Thursday, November 30, 2006

more snow

It snowed last night! And now the skies are clear and it's bitterly cold.

This cold front has really hammered up some of the rigs we do work for. I guess those boys out of Louisiana, Mississippi, and south Texas get to learn the hard way what happens in the single digits.

Monday, November 27, 2006


The question I asked in my last post wasn't strictly a rhetorical one. What confluence of factors caused us to spend 23 hours on location when 10 would have been much more reasonable? There were problems with getting the casing in the hole. The company man wasn't used to the rig since he was filling in for a sick colleague. Thus, he didn't understand how slowly the rig runs casing. Water haulers don't work at night anymore around here. (Seriously, they don't.) It's a matter of accountability.

If I'm on a job, whether I'm the principle supervisor or not, I make it a point to do the best job I can. On a very basic level, I want to provide a good job for our clients because it's the right thing to do. And I expect to be held accountable for the quality of the work I do and I am accountable in various ways. If we are unable to complete a job or we don't execute it as planned, then I don't get a bonus for the job. In a greater sense, if we are unable to consistently deliver good work for our clients then they will find someone else for their needs. While that doesn't directly impact me, it has the ability to come around and leave us with a lot less to do than we'd like.

On location, the company man is the one who is ultimately responsible for the decisions that get made regarding what to do while drilling, when to call vendors and service companies (like us), filing progress reports, checking safety compliance, etc. Given that responsibility, it would be natural to assume that the company man has certain incentives to perform well, like stay on schedule and under budget, have no accidents or environmental spills, and so forth. However, given how badly some of the company men that I interact with appear to be performing, they don't operate like they have any performance incentives. It doesn't seem like they're accountable for massive cost-overruns, spills all over location, and blowing the drilling schedule out of the water. And it's maddening for us, because while the overtime revenue is nice for us, it means we get sucked out and stuck on location for 20+ plus hours at a time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

finally done

We finally finished the job we sort of almost started on Thursday. Why oh why did we have to spend a total of 23 hours on location? (For reference, 10 hours on location would have been very reasonable.) I take solace knowing that we make the client pay through the nose for that kind of crap.

Friday, November 24, 2006

how i spent thanksgiving

It's been an odd 30 or so hours.

I spent most of yesterday, Thanksgiving, sitting on my hands waiting for my job to call. The company man at the rig called for first time late in the morning with a notice to be on location by 1800, which meant we would be at the yard by 1500 in order to have enough time to prepare equipment and drive out to the rig. Au contraire. The company man called again at 1400 to change the be on location time to 2000. That's never a good sign especially with this particular rig (and its sister rigs). There's no such thing as a two hour delay. And given the problem that I was told they had, my guess was six to eight hours. But we're the service company at the beck and call of the operators so we'll go when they say to be there even when we're certain that they won't be ready for us. Thus, more football watching ensued. Too bad I hate the Cowboys.

Suffice to say, we arrived at location well on time only to discover a couple of less than pleasant surprises. For starters, the rig was nowhere near ready, which is normally a bad thing, but this gave us some time to deal with unpleasant surprise number two. The job procedure had changed and no one told us. By us, I don't mean just the crew, but our office, which really means they didn't tell me or my manager. That's the third time in just a few months with this client that a change to the job procedure has been made and their office has failed to communicate it to us. The problem was easy to deal with because it only involved going back to our yard and grabbing some extra equipment, but the principle of it is what bothers me. On our way back to the rig, the other supervisor and I stopped to get some quality dinner for the crew. Seeing as how it was Thanksgiving, there wasn't much open, but every Sonic in town was open till 2300 so we bought a bunch of cheeseburgers for the guys. A veritable feast for the ages.

Meanwhile, back on location, the rig seemed to be progressing smoothly, but slowly so we had time to kill. Thus, we slept, which is what we normally do because it's usually unclear when we'll have to get up and how long we'll be up for. But alas, at 0130, the company man came by and told us that we were released, meaning we could leave. The rig was having difficulties with "downhole conditions", a most ominous catchall phrase that really means, "There's something wrong with the hole, but since it's several thousand feet in the ground, we're not really sure what it is, but this is what we think it is so we're going to try and do something to make it better." And by the way, this is the same problem that caused the two hour delay in the location time originally. Time to pack it all up, go back to the yard and go home while more normal people are getting up.

