Feeding the Machine

IMG_0856Drilling rigs are an expense to an oil company. They consume money. As they get bigger, to drill deeper, the more they eat. Move offshore and it gets nuts—engineering, permits, rig, boats, helicopters, jet fuel, diesel fuel, wellheads, casing, drilling mud, cement, bits, cement unit, mudlogging, deep sea sub, directional drilling equipment, electric logging equipment, casing tongs and slips, a ton of food a week, all the personnel to run the above, and the list goes on.

The rig I’m on had some great success the past three years. We were slow getting started, but that’s expected when a new-built rig is crewed up for the first time. Growing pains are inevitable. Eventually, this rig became one of the best I’ve ever been associated with. I’m not talking about the iron, the rig itself, but the people. I’ve worked with very capable men and women over the years, but never so many at one time.

Ask any number of people associated with this rig why this particular group of people succeeded and you’ll hear as many different responses. I think it’s because they dismiss every pre-tour meeting with a prayer, asking God for guidance, oversight, and success. That’s 140 men and women petitioning God twice a day.

I utilized the boats and helicopters to keep the men and women out here supplied with the material they needed to do the job. I fed the machine.

It was my pleasure.

Why Us?

I’ve mentioned that I worked in the Middle East for a time. A long time actually. Fourteen years in Saudi Arabia with a couple of short stints in Yemen and Dubai. Doesn’t seem like that long now, the time there, looking back, and I’ve been home sixteen years. I hate to think about the sum of the two: half of my lifetime to date.

The experience still has an impact on me. I learned a thousand or so Arabic words, not counting counting to a thousand … in Arabic. Amazingly, I still remember most of them, so I’m able to shock-and-awe with my gift of Arabic gab the many convenience store clerks throughout our country.

I miss a few aspects of desert life in a Muslim country. I was a moonshiner and good one. If someone needs advice, I still remember the recipe and the cut-off temperatures. For the record, I sold the still.

Summertime lasted 44-forevers. In 1000BC a meteorologist said it was going to be hot and sunny for the next 10,000 years. Smart guy.

I enjoyed time around the campfire late at night with my Muslim friends, eating goat and rice or chicken and rice, talking about any and everything but religion. You cannot talk about Christianity with devout Muslims, friend or not.

The title of my blog site says what I’ve tried to write about in my posts, a walk in the patch, the oil patch. Drillers keep the world turning today, but they are a bane to the existence to some and a total mystery to others. More the latter I think. I’ve refrained from writing about Islam or Christianity or the differences between the two … until now.

Everyone wonders about God. Who is He? What does He look like? Why does He do what He does? Why me? Why us? Why mankind? I know have many more questions than answers. Years ago I was a-pondering God as I sat around the fire, the rig in the background, the Hale-Bopp comet streaking across the starlit sky, listening to Muslim men use my God’s name in vain, in broken, accented English. I thought it was strange. Then the answer came to me. Satan is God’s enemy and man’s tempter. He wouldn’t tempt man to insult a false god. I’ve never heard Allah’s name used in vain, or Mohammed’s, or Buddha’s. Only Jesus and God. My God. And I am well-travelled.

I pray one of your questions has now been answered.

A good friend and his wife retired recently and moved home from the Middle East. They build a house a little northwest of San Antonio and moved in. One morning, my friend poured a cup of coffee and stepped out onto the back porch and sat down. The morning was pleasant: the eastern sky a canvass of colorful rays. He sipped coffee and listened to the Muslim call to prayer. All was well in life until … Wait just a darn minute. I’m in Texas. He jumped and looked around just to make sure and screamed for his wife to come lend an ear and help determine the source of the disturbance.

When he recognized the pop-pop-pop of a .50 cal. opening up on the mock Middle Eastern village erected just across the canyon, on Camp Bullis, an Army training base, he sat down and finished his coffee.

