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Lindsey Williams – The Energy Non-Crisis – Chapter 6

Chapter 6: The Workings of An Oil Field

We have said that the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was a consortium of nine major U.S. oil companies. Each of these sent a certain number of their executives to Alyeska for the construction phase of the Pipeline. This meant that we had men from each of the nine oil companies who had been placed in management positions spread all across the North Slope of Alaska. These men would work so many weeks on the job, then work a number of weeks back home— and then they would return to the job in Alaska again. This meant that there was a continual rotation of executive officers, and, in practice, it was a very effective system. A man was not subjected to the rigors of the Arctic all the time, but would come back refreshed and able to perform with top efficiency while his alternate was relaxing in the lower 48 states or at Anchorage.

Most of the relaxing was done at Anchorage, rather than taking the arduous trip to the south at very regular intervals. It is relevant to point out that the top executives in the oil company worked one week on and one week off in rotation. The further down the ladder you went, the longer they stayed on the job and the less time they had at home. By the time you got to the ordinary worker on the Pipeline, he was expected to stay on the job for six or seven weeks at a time, to go home for one week, and then to come back for a further six weeks.

The top executives would always overlap each other for one day, so that there was constant briefing and debriefing. It was thereby insured that the work would proceed without undue problems. It was at these briefings that I constantly gained a great deal of information. I spent a lot of time in the offices, and at no time did the executives object to the fact that I was present when they were talking about activities that were proceeding at that particular time. It was not my goal or purpose to be there to “gain information,” and indeed if I had been there for that purpose, I would have taken very much more notice and kept much more elaborate records. At that time I did not even realize just how pertinent the information really was.

Neither did I ever think that our own Federal government would go this far in producing an energy crisis. As the Pipeline was nearing completion, I then personally realized just how critical all this information really was. The total picture did not fit together until the end, and in fact it has not yet all fitted together. I confess that there are aspects that I simply cannot rationalize. I do not profess to have all the answers. This is one of the reasons why I have deliberately set out to report first what I know to be fact, before I briefly set forth my own opinions or speculations. Of one thing I am convinced. Somewhere, some place, there definitely appears to be a conspiracy.

Because there were, of course, numerous high officials, and each of these was rotating with his alternate, obviously a great deal of discussion took place. Statistics and figures were thrown around like confetti, and some of it landed on my shoulders. Perhaps we should change that and suggest it was thrown around like a basketball. Sometimes the ball landed in my lap, and I took it and ran with it.

Despite the implementation of rules and regulations in ways that were unbelievable, the major development of the Pipeline took place so rapidly that at times information was available which was quickly withdrawn. One outstanding example of that was the whole matter of Gull Island, of which we shall give full details in a later chapter. We shall see that the information relating to Gull Island was ordered to be sealed by the government authorities within days after proof of the find.

It is not our purpose to give all sorts of details as to the day by day administration of the Pipeline, or of the human nature of the men. There were, of course, the common problems such as theft, with the usual attitude of, “You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.” That is in all big business and government operations, wherever human beings are found working—around the face of the globe. Human nature does not easily change, whether those concerned are in Alaska or in the lower 48 states.

The sort of graft that so often is associated with private enterprise and big companies is prevalent in many areas. In fact, ultimately human ambition demonstrates itself in ways that have similar roots, if only we can get back and understand the scheming behind various operations. Some people are anxious for financial gain; others are more interested in a power structure; and when it comes to the political arena, that power structure might go way beyond mere money. It is possible to relate this to the oil fields, and to see some semblance of comparison with what is taking place in Canada.

Canada has already nationalized its oil companies. That is an actual fact of history, and this was often referred to by executives of the oil companies working for the Pipeline. Often I heard it related that the same patterns that were used by Canada for the nationalization of their oil companies, appeared to be the pattern that the United States government was following in its dealings with oil companies today. The oil company officials in the top echelons have suggested that the Federal government wishes to nationalize the oil companies of America. We will elaborate on this in detail in a later chapter of this book.

The heading of this chapter is “The Workings of an Oil Field.” It is relevant to emphasize that the United States government, as such, did not own anything —equipment, machinery, buildings, or anything else—on the oil fields. Not one penny of government money was invested in the Pipeline, yet the government exerted all sorts of pressures as they implemented their multitudinous rules and regulations. Neither did the oil companies own all of the equipment, for in many cases the work was subcontracted, and often the machinery was owned by the company to whom the work was contracted.

One official was responsible for all the subcontracting of heavy machinery on the east side of the oil field. At one point I heard him state that in a 30-day period he gave out as much as $2 million dollars in contracts for lease of equipment. That man's work is uniquely different from anything else, anywhere on the face of the globe, and that is true of so many jobs associated with the oil fields on the North Slope of Alaska. Because of the Arctic climate, many positions have been created and developed that have no parallel at all in any other project. Very often there is no available training, such as with university degrees, for the job requirements are unique to the Alaska oil fields, and there certainly is no university found out in the tundra on the North Slope!

I know of one man who was a sheep herder in Wyoming, and he operated a huge ranch. He came to Alaska because he heard of the exorbitant wages on the Pipeline, and he wanted a slice of the cake. He started as a general worker at the very inception of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, and today he is an invaluable executive with Atlantic Richfield (ARCO). He had no specific training—he was trained on the field, and I personally heard him say that he cannot be transferred because there is no other job like his at any other place on earth. This man is so unique that he virtually knows where every nut and bolt is at Prudhoe Bay, and he is quite irreplaceable. Mr. X remarked to me one day that if he ever wanted anything, he would simply go to this particular man. He seemed to always know where everything was.

Such a man is invaluable, if only because of the high turnover of the labor force on the Alaska North Slope. Many of those who had been there for comparatively short periods of time had no idea as to what had gone on before they had arrived, or as to the way certain activities developed. Over and over again the very nature of the field demands training that is simply not available anywhere else. This can be found only in the “University of Hard Knocks.” The Alaska oil fields certainly is one big branch in that University!

The dorms in which the men lived in the camps were very well appointed. There were two men in each room in a 52-room section. Men shared common baths in these common dormitory areas. As that executive stated, the food was the best you would find anywhere in the world. During the first year of pipeline construction, it was not unusual to have steak and lobster twice a week. I sat one evening and watched a man eat two steaks, and then he put one in his lunch sack so that he would be able to carry it off to eat on the job the next day. Nowhere but on the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline would you see a welder heating up his steak out on the job with a welding torch, while the steak was on a big piece of metal. He was actually heating the steak from the bottom side of the metal!

The food was always in plentiful supply, being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The men did not pay for their food, nor did they pay for their candy bars or pop. They simply took all they wanted.

Another thing the general public does not know is that everything the men earned (after taxes and deductions) they could take home with them, because their dorms and all food were free. It was not unusual to see a weekly take-home paycheck of $1,000 after all taxes and deductions had been taken from the salary. In fact, the largest paycheck I saw for seven days of work was actually over $3,000 for an ordinary working man. Workers on the oil field did not exactly starve—in fact, most people would consider that their conditions were very desirable.

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