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.

cat-train string on the move.jpg

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.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting reading about this, Teena. Thanks for telling about it. Marianne