The people of Ursa, Shell’s $1.45 billion oil-and-gas toneel, live 65 miles offshore, te an environment that is requiring and dangerous, and that could drive them crazy. Here’s how they work — and how they cope.
This story wasgoed originally published te September 2000, but it offers an insight into a opzicht of the Gulf oil spill coverage that’s bot overlooked te latest coverage: life on houtvezelplaat an oil equipment – ter this case, Shell Oil’s Ursa podium (above). At the time of original publication it wasgoed a brand fresh, state-of-the-art operation.
No, this is not a personalized wake-up call from a soft-spoken hotel technicus. It’s a different kleuter of reveille, one that commences with a brisk knock at the ingevolge, proceeds with that chirpy saluting, and completes with the overhead fluorescent lights spinning on. It’s the way that every day starts on Ursa, Shell Oil’s newest production-and-drilling podium ter the deep waters off the coast of Louisiana. And if that welcoming doesn’t get you up, a personalized call may go out overheen the loudspeaker, telling you to get out of bloemperk and get down to the galley.
One hour straks, at 6 a.m., a staff meeting starts with a group of workers ambling ter, dressed ter baseball caps and shirts with name patches that read “,Maxie,”, “,Boots,”, “,Buster,”, and “,Princess.”, Some of the workers sport monogrammed overalls. Until the meeting comes to order, the only conversation is intense trash-talking about an forthcoming platformwide Ping-Pong tournament.
Nothing ter such friendly banter would suggest that this wisecracking bunch is te charge of an oil-and-gas toneelpodium that cost $1.45 billion to build and is the size of two football fields. But the cost is only one part of the equation: Deep-water drilling is also enormously ingewikkeld, with a number of workplace constraints – some technological, some human. Spil a consequence, the dudes and women of Ursa, about 250 people who went through a rigorous casting process to make the cut, need to be a special breedgeschouderd. The job requests that employees work long hours te close quarters, do requiring and sometimes dangerous work without driving one another crazy – or else go nuts themselves. How do they do it?
Ursa operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With oil presently selling at around $30 vanaf barrel, and Ursa producing about 100,000 barrels of oil vanaf day, it doesn’t make economic sense to unplug the operation – spil long spil everything is functioning slickly. The challenge, of course, is for everything to function sleekly. One mistake, and Ursa could join the Exxon Valdez te the oil-and-environmental-disaster history books. Those challenges are something that Rick Fox, Shell’s asset leader for Ursa, knew three years ago when he set out to assemble the team that would help build and staff the podium ter prep for “,very first oil”, te March 1999.
Fox, a 25-year veteran of Shell who’s tackled projects spil far afield spil Brazil and Syria, is a student of the writings of several management gurus. And for this assignment, he set his glances on something more than good teamwork. “,I figured this would be my last slok at building an organization,”, says Fox, 48, “,and I truly dreamed to know whether wij could create a better place to work. Wij needed a high level of creativity, but on other platforms, wij hadn’t collective information well enough. And at $1 billion plus te costs, wij couldn’t afford any lack of communication. Wij had to be stone-cold good at everything.”,
Building a better workplace began with the way that the podium wasgoed designed. Thanks to space-age three-dimensional vormgeving software, Fox and his team were able to participate ter the vormgeving process te finer detail and at an earlier stage than his predecessors were able to on similar projects. “,For example, wij were able to think about how wij wished to walk around a particular chunk of equipment spil wij probed it, and wij were able to vormgeving that te ahead of time,”, says Sam Mabry, a 39-year-old control-room technicus on Ursa. “,That sort of thing makes a big difference once you’re out there working.”, Another improvement that got designed into the platform’s environment: enough space so that drillers, operations people, and production workers could all have their own gegevens rooms.
An even greater challenge wasgoed to match people to the verhoging. Executives at Shell made it clear that Ursa could not be staffed simply by reassigning the most experienced workers from the company’s three other tension-leg platforms. So it wasgoed up to Fox and his team to find and then to evaluate candidates who had little prior practice te the energy business. “,To us, that just created an chance to bring ter people from elsewhere who could add value to the system because they didn’t see things the way wij eyed them,”, says Arthur McAlpin, 44, one of two on-platform managers who report directly to Fox, whose office is te Fresh Orleans. While many people did transfer out to Ursa from Shell operations onshore, others had most recently worked on submarines, repaired cardiac equipment, and trolled the shopping aisles of Huis Depot.
