Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The New Guy

"If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?”

Scott Adams

I took my moral compass for a spin the other day.It started when received a new trainee. Trainees can be all kinds of fun - they are just so naive -you can tell them anything. This one is no exception. We are getting him from our IT department. Something of a promise from a departing manager. Why anyone would want to leave the safety of IT for an operations job is beyond me(Oh yeah its the money). Anyway new guy belongs to me(and the other engineers in our group) for the next year or so. Basically his job is to follow me around and do what I do. Its sort of like having a puppy except that this puppy is not cute and cuddley - he is naive and for a cynic like me, a moral dilemma.

The oil patch for all its negative points has a lot going for it workwise. There is a lot of camaraderie on the office as well as a fair bit of practical jokes played on people who are either too serious or just plain green. to some extent a thick skin is required. Practical jokes usually involve some sort of make work program or a request for some non-existent item. Which brings me to the point of my quandary.

Newguy just asked me where he can find a key to the V-Door. (A V-door is just a ramp on a drilling rig to connect the drill floor to the catwalk - there ain't no key.)
I know that someone is putting him on.
Our conversation went thus: (I'll put my thoughts in parentheses )

NG: PJ do you know where the key to the V-door is?

me: not sure. how long have you been looking for it? (this is pure fishing on my part - usually these little quests last about a few hours or so)

NG: I have been looking for one for about a month now.

Me: (holy shit is he serious...who else is in on this?). You don't say...well who have you talked to.

NG: well lets see ...the district manager, the operations manager, some of the other engineers....I emailed a few other guys as well but so far no one has replied.

At this point I can visualise the lil' angel on one shoulder and the lil' devil on the other. I could have explained to him that this was just evil prank but really after one month he could have at least googled V-door no?

I suppose you can can guess how this conversation ended...

Me: (suppressing large grin - difficult but I managed somehow) have you checked with the shop foreman? Let me talk to him for you.

NG: Gee thanks PJ.

Me: (masking the irony) Hey I'm here to help.

As I write this newguy, on advice from our shop foreman, has expanded his search to the other divisions as well as some other companies here in port. The quest could even be expanded overseas as a portion of newguys training will occur in India. I'm not sure if India is full of skyhooks, left-handed monkey wrenches, buckets of stream and of course V-door keys but I can always ask my colleague there who happens to be the man in charge over there.

I'm sure there is a special hell for oilfield workers. See you there!



Some other oilfield favorites. These pranks will only make sense if you have worked on a well site. Otherwise you can just smile politely after each paragraph.

Calibrating The Sheave - this involves placing a grease mark on a cable sheave wheel and having the new guy "calibrate cable depth by raising his left arm with every rotation and his right arm with every 5 rotation. The man on the hoist can, by carefully selecting the speed can have the new guy flapping his arms like a chicken.

Activating The Source. This involves rolling a radio-active storage container (which looks like a large beer keg - but heavier) around the wellsite to activate the neutrons inside. Not done anymore as far as I know(hse issues here). Especially fun on muddy locations.

The Hydraulic Leak - a favorite for mechanics and tool techs(especially around april 1st). Simply arrive for work 1 hour early and liberally pour hydraulic oil beneath whatever project that the mechanic was working on the day before. Sit back and enjoy a medium roast columbian whilst awaiting the screams and the sound of spanners flying across the floor.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I am cruising down highway 21 in central Alberta. Looks nice doesn't it. Or it could look lonelier than hell. Depends on your viewpoint. I'm a person who needs from time to time to get out on my own. You can't get more alone than this.

Some time ago I worked in this landscape. My job consisted of driving out to an oil rig, recording some data, and driving back home. Those oil rigs were all over the province so, as a result, I became very good at knowing the best roads, the quietest hotels, and restaurants with the best hot roast beef sandwiches. Typically we would work 2 weeks on 24-hour call followed by a much needed week off. At the time I enjoyed the flexible schedule as it gave me a chance to pursue other hobbies such as skiing and sailing. I also liked seeing the countryside even if it was out of the window of a pickup truck. The funny thing is I had always taken the scenery for granted. I suppose if you see this kind of stuff every day for 10 years it gets old. I thought that as long as I was on holiday I may as well do a little road trip to follow again my old stomping grounds just for the fun of it - without any particular place to go.
I had a destination in mind - Calgary. But instead of taking the direct route I took the backroads through the farm belts of Camrose and Stettler and the badlands of Drumheller.
If you can ever get out of the city you will see these giant hay bales sitting around all over the place. Before the oil boom Alberta was an agricultural province. There is still a very significant proportion of the population living in small towns and farm communities.
Also ubiquitous to the landscape are the grain elevators. Everything grown here is collected and shipped out to Prince Rupert by train.

The badlands near Drumheller. Its amazing how quickly the terrain changes here. The flatlands of that grain elevator were only 2 km away. I've seen similar valleys (wadis) in Yemen - particularly in Hadramout - we are just a bit greener here.

Drumheller is also well know for its dinosaurs. There is a spectacular museum called the Tyrrell Museum Of Paleontology. It's a visual treat. If I had kids I would surely take them there.

More of the same. The trip down here from Edmonton took about 4 hours. The roast beef sandwich that I had on the way in Stettler was just as tasty as it was 15 years ago.
I arrived in Calgary later that afternoon. Normally its only a 3 hour commute. But today with all the stops I needed 8 hours to make the trip. I should have been exhausted but I felt strangely refreshed. After all didn't someone say that for every journey half the fun is getting there. In a world that seems more virtual every day - shouldn't we do the real things every now and then?