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.

Time

Jim Bob sat on the examination table, legs dangling. He fumbled with his reading glasses, then placed them into his shirt pocket. He said, “Look, I’ve heard bad news before. Just tell me straight up, doc. Don’t beat around the bush.”

The doctor cleared his throat and held out the paper showing the test results, as if he needed the document for support so he could say what he must. “It’s cancer.”

Jim Bob took a deep breath. He knew it. “How … how long do I have?”

The doctor shrugged. “Best case, three months.”

“Is there anything you can do for me? Anything at all?”

“Yes. I’m going to recommend that you’re sent back to the rig.”

“Is that going to cure me?”

“No.” The doctor shook his head. “But the next three months will seem like two years.”

Yes, a little humor. Some might think very little humor.

God started time with motion—the earth rotating on its axis, orbiting the sun, creating the days and years that we gauge our existence by. Then, He set a limit on how long we’d live, so we count our age. Time is time. The life we lead, the things we do, what we plan and look forward to, or dread, seems to speed it up or make it drag by, depending upon our perspective.

Ask any oilfield hand who rotates how their time off was, and you’ll hear the same one-word answer every time. “Short.”

Days off from the rig flies by like a night asleep. The days at work feel like … well, as in the joke above. Two weeks can feel like a month, one month like three months. I know people who countdown the days and mark the calendar. I don’t know how they do it. I can write down the date a dozen times a day and not know what day it is. I block the date and days of the week from my mind.

I’ve never stepped on a rig, after any length of time away, no matter which continent or ocean, that I didn’t feel like I’d just left. I’ve never felt that way when I arrived home.

One of these days I’d like to have a miserable time off just to see if they last as long as the time at work.

Deep Water Critters

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I think the oceans of the world were more of a mystery to early man than outer space. The moon and stars are visible for man to ponder, but the depths of the oceans cannot be seen at a glance. For millennia mankind had no means to determine water depths, and other than using a seine or fishing line, the life that thrives in the cold, lightless, high-pressure environment below the surface was out of reach … until now.

orange fishWhen drilling wells in deep water, rigs employ a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for various tasks, but mostly for the high-definition cameras they carry. I was amazed, (still am amazed,) at the critters and fish we see—crabs and eels and octopus and all manner of strange looking fish. You’d think, well, that’s normal until you consider light is nonexistent below 1000 feet, the water temperature is closer to 30 than to 40, and the water pressure, say at 8000 feet where I’ve drilled and seen sea-life wandering the sandy, barren dunes and rocky bottom, is 3550psi.

 

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I think about these amazing creatures, the why of them. I wonder if God might have placed them here more for His enjoyment than ours.