The visit last week from Buccaneer Energy officials came at an unfortuitous time. A second giant storm blew in 50 knot winds. Rivers of rain fell out of the sky, prompting the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor to declare the peninsula a flooded disaster area. Even guest Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell couldn’t make it in. The celebration, a commemoration of a Buccaneer milestone, needed to be postponed for a day, to allow officials like the company’s president, Jim Watt, and its chief executive officer, Curtis Burton, to make it to Homer from Anchorage. They had traveled from Houston only to make it to Anchorage and get stuck there.
The weekend before, the top-heavy Endeavour jackup rig, they had come to commemorate floundered, its raised 410-foot legs were racked by the wind. Three tugs struggled to hold it tight, and finally, the decision was made to put the legs down for stability. The company consulted with all parties before making the decision, because Kachemak Bay is a critical habitat area that only allows jackup rigs if they keep their legs up. Afterwards, they alerted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Natural Resources of the decision. It was that, or risk seeing the giant topple and cause a possible environmental disaster and millions of dollars in dock damage.
Or, perhaps it was fortunate the weather put on a violent show of its might. Buccaneer, a small oil and gas company that began work in the 1950s, is owned by Australian parent company Cardno Entrix. Their American headquarters are in Houston. New to Alaska, they no doubt benefitted from an exhibit of climate possibilities in an age when normal weather patterns aren’t occurring. Work in Cook Inlet won’t be any easier.
We hope energy exploration companies take Mother Nature’s lessons to heart. One of the smartest moves they can make is to hire men and women from the Kenai Peninsula. Those who work in the oil and gas industry are often seasonal workers who switch off for commercial fishing duties in the off seasons. They tend to know weather all too well. A trait of caring for the environment that supplies the halibut, cod, salmon, crab and other fish tends to be a part of their work ethic.
When the media was invited to take a tour of the rig, it came after that particular storm. The Homer Tribune missed out Tuesday, due to deadline pressures for getting the newspaper out. But on Wednesday, we had a private tour given by Dean Sherman, Buccaneer’s company rep on the rig. The longtime Anchorage resident who has worked on platforms since 1978 answered questions such “what is the jackup rig and how does it operate?” This was a lesson for our side of the table.
The massive platform is an industrial site. It’s divided into the office-bunk room-mess hall side that can sleep and feed 125 individuals. The linoleum appeared new and shiny. Padded chairs remain covered in their plastic. Bunk rooms spacious enough to each contain their own bathroom.
The other side holds massive decks to provide the work space for loading drilling equipment and lowering it to do its drilling. A lower deck contains giant tanks meant to store the special mud matrix used to control drilling pressure. Another large tank mixes cement used to hold piping to the ocean floor. More giant tanks are designed to store the waste mud when its use is done. Firefighting equipment and extinguishers are oversized as well. The five pieces of blowout prevention equipment on the deck are redundant, Sherman said, because if one fails to stop fossil fuels from spraying out, the next one is meant to do it.
Modern technological marvels like the helicopter pad aren’t there for luxury. “That’s how we get our supplies and personnel,” Sherman said. “When you can’t fly, you use boats. And that’s the last resort, because it’s usually a rougher way to do it.”
The vessel contains moving parts that present danger and challenges, mandating that all operators are highly skilled. The 410-foot legs, as large as a 40-story building, must be hand greased before they are lowered. Imagine thousands of grooves. The drill itself can be cantilevered out, meaning slid horizontally, over the water.
Images of the many potential hazards to human and environmental life make one wonder why would anyone do this work?
The answer is this: market demand. Our market demand for filling our cars with fuel. Our demand to heat our homes more cheaply with gas. Our need, for now. No wonder ritual came with launching this vessel. A blessing, a preacher to pray over it.A glass raised in a cheer of hope.
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