Driller’s Speak

I wrote my first story using my first computer, a Compaq something or other that took 10 minutes to start and ran at the speed of tortoise when it did. The story was short, something about chasing a Bedouin’s camels around in the desert to prevent them from eating my golf balls or some such thing. Wasn’t a bad tale as I recall, but my new computer gave me fits, underlining everything I penned in a rainbow of colors. After a little research into the problem I thought, Oh, thats what my Engish teacher mint win she told me two take good care of my back inn the future cause Id need it.

Recently I wrote a procedure for the rig to follow. I proofread it, printed a dozen copies, and then handed them out in the pre-tour meeting. It looked something like the following.

  • POOH w/ FMC LPWHH R/tl.
  • L/O DAT & service DDM, TFM, VPH as needed
  • M/U BHA & test MWD and mtr
  • RIH
  • ROV guide to WH. Give OIM & DPO 20-min notice.
  • Stab in and RIH
  • Drlg cmt, flt equip, & drl to TD w/ SW
  • Bk/rm to shoe dspl to 13.5 PAD
  • POOH to LPWHH and ck stabs
  • RIH to tag
  • POOH. Open PBL & wash LPWHH on the way.
  • L/O BHA
  • R/U to RIH csg.

Before we dismissed, I asked if anyone had any questions. No one did.

Gumption

I went to high school with a guy who aspired to own a funeral home. He worked as a mortician’s apprentice after school. I know. Someone has to do it. At least in our culture.

They make money at it—lots of money. Believe it or not, some people can’t afford to die.

Someone has to pick up trash and clean sewers and pump septic tanks and dig ditches and hold warning signs in construction areas and a mop floors and roughneck on drilling rigs.

Having said all the above, the catering company that serviced my rig for the past 2 ½ years lost their contract. These were American men and women, mostly from southern Louisiana and Mississippi, who cooked and cleaned toilets and made beds and washed clothes and dishes. Menial? I suppose … unless you’re hungry and it’s the only job available at the moment. Then maybe it’s the bridge in the gap between what one has to do until something else arises. Sometimes it’s the only job one is qualified to perform. Then, it’s making a living.

They were replaced by a crew of Filipinos, from the Philippines, who, as mentioned in a previous rambling, call me Mr. Dabid. Go figure.

There is a huge difference in the quality of services provided by each catering company. The Americans walked around looking at their iPhones, checking social media sites. When they found a moment, they mopped, cooked, and washed clothes and dishes. Most, not all, had to be prodded to do what they’d agreed to do in the first place.

The Filipinos work. Work. Work. And they have a smile on their faces.

The Americans, my countrymen and women, had and still have all the opportunities to succeed this country has to offer, but they had/have no drive—no want to.

The Filipinos have little, if any, opportunities in their home country, but they possess the want-to.

Gumption is an outdated word. I heard it when I was a kid. “Boy, you got to have gumption!” or “Show some gumption and do the right thing!” or “Better find you some gumption!”

Seems like some Americans have lost their gumption.

Holidays

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-51-02-amYears ago I spent time at the company’s corporate office in Singapore. That’s a big deal for a simpleminded old roughneck like myself, hobnobbing with VP’s and such. Well, Al Gore had just finished inventing the Internet and computers and emailing were quickly taking over as “The only way to communicate.” During the course of my duties I had a meeting with the regional maintenance supervisor. As we talked, his eyes darted from me to the computer screen and back. He typed and talked and scrolled and clicked. With every word and action, as the minutes ticked and he slowly forgot I was sitting there, his demeanor changed. His voice grew rough. He was clearly agitated. Finally, he let out a trail of four letter words, said, “I’ll show him,” and banged out another email. He paused, scanned the screen, abused the mouse for a second, then sat back and sighed, apparently satisfied he’d gotten in the last word.

My curiosity got the best of me, so I asked a one-word question. “Who?”

Without glancing up he used his thumb to indicate the man sitting at his desk inside the glass-walled office next to us, in plain sight a mere ten feet away, who banged on his machine, and said, “Andre.”

What?

In a way, I think we’re cursed by technology. Social media? Right. Social with anyone and everyone but family. Why do siblings fight? Because they’re secure in their relationship. They know the brother or sister they just hit or called an ugly name won’t leave them. Try treating your friends like family and see how long they hang around. Stop texting them. Stop replying to their texts. Call ‘em names.

