Waiting for a Huge New Oil Field
It was a pleasant day, with the sun shining brightly. There were very few clouds in the sky out on the Arctic Ocean—where the clouds at times looked like great waves in the sky. I woke early that morning as I had been doing often lately, to make sure that I arrived at the office of one of the company officials in order to catch a ride with him all day long. The fact was that this story was getting more exciting by the day.
So on this beautiful day of sunshine, with only a few clouds in the sky, I felt good. I went through the chow line and picked up a meal fit for a king. As I have said, that's the way the meals always were on the Pipeline—I've never eaten such good food in all my life. I think we had the choice chefs of the world to provide it.
I finished my meal that day with an expectancy of excitement in my heart. I was looking forward to finding out some new source of exuberating information as to what was really taking place in all of this planned manipulation. I put on my heavy down winter coat and my Arctic shoes, stuffed my gloves into my pocket, put on my stocking cap, and laid my down cap on the seat beside me in the pickup truck. I remember how the engine ground to a start that day, for it had been cold all night. However, the engine had been plugged into an electric outlet to keep it warm and soon it warmed up and I was able to make it start. So I set off across the North Slope of Alaska for another day of excitement. What I didn't know was just how exciting that day would really be, for unbeknown to me, that day was to turn out to be one of the most revealing experiences I was to have while I was Chaplain on the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline.
I am quite sure that the oil company official with whom I was to get a ride did not know just what it was he was going to take me to see, because none of us really knew. You see, until after a well comes in and it is proven (proven is a method they have of determining the quantity and quality of an oil find), nobody really knows what is there.
So that morning I pulled up in front of the building at Atlantic Richfield and walked inside (and you will remember that this company was responsible for building the entire east side of the oil field). I shall never forget what that door was like on the front of their building. Have you ever seen the doors on a commercial freezer locker establishment? It has a large handle on the outside and a pusher on the inside, and the door itself is many inches thick. That was exactly what the door was like on the front of ARCO—it was nothing but a big freezer door—in reverse, of course. Every time I walked out, it kind of reminded me that I was walking out into a big freezer. That freezer was called the North Slope of Alaska which with a chill factor, has gone as low as -130°.
Inside it was nice and cozy. I walked up to the desk of the security guard and asked him who happened to be in the office at that time. Usually this is what I would do in the morning if I wanted to have an exciting ride—I would find out who happened to be in the office, and then select the most likely candidate I could and hitch a ride with him. After all, my job as Chaplain was to be out where the men were. So I would drive up and down the line and talk to the men while the company officials were carrying out their business. Perhaps I could do some counseling with a man who had previously come to me with a problem, while at the same time riding around on the job. In that way, I was doing two things at once.
I liked to get up on one of those big 'dozers, or get up into one of those big cranes, or stand and chat with a man while he was waiting for his buddy to finish welding a section of pipe. As I was riding around, if someone simply said, "Hi, Chaplain," it was a contact. That was part of the reason I was there. My purpose, primarily, was to help those men spiritually, and this other interest in the government's intention was secondary, but very important, nevertheless.
So almost every
day I would ride over to ARCO, as I had done this morning. Usually the
security guard would tell me of half a dozen officers, and I would have
a wide choice of riding companions. One day I would ride with the equipment
man, another day with Mr. X, and another day I might ride with an inspector
... they were always quite interesting, but most of them did not want
too much to do with me personally. They knew on short order that I was
a conservative, and I usually did not kow-tow to their ideas of control.
However, that day the security officer named several men, and I immediately
recognized one that I thought would be interesting to ride with. So
The guard answered, "Well, he happens to be up in his office. Why don't you just go on in. I'm sure he won't mind." So I took the liberty of going on down to the office complex and into the office of this certain ARCO executive.
He looked up as I came in, and all across his face was an air of expectancy, though at first I did not take much notice. That is usually the way these oil executives look when they see dollar signs turning over with the oil business. I looked at him with a kind of a smile on my face—I was feeling good with that beautiful sunshine outside which we didn't see all the time on the Arctic Ocean. I said, "Hey, what do you have up today?"
"Ah," he said, "You came along at just the right time. How would you like to watch something exciting? It's something that I think will turn out to be phenomenal."
"Well," I answered, "I'm always ready for excitement. If there's anything I enjoy, it's getting into something." (Of course, that's nothing new—ever since I because had been a child, if I could find something to get into ... I just couldn't seem to pass up the opportunity.) So I said, "Sure, what can we get into today?"
With something that
was almost laughter in his voice, he said, "Chaplain, come on,
let's ride out to the Arctic Ocean, and I'll show you what we're going
to get into today." I could tell from the tone in his voice that
I was in for something spectacular.
We walked all the
way down the hallway of that office complex, past the security guard
and my guide told him, "If you want me, I'll be out at such and
such a point, in such and such a vehicle."
I answered, "I have taken the liberty to drive up there a time
or two, just to see what it is like."
