Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28, 2010

I've been home from my job in Deadhorse for 6 days now and will soon have to leave for another stretch of work away from home. I've enjoyed lazy days and the company of Jim and our dogs.

For Jim and me, being apart is hard and time together is always precious. For the dogs, I come and go in their lives and they have gotten used to it. Jim is the constant in their world. Toby takes a day at a time VERY slowly now. He spends most of his time sleeping, usually under the woodstove or on his big pillow. In his old age, he can't handle the cold outdoors for very long at a time, and is getting unstable on his legs.

Ruby, however, is growing up and is a big bundle of soft fur and exuberence. She rarely leaves Jim's side inside or outside. She does get excited to see me when I come home though, and is willing to devote a portion of her time to me as well as her master. We play outside, go for long walks, cuddle indoors, and I enjoy burying my hands in her amazingly soft fur as she rests her head on my shoulder. With little effort (besides complete devotion) she has given us a lot of pleasure and carved a special place in our hearts.

She is so well furred, that she seems impervious to the cold and loves the outdoors. Here are some pictures of her enjoying the outdoors:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring Work Part II

Continuation of "Spring Work Part I":

It took 2 days to get to the first stop-over location, Kogru, where other equipment waited to be added to the train. This equipment had been stored on the Kogru runway over the off-travel season, due to spring weather complications last winter travel season. The train stopped each night along the way for crew to sleep, eat, and take care of travel needs. Like Winnebago travelers, the crew carried their "house" and all they needed with them. After a few day's layover at Kogru getting the stored equipment up and running, the cat-train strings continued west to their final destinations. One cat-train headed north to Drew Point and another south to the site on the Ikpikpuk River.

Logistics and support for all the people and equipment in these remote "camps" is a lot of work. One small cat-train is designated for resupply and runs back and forth almost constantly from the staging pad at Oliktok to the remote camps for the resupply of fuel and large items like replacement equipment. It usually takes about 2 1/2 days to travel one-way between the staging pad at Oliktok and Drew Point Camp, 3 days minimum to Ikpikpuk Camp. The Supply Train always has a survival unit (called the Escalade) with it for living quarters along the way. Storms can blow up at times and make traveling impossible, so the crew needs a warm place out of the storm to "hole up" until travel can be resumed.

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Double tank fuel sled.

Groceries and other supplies, mail, small equipment parts, and personnel are flown to and from Deadhorse to the remote camps by aircraft. Runways were made at each site on lake ice, by plowing the snow off to make smooth landing surfaces. Marsh Creek charters Bald Mountain Air Taxi to make almost daily flights, usually with a DeHavilland Single-engine Turbo Otter. Bald Mt.Air's Twin-engine Otter has also been used on the job.

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Plowing the runway at the Ikpikpuk site.

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Single-engine Otter landing on lake-ice runway at Ikpikpuk.

I visited the Drew Point Camp on March 8th and it was a cold, clear day. I was able to see the camp, where up to 42 people can be housed, although there were only 25 people there at the time. Plus I got a tour of the pit operations, where all the work was being done to remediate the old well site, including the removal of pit material and 15 feet of well pipe.

Drew Point Camp aerial.jpg Drew Point Camp aerial

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Drew Point Camp 3-8-10

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Teena & Marvin St. Clair (medic) at Drew Point 3-8-10

Both camps have medics that also act as weather reporters for flights coming and going. I've worked with Marvin on other slope jobs, so it was fun to get to see him on this job. That has been a fun part of this job, I've gotten to see lots of old friends from my previous years working in the oilfield. [This has mostly happened at the airport as people come and go to the slope. When I'm there on Marsh Creek errands, I often get to see friends from other companies.

The remediation work at the old well site at Drew Point seen from the air was only a small dark spot in a world of white.

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Drew Point old well site along coast - Arctic Ocean beyond.

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Drew Point Reserve Pit work removing material.

