we were gone.

Sooner than I dreamed, this young lady was out of high school graduated and in the Marine Corps, then married to a Marine and had two little girls of her own. When they got out of the Corps, she and her husband bought a house nearby.

One thing she and I really looked forward to was hunting season. We go horseback. I took her the first year she was old enough to hunt, just before my wife and I made some family decisions that took us all overseas. Anyway, we couldn’t wait to go again now that they lived closer.

Opening morning dawned cold and windy. Horses were fed and saddled. We checked our gear, placed our rifles in their scabbards and mounted. I had a packhorse in tow and led the way out of camp, into a large meadow. Wind makes horses flighty, and they hadn’t been ridden for a spell, so they were fresh, ready to go. My packhorse is a saddle horse too so he was unaccustomed to following and being a knucklehead, trotting along beside me. We finally lined out and my daughter rode up next to me. I looked at her. She looked at me, grinned, and handed me a Smartie.

 

Something

I think about my blog nearly everyday. I think, “You should write. Expound. Spout off. Let both of your followers inside the secret world of the “oilfield trash.” Then, time passes and the blog is there in the background of my thoughts and nothing comes to mind, and the next thing I know a month or more has passed. Yesterday, I thought, “Self, tomorrow, you’re going to write about something.”

So, this past week I arrived on the rig with something. Wasn’t sure what it was. I knew I had it, but could not put a finger on exactly what it was. When someone asked me what I had, I said, “Something.” After that, they’d ask if I needed something, and I said, “No, I have something.” Of course they already knew I had something because they had just asked me what I had and I’d told them “Something.”

Thinking back to all the times I had something I wonder. Once I had something because I ate something. Well, duh, that makes sense. Shouldn’t have eaten something.

I have something now. One of my men asked me this morning if needed something. I told him I already had something. He said, “Maybe your should have taken something before you got it.”

The Rock Doctor

People ask me what we drill. I tell ’em, “Rocks and dirt.” When questioned about my expert geological terminology, I shrug and say, “If it’s hard, it’s rocks. If it’s soft, it’s dirt.”

We do see some interesting dirt and rocks. Drilling off the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea the volcanic history of the ocean floor flows across the shale shakers. Fish bones and seashells then abrasive lava and pumice then back to bones and seashells, layer after layer, alternating over and over hundreds of times, for thousands of feet. In the Gulf of Mexico, in what is called a continuous deposition basin, we’ve been known to hit cypress logs at surprising depths.

In the movie Hollywood made about the Deepwater Horizon, I hear they “played like” a dinosaur claw or tusk or whatever was circulated out of the hole. That’s a bunch of baloney. Though, I would be more inclined to believe that story than I would the one told to me about gold coming across the shakers. The specific gravity of gold is 19.3. In other words, gold weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon (weight of freshwater) X 19.3 = 160.7ppg.

Didn‘t happen.

An Indian man carrying a microscope arrived on my rig over in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. I thought he was a doctor and he was: a rock doctor. His words, not mine. Paleontologist. I don’t think he could say it either. They look for the ’ocenes I call them—Pleistocene, Pliocene, Miocene, Oligocene, Eocene and Paleocene—and talk about nanoflora and nanofossils and throw around words like Catinaster and coalitus and discoaster and optima-optima and discuss stratigraphic tops and dips and on and on until it sounds they’re on the verge of the truly-obscene.

Our conversations are one-sided. I listen intently, nodding, lips pursed, doodling on a pad, and then when they’re done, I ask them to repeat everything they just said … in English.

 

Wondering

I like to write. No. I love to write. I enjoy penning these blogs, but it seems like I struggle to stay current. Seems like yesterday when I posted the last one, but … My intent is to inform and cause others to wonder, to think about the why and how of the oilfield. Some times I stray from the subject, like after I watch the news and the many self-absorbed news complicators who are more likely to utter a four-letter word than the truth. Complicator is a new word I just invented, a noun: one who uses fifty words when three would suffice.

I’m always a wondering about people, about why they do what they do and what in the name of all-that’s-sensible were they thinking when they did it. Not the good things. I know where those come from. It’s the bad that causes me to pause, reflect and shake my head.

I try to refrain from making comments about other religions. Even after the fourteen years I spent in the Middle East, living as the infidel among the pious.

I recently heard a rumor about a British Airlines flight attendant who announced, “Ladies and gentlemen the captain has turned on the seatbelt sign indicating that we’ve begun our descent to land at King Fahad International Airport. Please raise your seatbacks and tray tables and set your watches back 2000 years.”

That caused a stir. She was detained, then booted from the kingdom, never to be allowed to enter again. When I heard about her comments, I thought Silly girl. You’re misinformed. 1500 years would have been far enough.

I still have the watch.

Have you ever looked at a globe or map that displays the forests and deserts of the world and wondered why the Middle East and North Africa is all desert?

Which country is surrounded by these Muslim nations?

 

 

The Safety Weenie

I don’t remember much about the first safety “officer” I saw on the rig. I saw him too. Never met the man. He was one of those “Corporate” types as mysterious as the mind of a woman: one of those we whispered about in the confines of the doghouse but dared not talk to lest we incur the wrath of Old Drill. This one, not in particular but typical at the time, or so I soon learned, made a tour of the rig, nodding and shaking his head, then promptly crawled into his car and sped away to his lofty office to pen a list of the “deficiencies” he observed. It would be days before we’d learn of his findings.

I always thought: What? If the items were so important that someone could get hurt if they were not corrected, why didn’t the man point them out then and there?

From then on—Safety Weenie, not officer.

Hate to say, but I never had an ounce of respect for a safety weenie. To me, they were the guys who couldn’t roughneck, work derricks, or drill, so instead of sending them packing, the company moved them into the safety department. They got a participation trophy. Couldn’t do the job, but somehow, suddenly, they knew how to do my job safer than I did. Drove me nuts.

Five years ago, I heard that the company I presently work for had employed Safety Weenies to work a rotation on the rig… With me. It was like someone telling me “Wednesday, you’re going to come down with a case of the flu.”

Well, Wednesday arrived, and the helicopter with my new safety weenie touched down on the deck. He stepped into my office, and I sized him up—bald as a newborn piglet, built like a brick outhouse, gray mustache so 55 or so. I looked at the name on his shirt and asked, “Co-op?” He said, “Coop.” I stuck out my hand and he clasped it with an iron grip and squeezed until my eyes bugged out and my left hand was glad it wasn’t involved.

That day Ricky Cooper, Coop, shattered my opinion about Safety Weenies, and he did it with more action than words. He’d been a subsea engineer and a crane operator and had moved to the safety side of the business to make a difference. He did. He worked with the crews, outside, on the deck, rain or shine, day or night. He taught practical skills and observations the men could use. He was the first one to lend a hand, give a pat on the back, or bow his head. The men saw that he cared, and they listened.

Rick is retired now. Forced to by the four-letter word CANCER. He’s fighting. He’s winning.

We miss him out here in our little, fast-paced world of rattling iron, pulsing mud pumps and swinging cranes. He made a difference in the lives of everyone he met and is not forgotten.

I miss him.

Rick didn’t make lists. He made sure there was nothing to note.