As we rode out to the end of the gravel road, we actually rode into the ocean. At the end of the road was a large gravel pad that extended out east and west, and on that pad they would store equipment. I remember that they had literally cut huge chunks out of the ice, for some particular purpose I can't recall. Those huge chunks of ice were almost a wall, where they had been piled up many feet thick and many feet across in diameter. We rode to a point where we could see across those huge chunks of ice, and then this oil company official said to me, "Chaplain, you are just about to watch one of the most exciting things that we oil company men will ever see at Prudhoe Bay."
I answered, "What do you mean? We are right out here at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, and I don't see anything exciting out here. There's not even any drill rigs here. In fact, there's nothing going on at this dock—we're the only people out here."
He said, "You're
right, Chaplain. But I want you to look—you'll have to strain
your eyes a bit—and you'll see the drill rig on a little bitty
island way out there in the Arctic Ocean. If you look close, you can
see it with the naked eye, without even using these glasses."
"Well," I answered, "Someone told me a few months ago that they had taken a drill rig out to Gull Island, and I had noticed the orange colored top on that big rig out there. It just sticks above the horizon, on the Arctic Ocean, and I've heard that they are drilling for oil on Gull Island."
He said, "Yes, Chaplain, they are. Not only that, but today we are going to have the first burn from the rig—they've completed the drilling."
A "burn"—in layman's terms—is a method of proof used when an oil field or an oil well is brought in. I was to watch that day what is probably one of the most phenomenal bits of intelligence information that has ever been discovered since the original oil discovery at Prudhoe Bay. However, this was also to be one of the most devastating things that the government of the United States has ever done to the American people in relation to the energy crisis.
We sat there for a few minutes, not knowing exactly when the burn would take place, and this oil company official began to explain about Gull Island. It became quite interesting. He told me what I already knew, that the oil companies had been allowed to produce from only a 100-square-mile area of the North Slope of Alaska, yet there are many 100-square-mile areas of land north of the Brooks Mountains, the northern-most mountain range of the United States. North of these mountains there is an area of about 160 to 180 miles that slopes gradually to sea level at Prudhoe Bay, and then out into the Arctic Ocean. That is the boundary, Just a short way from the shore, of the limit of the 100-square-mile area that the oil companies call Prudhoe Bay. That is the area from which the oil is being allowed to be produced. At maximum flow, that Alaska oil flow will produce two million barrels of oil every 24 hours.
So there we were, sitting out in the Arctic Ocean, watching a speck on the horizon ... a speck called Gull Island.
The ARCO official
proceeded to explain to me that Gull Island is on the very, very edge
of that 100 square miles from which they were allowed to produce. He
said to me, "Gull Island is marginal. We have been allowed to drill
there, but we know that any angle of drilling whatsoever to the north
would mean that it would be out of bounds of the oil field from which
we have been given permission to produce. I guess you know, Chaplain,
that this one pool of oil right here on the north side of Alaska from
which we are
That means this is one of the richest oil fields on the earth. Then he continued, "After twenty years, we will either inject water or some other liquid into the ground in order to maintain that flow of oil, but we will not have to pump this field for over twenty years. The oil comes out of the ground at about 136°F, with 1,600 pounds of natural pressure." He then further elaborated about the rich oil fields at Prudhoe Bay and stated that they have proven there are many other pools of oil on the North Slope of Alaska. He also believed that these numerous pools of oil could be produced just as easily as the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Then he told me something else I already knew. He said, "Chaplain, there is no energy crisis. There has never been an energy crisis. There will never be an energy crisis; we have as much oil here as in all of Saudi Arabia. If only the oil companies of America were allowed to produce it, we would have no crisis. Oh, we've been told there's a crisis, but there isn't one."
On and on that oil company official went while we sat there and idled away the time. The heater was going full blast, because of the cold, as we were waiting for that momentous event when we would see black smoke from Gull Island. That would indicate that the burn was taking place, and we would have proof of the finding of oil. Then we would go back to the main office and look at the technical data relating to what the oil companies had found that day at Gull Island.
There was no set time of day for this oil burn to take place, so as we sat there waiting and watching with hopeful expectancy as to what we might actually see, we talked about many things. We chatted about angle drilling, and he explained to me that they would drill an oil field oftentimes, and after they had gone down so many feet into the ground they would angle off, and sometimes go many miles at an angle. This meant that they could drill many different wells from one gravel pad. After they drilled those wells, they would call them "Christmas trees," because that is exactly what they looked like above the ground.
He explained that on Gull Island they were drilling straight down because if they drilled at an angle they would be out of bounds of that small area from which the government had allowed them to produce. He then said, "What we find today will prove what is on the outer skirts of this oil field."
Then it happened!
I remember he stopped his conversation very abruptly and picked up his
field glasses from beside him on the seat of the truck, and exclaimed,
"Look, Chaplain! There it is!"
This surely was an exciting find; there could be no more nonsense about an energy crisis now ... surely, there couldn't! But I was wrong—so very wrong.