Marsh Creek introduced new side-dump sets with tracks for hauling the removed material on the overland trail to the Ikpikpuk Site. It is about a 12 hour round trip and will take many trips to complete the job. Drivers will be working around the clock until the job is done. Time is pressing and everyone and all the equipment must be done and off the ice by the end of April.

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Steigers pulling side-dumps along trail. The new side-dumps had just reached their

1000 miles benchmark.

Keeping track of all the equipment on this job is part of my job and I hope you've enjoyed hearing and seeing a little of what I've been involved with this spring.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Work Part I

I started working a new job away from home on February 1st. I'm doing mostly administration work, with a little expediting and housekeeping thrown in. It is in Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay area on the North Slope) for a company doing remote clean-up and remediation of old military oil exploration sites in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) this winter.

The company, Marsh Creek LLC, has a contract with the Borough of Land Management (BLM) to clean-up, support the old well site's "Plug and Abandon" crew, plus remove the contaminated gravel from a reserve pit near Drew Point on the Arctic coast SE of Barrow, and haul the material to another reserve pit well inland at another site on the Ikpikpuk River SW of Teshekpuk Lake. The coastal site is threatened by erosion and must be cleaned up before the entire site becomes exposed and contaminated materials fall into the ocean.

It is a major undertaking because the work is being done at an extremely remote area on the North Slope where no roads exist, so access is very difficult. This is in what Marsh Creek specializes. Using multi-unit "cat trains" pulled by large "tractors", whole "camps" are moved across the frozen ocean ice or tundra to the remote site. Everything is on sleds or have large ski gear. Everything needed to live and conduct the job is included in these "trains", from sleeping units, bathroom/laundry units, generators, water-making units, kitchen/dining units, office/communications units, fuel tanks, shops, incinerator units, and flatbed style sleds that carry heavy equipment like front-end loaders, trucks, heavy-duty outdoor heaters, and other machinery.

This year Marsh Creek has two remote "camps" in place. All work begins at Marsh Creek's shops and the home-base operations center ("camp"), as they're called on the slope, no matter how big a facility it is) in Deadhorse, where most of the oil industry's suppport businesses are located. Equipment and travel units had been gone over with a fine tooth comb in preparations for commencing the job.

Work at the remote areas couldn't begin until the ocean ice along the coast was strong enough to support the weight of the huge sleds and track vehicles moving along a predetermined route along the northern coastline, just off-shore. (The ice of northern lakes is another preferred travel surface, since that is much easier to travel on then rough tundra.) Marsh Creek has the necessary state and federal off-road travel permits required for ice trails or traveling across frozen tundra areas. Drilling holes to check ice depth is routine along the way before any heavy equipment can proceed., and careful aerial checks are made of the route ahead of time. Even "Forward Looking Infared" (FLIR) cameras are used to check out each camp site plus the entire travel route ahead of time for any possible polar bear dens, which must be avoided, even it it means chosing a new camp site or a long detour along the route.

When I first came to work, the first "cat-train" string was being delivered to the Trailhead near Oliktok by CH2M Hill trucks. (The sled units and tractors making up the "cat-train" strings do not travel on the road system, but must be hauled to the Trailhead by flatbed trucks. It is about 70 miles from Deadhorse to Oliktok on the permenant gravel road system.) A staging pad out on the ocean ice had been plowed clear of snow just off the road system at Oliktok. This is where all the equipment and traveling units were unloaded off the big trucks and then assembled into the cat-trains, sometimes called "strings". The trail had already been laid out with GPS coordinates and once all was ready, off the trains went. There were 13 strings each with its own power engine (like a Case Steiger track vehicle, or D-7 cat), plus a pickup truck on Mattracks leading the way.

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Marsh Creek Cat-train moving along Arctic Ocean ice.

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Cat-train string on the move.

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Case Steiger pulling tracked trailer.

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Case Steiger pulling Loader with Trimmer Set-up traveling across ice on a cold winter day.

Stay tuned for Spring Work Part II, and I'll tell you more about my job and this whole operation.