By the time I got home, it was about 0530 and I was tired, but restless and this was the biggest shopping day of the season and you all know how much I love to shop! And if you believe that, then you don't know me very well. But, I did go shopping, or more accurately, buying. Plus, I was curious to see what kinds of people went to the store at 0500. Apparently, all kinds. And apparently the store didn't open until 0600. Despite that and the somewhat restless crowd, there was no trampling of people smaller than me by me or anyone else. I guess I was surprised by how generally well-behaved and good-natured most people were. Personally, I made off with some cheap DVDs I wanted and some Sharpie pens I needed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

be suspicious of those who are suspicious of you

I cheated and posted some retroactive entries. Go hither and find them!

Here is another great e-mail I received:

Lt. (name removed) with the Sheriff’s Department asked that I forward some information to you. The Sheriff’s Department received a notification from the FBI warning those within the oil and gas industry to be extra vigilant and very attentive to what is going on around their sites. At this time, there are NO specific threats to industry in this area; however, the notification did recommend that industry personnel continue to exhibit heightened awareness out in the field.

Fantastic. I'll start spying on my neighbor too just for good measure.

Monday, November 20, 2006

wanted: competent headhunters

I received a hilarious headhunting e-mail rife with grammatical mistakes along with several other deficiencies. I have reproduced it below in and put spaces where the original body paragraph of the e-mail had line breaks to emphasize the bizarre formatting. Italics added for separation.

Good Afternoon Brian,

I have an opportunity with Conoco Phillips in Farmington, New Mexico and in Midland, Texas

They are needing engineers in the following, (Drilling, Reservoir, Completions, and Productions.)

I believe that Conoco would be a good fit for you. They invest in there people they wants candidates for the "long haul"

If you are leaving anything on the table they try there best to take all of that into consideration in the "offer."

It is a great opportunity, exceptional compensation packages, sign on bonuses and relo packages

The HR Manager of Exploration and the Engineering Manager are doing phone interviews and then flying candidates out for site visits.

If you are interested please attach your resume and a time and date that I can speak with you.

You can always say no, but it is at least worth hearing about the offer from Conoco.

I look forward to working with you.

Thank you,

(Name concealed to help poor fool save face.)

(Name concealed again to help poor fool keep his job.)
Senior Executive Recruiter
Talent Tree
Talent Acquisition Group
Direct Line: (Phone number concealed to prevent prank calls involving uproarious laughter)

"Ask me about our $1,000 Referral Program."

Are you kidding me? What a disaster of an e-mail! And those three missing periods aren't typos of mine either. The improper use of "there" instead of "their" is a personal pet peeve, "are needing" is just awkward when "need" would have done nicely, the word "offer" is in quotes for some reason (maybe they pay people with "money" instead of money), the word relocation is abbreviated, and putting "long haul" in quotes doesn't make it seem like there's much long term job security. The real kicker is that "Conoco Phillips" is supposed to be one word. Come on, you don't misspell the name of the company you're (or should I say your?) recruiting for in the sales pitch.

We actually lost one of our field engineers to the ConocoPhillips operation about a month ago. He had only been with us a couple of months so he didn't waste that much of my time trying to train him unlike that other quitter I've discussed in the past. The amusing part about this recent departure is that he wasn't here long enough to learn anything, especially since he was not the sharpest of minds. Perhaps he was swayed by a similarly slick recruiting e-mail. I'm wondering what he can possibly be bringing to the table over at Conoco since he doesn't have experience and he doesn't have a petroleum engineering background. I have already had the good pleasure of interacting with him in his new role and he is totally lost. I, on the other hand, am totally amused.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

greener grass?

The general theme of my big post two weeks ago was that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. It's easy to be seduced by tales of higher wages and bonuses and better hours and the likes, but from what I've seen, most of it is bunk. I've heard pretty ridiculous figures that are usually flat out wrong, by which I mean lies. It's either that or the company actually pays that much, but excessively high wages are usually the mark of a poor business model. Compensation is one of the few expenses an otherwise well-run company actually has any control over.

