London Gatwick - November 12, 1996
I'm on my way home. While I was here, Great Britain celebrated "Remembrance Day". Actually, I think they celebrated it for a week or more. Everyone was wearing red poppies. The TV news ladies looked to this untrained novice as if they had endorsed the Labour party (the poppy pins look similar to the New Labour Party rose logo). This wearing of the poppies served as a solemn reminder of the upcoming day of remembrance of Britain's heroes of various wars. The official "moment of silence" occurs at "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" which is when the Armistice was signed that ended hostilities in World War I. It is somewhat akin to the Memorial Day in the U.S., and I'm sure other like occasions around our world. About the time you read this, another will be at hand (December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, a day that will "live in infamy").
We have heroes in the oil patch, too. They don't necessarily get credit for doing anything special, but nevertheless they are. Rarely do they get publicly recognized. Never do they get national holidays in their honor...even if they die, which they do with some regularity, in the pursuit of their work.
They are, by and large, volunteers. No one drafted them into service. They serve because it is their chosen profession, their calling, their duty. They do it for their wives (sometimes plural), their families, their companies, and maybe on occasion they themselves enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Just as they come from all nations, they often serve in nations and oceans not their own. They do this since that is where their battles are fought, over oil instead of real estate, with technology and chemicals as advanced (and sometimes as dangerous) as those used by armies.
The vast majority of our ranks are filled with dedicated, hard working, independent minded individuals who want to (and do) do a good job. A few occasionally do something beyond the ordinary call of duty.
One such case I recall involved a submersible that was parked near Mobile Alabama undergoing repairs, upgrades, and inspections. In the course of the work, a man was working on the sub deck around where the BOP stack was to be. He was about 70 or 80 feet above the water, when he slipped and fell. When he hit the water, he was knocked unconscious. He was not wearing a work vest. From the submersible, it appeared that if he was not already dead from the impact, he was going to drown before anyone could climb down to him.
One of his co-workers saw what was happening. He, too, was not wearing a work vest. He knew he had to act fast. He grabbed a work vest and put it on, threw a second one toward the water, and from 70-80 feet high, jumped in! The impact almost knocked him out, but didn't completely. He came to his senses, found his unconscious buddy, grabbed the other work vest, and kept himself and his buddy afloat until reinforcements arrived to pull them both out. I never even heard his name. I don't know if he ever got any recognition. Nevertheless, his "courage under fire" was right up their with the best of them.
The second case occurred on a jackup in the North Sea. It seems that a particularly nasty well control situation had gone from bad to stable and back to bad and then got worse. It finally resulted in a chick-san choke line failing and dry gas blowing out in what the engineers might call an "uncontrolled fashion" under the drill floor. Prior to the failure the gas pressure had been in excess of a couple of thousand psi, so I would imagine it was screaming fairly loud. Virtually everyone started running away and heading for the escape capsules. The drilling foreman and a roughneck from Louisiana decided to see first hand what all of the commotion and noise was about. The other crewmen, including the driller, nearly ran over them going the other way as they headed for the Texas deck. The foreman probably knew of the danger and decided to try to do something anyway. The roughneck was just a soldier.
The sight of the broken line, now whipping back and forth like a serpent and spewing explosive and toxic hydrocarbon is one I have only heard described and hope to never see. The sound must have been comparable to a 747 engine at full takeoff thrust. A single spark could send them all instantly into eternity at any moment...the two bravehearts along with the others.
The foreman noticed that there was a manual valve on the stack, between the BOP's and the hydraulic valve. It was obviously open, as it was supposed to be during normal operations. If it was not frozen, and if they could close it, and the whole shooting match didn't blow while they were trying, they might regain control if they could close that valve. One man might not be strong enough if the valve was sticky. The foreman said to the roughneck, "Let's go close that valve." The boy from Louisiana, probably not fully knowing the foreman would have understood if he backed out, and maybe more afraid to say "no" than "yes", agreed. The two climbed down to where the valve was, even closer to the 747 powered serpent, and closed in the beast. They, and the others, were now safe.
In all of the above, there were no fatalities. Unfortunately, such is not always the case. Yes, we have people with courage in the oil patch, too. Maybe we should somehow remember their work, bravery and sacrifices.
Last, you'll be reading this in December. Make this a merry and meaningful Christmas!
Very truly yours,
Mark S. Ramsey, P.E.