Atchafalaya Swamp

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Price of Oil and Blogging

I apologize to visitors that have come to my site –only to be disappointed –or sometimes relieved (ha-ha) that no new posts are in the offing. This has to do with the price of oil. Seriously. As a driller I’ve been busy as hell. In my two decades of being in the oil patch there’s never been a time like the present –rig utilization at an all time high, with every Tom, Dick and Harry Company, drilling. Shortage of equipment and trained manpower are common themes pervading through oil companies (operators) and of course, us service companies too that serve the oil operators.

I’m supposed to work on a “6 x 3 rotation”, meaning six weeks to be spent on the field and three off. And it used to be that I am assigned to one project or rig only. Now I’m juggling two rigs and my rotations have gone haywire. This means more time on the rig and less time off. With US$100 per barrel oil, the oil companies are in a hurry to get it out of the ground. We in the “’bidness” don’t know how long this gravy train will last. So grab it while you can is our mantra. It’s no wonder then that ExxonMobil is not only the largest oil company in the world but also the world’s largest. Closer to home is the unprecedented record profits of Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS). And calls by the common folks for PETRONAS to share its largesse to maintain subsidies so there won’t be another fuel hike.

To be frightfully honest, there’s no better time to be in the oil patch. For eight years I never saw a salary increase. This year alone we had two salary adjustments. This is to ensure loyalty. In my line of work I could easily don some competitor’s coveralls at a moments notice. I see myself no different than being a hooker; we sell our bodies and soul to the highest bidder. A non-oilfield friend once suggested that drilling professionals are like football players. Although flattering, I’m not about to kid myself. To be a football star you need skills. As drilling guys, we just know how to make holes. Even you can do it. I mean, come on –how much skill do you need to wield a cangkol to dig a hole in your backyard? The mechanics are the same only the scale differs.

Not only are we drilling more wells but we’re drilling it faster too, employing all kinds of snake-oil technologies. It used to be that in a six week period in the swamp, I can perhaps manage one to two 4000 meter wells. Now, three or four wells are increasingly common. Which means everything goes at a higher pace. So our recent salary adjustments do not really commensurate with the workload that has doubled or even tripled.

So that’s my excuse for not updating my blog. Not only that, being on a “floating prison cum rust bucket” we are at the mercy of our fragile satellite internet link. It’s a bit like your Astro dish. When there’s cloud cover, and there’s plenty of that this rainy season, there goes the link. And drilling faster wells also means the rig needs to be towed often. The last move was 96 kilometers and took a few days while I stewed and simmered in my bunk. But on arrival the modem went kaput and I had to wait for a replacement part. It’s not a regular modem mind you but something that looks like your Astro decoder. But now we have it back on. But this also means I have to cut back on my precious sleep since I’m not of the fairer sex, who I’m told are masters of multi-tasking. I can’t drill and blog at the same time. So I do it after hours. This means at odd hours in the night.

But these days I just prefer to go blog-hopping –tons of stuff out there. What more with recent events back home—what, two rallies in a space of a month? Whoa…

Do I hear change a’ comin’?