Case in point, a small competitor of Schlumberger's Well Services segment called Superior Well Services. (If their real website wasn't so obnoxious, I might have actually linked to it instead of their ticker symbol. You'll have to find it on your own if you really want to go there, but sound effects, moving logo, black background, frames within frames? Please, this is worse than that ridiculous website some friends of mine made in high school. Yeah, a couple of you know what I'm taking about.) Anyway, Superior has several districts scattered around the country that, if combined, have an aggregate size around five times the Farmington district I work at. Taking a look at their income statement reveals how much they made last year. That figure is about what our one district in Farmington will make this year. I will concede that the quarterly data for Superior's first three quarters of this current year are far better than their previous year. Fortunes of nearly everyone in the oil and gas service industry are rising, especially for marginal players that can service operators' expanding exploration and production efforts. Unfortunately for those players, the next industry downturn will be especially painful. However, I would be more interested with the insider selling by a bunch of people with the same last name. I suppose some original founders and investors wanted to cash out. Anyway, financials aside, Superior pays their operators a lot more than what I perceive industry average to be and that plays a large part in their margins and that will ultimately hurt them when margins get squeezed.

That sidebar went on much longer than necessary, probably because I've seen us lose people to Superior. Back to the greener grass idea, I'm much more interested in those who lie about how much they make and how much others could be making working alongside them. I understand why people lie in their sales pitches about how much money new employees can make. They're trying to attract new employees to keep up during this boom time in the industry. What's far more fascinating is what those lies say about the people who make them, especially lies about how much they make. Speaking anecdotally, people who lie about the amount of money they make are possibly deluded about how much they make, which usually makes them poor managers of their money. They also covet money, not in a need to pay the bills sort of way, but more in a need to validate their existence y exchanging their money for possessions sort of way. They are possibly happy now, because they are making lots of money (or so they say) but would be miserable without it.

Monday, November 13, 2006


It snowed in town for the first time this season. It was just a few flakes, not enough to do more than disappear when they hit the ground, but it was nice to see. Yesterday, out in the field, was the first time I had seen snow falling this season. We were about 30 miles southwest of Farmington in the middle of nowhere in particular trying to not get stuck in the sand.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

after work

There are few things better than getting home from a long day (and previous night) of work, taking a cleansing shower, and curling up into a warm bed on the phone with someone I care about.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

the great debate

Thank goodness TIME magazine has finally decided to settle the debate once and for all.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


We had a couple people leave a few weeks back. Specifically, equipment operators leave from the segment I'm in at my district. To say that someone left the other segment at my district would be redundant since it's bigger and subject to a continuous drain of people that needs to be constantly replenished. Since my segment has fewer people in it, when someone leaves, the impact is much more noticeable. When a couple people leave within a few days of one another, it hurts operations. When it happens the week my manager is out of town, it makes me miserable. At this point, we've weathered the worst of it and made it through a couple of really busy stretches. Adjustments have been made and new people have been brought in and more are on the way as well. However, there will always be busy stretches and then quiet stretches and anyone who actually pays attention at work can see that it all averages out in the end. Nonetheless, there will definitely be a trend towards more work for us in the coming months.

The interesting thing about the people who left is that some of them have already expressed regret about leaving to various people still here. That is the disease of Farmington. It might be an oilfield thing, but I suspect otherwise since I've been told that some districts don't have this problem. The problem being churn, and a damn lot of it. This district has a high turnover rate (specifically for operators) and I have to believe that every similar service company in the area has the same problem. There's a revolving door around here. Countless times, I have seen people come and say that we suck (more or less) or some other company looks better and so they will leave. Then you'll hear that they've left the company they went to for another one. And then another one and so on and so forth. After a while they might even end up here again. Obviously, the problem wasn't us, it was them, but that becomes a problem for us. There is a core of good people that we have that rarely changes. Rarely does someone in that core leave, but it's also very difficult to find good people to add to that core. Most new people are of the high churn variety and can unfortunately be expected to last not more than a year at best.