We, my relief and I, refused to let the current drilling contractor working for us install a television in the galley. We’ve had rigs equipped with TV’s. We’ve seen grown men, manly men in coveralls covered in drillpipe dope, drool and stare at a flat-screen TV. Put on Dora, or Sponge Bob Square Pants, or As The World Turns, or it doesn’t matter. Silent and transfixed.

Today is Thanksgiving. Christmas is just around the corner. Be thankful for parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. We are all born terminally ill. No one survives this life.

Be thankful for our vets.screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-51-25-am

Be thankful for God’s Grace. He gave His Son for you. He is a gift one only needs to accept.

I’m on the rig. I just finished Thanksgiving dinner. Superb. Must have been 30 men seated at 7 or 8 tables. No television, no cell phones. The conversation was deafening.

What’s in a Name?

I know several Biscuits. One is skinny, and two are more like loafs … ‘cause they like biscuits. During conversations on the rig floor when someone gets confused about which Biscuit is which, skinny Biscuit is referred to as Big Biscuit, so everyone can keep ’em straight.

And don’t confuse Big Biscuit with Cornbread … either of them.

Meat is big as an ox, and Pork Chop likes pork chops. Skinny is skinny. Whacker is, was, is … well, I didn’t ask. He asked me to call him Whacker, so I did.

Big Slim and Little Slim are both 6’ 8”.

Doobie doesn’t smoke pot, but his so hyper everyone thinks he’s on crack.

Nate, AKA Crush Velvet, is like Whacker … no one is all that curious.

I’d have to really think about Frog. The Frogs are like the Biscuits. There’s more than one of them. I do know one Frog in particuar. He may be the original Frog. We shared an office on a rig for a short time. One afternoon he walked in, sat down at his desk, and dialed the phone. After a moment he said, “Hi, this here is Frog. No, Frog. Excuse me. F. R. O. G.” Then, he lowered the phone, pressed the palm of his right hand onto the mouth piece, and said, “Hey, Dave, this lady doesn’t know how to spell Frog.”

Dumbing Us Down

Once upon a time in Texas, my mom sat me down and said, “Son, I have something I need to tell you.”

I said, “What is it, Mamma?”

“Your carefree days spent running around the neighborhood from can-see to can’t-see are ‘bout over. Monday morning, two weeks from today, you start the first grade.” She handed me a small booklet. “This here is an introduction to the ABC’s and the goes-intos. Look it over and be quick. Ain’t much time left.”

I must have had a questioning look on my face because she followed up with, “Two goes into ten five times. The goes-intos. You’ll see.”

Well, it didn’t really happen that way, but the booklet was real. I was six. That’s when we started school in those days. Not at 3 or 4 years of age in pre-whatever. And you know what else? We went to school, not to test prep.

Oilfield types like myself must be certified in well control. We used to go every year. Now, the certification is good for two years. After attending 25 times over the past 37 years, in a dozen different settings in places like Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S., anymore, I’d rather sit through a root canal.

Well control school used to be taught—algebra, gas migration and expansion or lack of. Problem solving—the goes-intos and take-aways. Now it’s a test-prep. Here’s the question and here’s the formula you need. If you see this question, then give them this answer. Never mind the where, how, and why of it.

When I took the Master’s exam at the Coast Guard Station at New Orleans, I prepped for the test five long, miserable days, taking the same quizzes over and over and over and over until I scored 95%, (the minimum score the “school” recommended.) Test prep. Memorize the questions on the tests. One question I knew they, the school, had wrong. I told them it was wrong. They said, “Yeah, we know, but it’s wrong on the USCG exam, too. If you want to get the question right, you have to answer it with the wrong answer.”

What?

dumber 2

The government is involved in well control testing. The government is involved in, go figure, the United States Coast Guard. The government is involved in the schooling of our children. My grandkids, your grandkids, your kids, are taught to take a test.

I think, and this is just me a-pondering, this approach to education is dumbing us down.