Adventure Travel - National Geographic Adventure Magazine

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<ul><li><p>8/3/2019 Adventure Travel - National Geographic Adventure Magazine</p><p> 1/2</p><p>HOME WEEKEND ESCAPES INTERNATIONAL TRIPS RATINGS PHOTOGRAPHY VIDEO GEAR BLOGS RSS SUBSCRIBEDeep Surviv al With Laurence Gonzales</p><p>Lessons From an Oil Rig: Why Dangerous Places Have Fewer Fatal it ies Than "Safe"</p><p>Text by Lauren ce Gonzales</p><p>Occasional ly, I Iike to visi t some place where the objective ha zards appear so great that I can remin d myself wh at payi ng attenti on really m eans. The</p><p>way we behave in envi ronments fu ll of risk is pretty different fr om how we act in the safety of our world at h ome. For exam ple, I once went out to an oil</p><p>rig in th e Gul f of Mexico and found what l ooked like the most haza rdous envir onment Id ever seen.</p><p>I traveled by boat from Galveston, Texas, leavi ng i n the m iddle of the ni ght a nd arri ving at the base of the rig i n th e morning for the chan ge of crew. A</p><p>cran e lowered somethi ng to us tha t looked like an oversize orange l ife ri ng, with rope webbed above it like a tent. I stood on the ri ng with several cr ew</p><p>members, gra bbed the rope, and was pull ed 20 stories into the air an d set down in th e midst of the whi rli ng, roarin g mach in ery. The ride up there scared</p><p>me ha lf to death, bu t the busi ness end of the oil ri g was even worse.</p><p>The deck was strewn with sh arp objects, welding tanks, hoses, and drums, a nd we were surrounded by churn ing gears and gri nding machin ery. The</p><p>crew worked seven days of 12-hour sh ifts a nd then h ad seven days off. The ri g ran 24 hours a day . As the men ci rcled around m e, someone mentioned</p><p>tha t oh, by the way , theres no medic on board, so dont get hur t. Its a l ong wait for th e heli copter. Y ou got any gl oves, or wh at? an other asked. It was a</p><p>warm autu mn day in Texas, and I had no gloves.</p><p>I made my wa y down to the rig fl oor, where the dri lli ng was done. It was a can til evered platform, and I stood between the l egs of the derrick to watch as</p><p>thr ee rough necks worked the pipe that extends the dril l bit down past 13 fathoms (78 feet) of water to where it ch ews through th e seafloor. This ri g ha d</p><p>stru ck a pocket of natu ral gas, and the crew was now pul li ng u p the sections of pipe that formed the shaft of the dril li ng mech ani sm. A 35,000-poun d</p><p>yellow steel block and tackle (call ed the eleva tor jaws) was li ftin g length s of pipe out of a hole in th e platform floor. The rough necks danced around it,</p><p>three ordinary young men who might h ave been mistaken for fraternity brothers if they hadnt been covered with oil and mu d, and if their big eyes</p><p>ha dnt made them look li ke ponies tra pped in a f ire.</p><p>They worked at a rapid pace, the way football play ers run scrimmag eonly the roughnecks were playi ng a gainst steel and with out pads. Everything</p><p>was moving i n different dir ections at once: The platform sway ed back and forth wi th the win d and the force of the waves agai nst the ri g. The elevator</p><p>jaws, which the winch man raised and lowered, were always turni ng, swinging, a nd makin g lengthy excursions up and down the cables. When the</p><p>rough necks clam ped a section of pipe in the jaws, it was whisked hig h in to the air . The derrickm an, teetering on a platform ten stories above us, ha d to</p><p>la sso the pipe with a pi ece of rope and steady i t. The men pu t steel shim s around th e rest of it so that it woul dnt slip down the h ole into the sea.</p><p>Each ti me the elevator jaws pulled, a section of pipe about 90 feet tall was set free. It came ali ve, wriggl in g wildl y in th e air. It was the derri ckman s job</p><p>to wrestle on hi gh with this piece of undul ating steel, and all.</p><p>He had to work with was a gr easy piece of hemp rope. As he hau led on h is rope, the pipe strugg led and whi pped away , and I watched as he lean ed way out</p><p>over the edge of hi s littl e perch. For a moment I thought th at the metal whi p made by the pipe was going to flick hi m in to the sha rk-in fested sea. But the</p><p>derrickm an was a t one with th e kinetic energy of the pipe. He wasnt figh ting th e pipe. He was gentlin g it over, over, the way a fi sherm an pla ys the</p><p>fighti ng bil lfish with a piece of string. A nd when the propitious moment came, he reeled in his rope and the pipe was landed and clam ped securely off to</p><p>one side in i ts rack.