If you're wondering what it most cost to train all these new people all the time, (especially for us given the driving and safety practices we have) you're right to do so. We probably spend a lot more on training than any of the managers want to, but that's the cost of operating in an area where there is such a dearth of employable people, especially during an upward swing in the driving industry of the area. To paraphrase one of our supervisors, anyone who wants a job in this town has a job. If you aren't working then you must not want a job because even a convicted felon could probably get a job working on a rig.

Getting back to our regret-filled former employees from a couple paragraphs ago, why on earth did they leave if they already want to come back? The answer is that someone sold them a lot of crap. Someone somewhere managed to convince them that the grass was greener on the other side with more money or better benefits or better hours or whatever. My experience has been that most of the stories people tell about how much more they make are poor representations of reality at best and straight lies at worst. Yes, the offer down the street may be more per hour, but maybe you won't get to work as many hours or perhaps the benefits are lesser. Even if it is actually more money, maybe you have to leave town all the time for work or maybe everyone there is a total jerk. That latter one is apparently fairly common from what I can gather.

I know we don't pay our operators the best wage in the area. In fact, it's probably towards the low end of the spectrum. But apparently we offer one of the better work environments for this type of business. At first I was surprised to conclude that we're a friendly and cordial (relatively speaking of course) place to work. As I've given it more thought, the reason the people who are here like being here is almost universally the people. We have a good group of supervisors that the operators report to directly and interact most frequently with. Sure, there's the usual amount of crap that gets dished out to new people, but it's not much. For the most part, the trash-talking goes on between more veteran employees. Besides, new field engineers probably get more flak than new operators when they first start, but field engineers ought to be better equipped to deal with a little mockery. If they can't, then they're probably the wrong person for the job.

Other positives that I see are that management is accessible without being too meddlesome and we have good process control, at least in my segment. By that, I mean that we don't screw up in a major way very often which not only makes more money for the business, but also makes people feel better about their jobs when they know they are being given a chance to do a good job. We don't leave our people to twist in the wind by giving them a bad setup and if something does goes wrong, management support is there.

It's nice to hear that people are thinking about coming back but it puts my manager in a tough spot. Getting good (for the most part) people is hard and anyone with experience is even better. However, taking deserters back with open arms sends a conflicted message to everyone. We don't want to encourage people that they can just leave to test the waters whenever they feel like it and still have a job waiting for them if and when they return. But we do want good people and don't want to turn someone away for what they've come to realize was a poor decision. Oh well, we'll manage, we always do.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


That was an odd 12 hours. Last night, I left my phone in a pick-up at work and eventually got it back this morning. I felt rather exposed without my phone, as if I was missing a vital link I needed, especially for work. Kind of interesting to see how expected it is for me to be reachable at any time.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

political ads

Based on the total lack of advertisements, it appears that my congressional district is not heavily contested. Congratulations Tom Udall for whatever it is you do and for your expected victory over Ronald Dolin, whose name was alarmingly hard for me to find. However, it appears that I'm missing out on a great race for New Mexico's First Congressional District. And by great, I mean petty, misleading, disinformation-filled and everything else that makes politics so inspiring for us young, cynical types. In case you were wondering what part of the state the various districts cover, there's this handy website called National Atlas that has congressional district maps amongst other things.

Back to the race, it pits the Republican incumbent Heather Wilson against the Democrat Patricia Madrid who is New Mexico's Attorney General. Based on the ads, it appears that Madrid is incompetent and that Wilson is a Bush toady. But since I can't vote for either one of them, I don't have to worry that the ads tell me nothing useful. However, I can pretend to see what this race would be like if it was a high school student council race. It might go something like this:

Candidate 1: Bitch!
Candidate 2: Skank!

Then some hair pulling would follow and eventually someone would be slapped. Seriously, the ads are vitriolic and are about the closest thing to disfranchising a voter you can get without actually breaking the law. It kind of makes me miss living in an uncontested district back in California. Though it was fun to vote on all the propositions.