What does it take to assemble a high-performing team to work on a drilling equipment? “,Wij weren’t just looking for technical capability,”, says Todd Hooker, 36, a control-room technicus. “,Wij were looking for communication abilities. Wij had one exercise called ‘,Lost on the Moon,’ where wij asked a puny group to think about which contraptions they’d need if they were on one side of the moon and desired to get to the other side. Wij desired to see who took leadership positions and who wasgoed argumentative.”,
Life On the Podium
The helicopters leave every Tuesday from Venice, Louisiana for the 45-minute excursion to Ursa, carrying out the fresh workers who are kicking off a shift, bringing back those who’ve ended one. At any given time, there are toughly 120 workers out on the toneelpodium. Most of them work a 14-day shift on Ursa, then take 14 days off. When they’re on, they work for 12 to 14 hours each day. The day shift and the night shift embark their 14-day hitches on alternating weeks. “,That way, there’s always someone out there who has bot on the verhoging for at least one week and is aware of any problems,”, says Fox.
While few of the toneelpodium workers have formal training ter engineering, most of them have self-taught, learned-on-the-job mechanical abilities, ter addition to expertise ter certain drilling or production machinery. On the podium, any one of those abilities can turn out to be vital. “,I learned an incredible amount from those guys when I spent a year offshore ter 1987,”, says Verlon Kiel, 42, an engineer himself, who works onshore monitoring production on Ursa. “,When problems toebijten out there, if the weather is bad or the seas are rough, it may be days before help can come out. So the people who are working out there become the repairmen who fix things.”,
During the few waking hours when they’re not working, toneelpodium workers’ lives revolve mostly around food. Shell uses a catering company to run its galley, and the staff of six people produces a bounty of convenience food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a midnight meal. “,It’s not a job to us,”, says Dawn Best, 66, a perpetually smiling member of the catering team who is affectionately known spil “,Miss Dawn.”, “,We’re more like family out here. I have three sons who work offshore for other companies, so I treat all of the workers here the way I’d want people to treat my boys.”,
For those who visit it a bit too often, the buffetkast line creates its own requirement: the need to exercise. Several world-class Ping-Pong players work on Ursa, and foosball is also a popular sport. Thanks to Ursa’s satellite hookup, cable TV is ter every slagroom, and Internet access is available ter the offices and te the library. While there is no hardship pay for working offshore, entry-level roustabouts on the drilling equipment still start at about $30,000 vanaf year. Since there’s nowhere to spend that money on the verhoging, many workers gravitate to Internet investing. “,A lotsbestemming of thesis guys will retire spil millionaires if they’re wise,”, says John Guyett, 49, a drilling foreman on Ursa.
Life Off the Toneelpodium
Working 14 days on, 14 days off and feeling the pressure to perform under exacting conditions can make life on the verhoging grueling. But for many workers, the schedule offers substantial benefits – off the toneelpodium. “,Before I came offshore to work a 14/14, I wasgoed working a job that wasgoed labeled ‘,Five/Two,’ ”, says Marvin Blanchard, 39, an operations foreman. “,But truly, it wasgoed a 6/1 job. I’d leave huis before daylight and get back after dark. Now I have built-in balance. But it took mij a while to get used to it.”,
Because they have to make only one round-trip each month for the 45-minute flight out of the heliport at the peak of Louisiana, many of Ursa’s workers buy land and build their desire houses all overheen the south, from east Texas to the Florida panhandle. One worker even flies te from Montana each month te his own plane. But, ultimately, every toneelpodium worker has to come to terms with the reality of family life when the job means being away from huis for six months of the year. “,It’s always difficult to leave huis and come back out here,”, says Blanchard. Adds McAlpin: “,Choosing to work this way is not a decision that you make lightly, or by yourself.”,
For some people, work-life balance is a math problem: Royce Thomason, 45, an associate technician on Ursa, calculates his odds of being at huis with his family at 50-50. That said, he recently missed his daughter’s 16th bday. “,Wij threw a big bday party before I left,”, he says. Others take a more qualitative treatment. “,Most people who work on the production or the drilling side of this business budge around a lotsbestemming, and that’s very difficult for youthful children,”, says Guyett. “,So I actually attempted to get offshore, because it wasgoed the easiest way for my family to establish roots te one place.”,
While several workers on Ursa are divorced and are incapable to have utter custody of their children because of their schedules, the percentage of single parents on Ursa doesn’t emerge to be especially high. Masculine workers (only a handful of women work on Ursa) chalk that up te part to their dutiful completion of the “,honey do’s”, that pile up while they’re gone: “,When wij get huis, what wij hear is ‘,Honey, now that you’re back, could you please do the windows!’ or ‘,Honey, please do the lawn!’ ”, jokes Tommy Chreene, 45, a systems mechanic.
Ter fact, the workers on Ursa don’t leave their families behind when they’re on the toneelpodium: They bring their families with them, and they share their concerns with their fellow workers. “,We’re all aware of one another’s family interests and concerns, and we’re able to talk about them fairly openly,”, says Blanchard. “,People who don’t eat and sleep with their coworkers for 14 days have no idea how close wij are.”,