</p><p>A fellow named Dave came to watch with m e. He had advanced up the la dder from roughneck to rig mechanic. I noticed that h e was missin g a finger on</p><p>hi s righ t han d, and I asked how hed lost it. He laug hed softly to him self and cut h is eyes in th e direction of the elevator jaws. Doing somethin g just</p><p>about li ke that there, he said. Occasionall y the ma mmoth shafts of metal came clangi ng together in an u nhappy way to remind us th at feet and</p><p>fingers, arms an d legs and skulls were always in play, as i f these men cast dice, betting with th eir livi ng bones.</p><p>And those are just the ha zards to the indiv idua l who loses his focus. The rig is v ul nerabl e as well. A pocket of gas could cau se the well to blow out and set</p><p>the whole thi ng on fir e. I was told that if th at h appened, wed hav e four m inu tes to get off before the steel began to melt.</p><p>Everyone on the rig was either paying attention in an al most superhu man way or heading for a very bad accident. I learned this as I was takin g notes.</p><p>Several m en were standing n earby an d I noticed them watchin g me, as if I were some sort of curi osity in th eir otherwise routine day. There was a subtle</p><p>fli ck of their eyes as they wa tched, and I felt the ha ir stan d up on my n eckwhat were they lookin g at? I tur ned around just in ti me to see a cran eload of</p><p>pipe moving sl owly bu t impl acably toward my hea d. I stepped aside as the four-ton rack whooshed past and was set on the floor.</p><p>I looked back at the men. They werent lau ghi ng, but one of them gl anced at me in a peculi ar way , with a li ttle smi le. I un derstood at tha t moment how</p><p>truly different their way s of paying attention were. Nothing escaped their v igil ancea shift in the wind, a chance remark, the tinkl ing of machi nery, a</p><p>sudden odor from somewherebecause all of those thi ngs could sign al th e begin nin g of the end, and the man who noticed what was going on first was</p><p>most likely to survive.</p><p>As I left the rig on a helicopter, I wondered if i t was as dangerous a s the monstrous m achin ery and tal es of gri sly a ccidents made it a ppear. Am azingl y,</p><p>the stati stics seem to show that our su pposedly safe world is actu all y more dangerous tha n an oil rig . In the years between 2003 and 2005, oil a nd gas</p><p>workers were ki lled a t a r ate of 30 per 100,000. Accordin g to the Centers for Disease Control a nd Prev ention, the n ational avera ge ra te for accidental</p><p>Current Issue</p><p>October 2009</p><p>Table of Conten ts Search</p><p>nture Travel - National Geographic Adventure Magazine http://ngadventure.typepad.com/blog/deep-survival-with-laurence-</p><p> 11/15/2009 1</p></li><li><p>8/3/2019 Adventure Travel - National Geographic Adventure Magazine</p><p> 2/2</p><p>death am ong the general popula tion is 39.6 per 100,000, makin g accidents th e top cause of death am ong people under the ag e of 45. Not surprisi ngl y,</p><p>driv ing i s to blam e for the bul k of these accidents.</p><p>When the h azards we face are obvious, paying a ttention becomes a cul tural norm. Everything on tha t oil rig was an obvious test, a clear threat, and</p><p>therefore each m an was workin g ha rd every moment for his own surv iva l. Those who didnt paid the price. For the rest of us, the ha zards are stil l there.</p><p>Theyre just hi dden. A nd that can sometimes be more dangerous th an the most seeming ly hazardous environment.</p><p>TrackBack</p><p>TrackBack URL for thi s entry :</p><p>http ://ww w.ty pepad.com/serv ic es/trac kbac k/6a00e55031d3a3883401157035a41c97 0b</p><p>Listed below are l i nks to weblogs that refer ence Deep Surv iv al Wi th Laurence Gonzales</p><p>Lessons From an Oil Rig: Why Dangerous Pl aces Have Few er Fatal iti es Than "Safe":</p><p>Comments</p><p>Verify your Comment</p><p>Previ ewin g y our Comment</p><p>Posted by: |</p><p>This is only a preview. Y our comm ent has n ot yet been posted.</p><p>Post Edit </p><p>Your comm ent could n ot be posted. Error type:</p><p>Your comm ent ha s been posted. Post another comment</p><p>The letters and nu mbers you entered did not match the ima ge. Please try again .</p><p>As a fin al step before postin g your comment, enter the letters and num bers you see in th e imag e below. Thi s prevents automated progra ms from postin g</p><p>comments.</p><p>Having trouble reading thi s image? View an al ternate.</p><p>Continue </p><p>nture Travel - National Geographic Adventure Magazine http://ngadventure.typepad.com/blog/deep-survival-with-laurence-</p><p> 11/15/2009 1</p></li></ul>

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