I'm in the middle of Chapter 4, when the late '50's technological advances Shell Oil brought to offshore drilling give way to the tightening of the purse strings on Shell's exploration and production division in the '60's due to greater emphasis put on "refining, transportation, marketing, and chemicals as profit centers" rather than on the crude oil itself. Up 'til this point in the book, the development of the technology used to discover and drill for crude oil offshore has been masterfully explored by author Tyler Priest and peppered with anecdotes such as this one concerning the test of Shell's Blue Water 1, equipped with a Remote Underwater Drilling and Completion (RUDAC) system that would enable the rig to drill in deep water without having to be anchored to the sea floor. The advances that enabled the rig to stay upright even in the bad weather that accompanied its first test were too much for some:
Contract crews who came out to service some of the equipment refused to believe the unit was floating. On one occasion, several welders cut off a piece of plate that fell off the side into the water. Standing nearby, (Shell engineer and naval architect Bruce) Collipp told them that the plate had just fallen almost four hundred feet. "I don't think so," replied one welder. "We're sitting on the bottom." When told that they were actually floating in three hundred feet of water, both of them quit.It wasn't until recently that I learned that the Mr. Charlie, one of the earliest submersibles used by Shell in offshore exploration, is now a museum in Morgan City (thanks, Clay). One of these days, we'll take that tour. The little guy is expecting it.
Then, while popping into the library to pick up some books I'd reserved, I spotted this one on the shelf and have started in on it:
Really, I haven't gotten beyond the preface excerpted here in its entirety, and I don't know how much of a continuation of The Prize it really is (note to self: read the copy of The Prize that's been sitting on your shelf, all right???...then again, I may have to take its author's assertions with a grain of salt...) , but this one paragraph jumped out at me:
United by a smelly, unattractive product, most of the millions of employees who work in the oil industry are strangers to each other. Unlike manufacturing cars or planning a space program, oil offers no natural bond. The gas-station attendant, the crews of the supertankers, the offshore engineers, the dedicated geologists, the excitable traders, the sober accountants, the nationalistic politicians, the rig workers in the prairies, deserts and jungles, the refinery workers and the corporate chieftains are all interdependent in their efforts to produce and convert crude oil. Yet there is no bond between them to overcome their separation and rivalry. Oil unites all their destinies, but they are professionally isolated. Since the late 1980s, however, there has been a common thread: some squeeze markets, some squeeze rocks, some squeeze crude oil through refineries, while others squeeze governments and rival corporations. Oil is not a business for fools or the faint-hearted.Discovering and drilling, transporting and refining, distributing and selling oil may not be for the faint of heart, but it seems cleaning up the messes resulting from when this whole process goes wrong turn all these people supposedly in charge into scared children grasping at any excuse they can find to justify why they aren't doing right. I'd say we've got one of our clues right there as to why, when things fall apart, they do so so spectacularly. The finger pointing can only result in all of these people arguing in the mucky crude unless they can all work together - but, judging from what this book's beginning says, getting them to do so could be well-nigh impossible.
Guess the biggest question now is: how can we get them to make that impossible possible?