03 December 2009

On Tour 1 - Welcome to the Hotel California

On a lecture tour of the western side of the US for AAPG. Apparently this makes me distinguished, which I think has something to do with having grey hair...

A few friends have congratulated me on this although given all the other stuff I am supposed to be doing I am not exactly sure why I said yes. I think it is a combination of vanity and insecurity. The vanity is self explanatory, the insecurity is because I am still amazed people actually invite me to do these sort of things and paranoid that if I say no, maybe they won't ever ask me again. Anyway, away from the navel-gazing, I guess I should just enjoy the trip.

Left Norway very early on Wednesday morning and had an amazing flight over. I had not had chance to get the talks together before I left so I was trying to be disciplined on the plane, no movies, just work! Crossing Greenland the sky was totally clear and we seemed to be flying pretty low - it was awesome, so beautiful, I just sat and stared out the window for about half an hour. Glaciers, icelfields, fjords, and snow capped mountains all by the light of a full moon - utterly fantastic and totally pristine. I so want to go there.

After Greenland the cloud came in so I got some work done until we got over northern Canada. Crossing the Northern Territories you realise how much space that there is on earth. Mostly empty, with very rare isolated towns and fantastic fluvial geomorphology. I think I even spotted Yellowknife where an old friend has ended up living, 64 degrees north without the Gulf Stream is a whole lot different to 64 degrees north in Norway (Trondheim).

Then over the Canadian Rockies which were in fine form. The knife sharp contact between the mountains and the plains of the foreland basin, the linear ridges of the upthrusted blocks and the very consistent westerly dip of the beds, all captured in majestic snow covered mountains. I love geology (and yes I am a geek).

Flew into LAX and then on to Bakersfield California. The coast of California is beautiful and as you head in-land you cross the coastal foothills covered in vine yards and farms. Then things flatten out and you cross huge farms in the mile square, chequerboard pattern of the township-range. Looking down at this it is hard not to thing of Steinbeck and it evokes a strange, nostalgic feeling for the time in Chile when I was reading his books.

Bakersfield was an eye-opener. A small piece of Texas had been transported west. Flat terrain, low rise buildings, brash shop fronts, big pickups on wide roads and and oil wells on street corners. Without the palm trees along the road side it would have been tough to actually know the difference. Welcome to the oil patch.

I was jet lagged and very tired as I drove from the little airport in to town. I think was starting to halucinate as I watched a huge glowing red sun set through the hazy between some 70's modern architecture and a palm tree and couldn't stop singing "welcome to the hotel California" to myself. I was looking at the album cover, or at least the copy that is stored in my memory.

I bombed when I hit the hotel and woke up early next morning to finish my talk. My host was younger than she had sounded on the phone, but no less vacuous. She took me to the tallest building in Bakersfield (7 stories!) and to the petroleum club on the top floor. I set up whilst the good ole boys of the oilfield rolled in and sat down to lunch.

I gave my talk, about the story of building the company, the technology and the challenges of being a bit different. It was a bit long, but they were attentive and I was impressed by the quality and the number of questions that followed. Then they where gone and I was alone.

Miss Vacuous had suggested I visit the oilfield and then her and her colleagues would take me to dinner at 6pm. This is always a conundrum of these things, your host feels obliged to be hospitable, although you know they probably can't be arsed and you feel obliged to be socialable. I was in two minds, but since I hadn't spoken to anyone socially for 2 days and the prospect of another evening alone in a hotel room was not great I said yes. I went back and worked for a couple of ours with the goal of hitting this famous oil field for sunset. Left the hotel at 4.30 and the sun was already dropping below the horizon. Bugger! Mistimed that one, which is why I will never make it as a professional photographer. I headed to the oilfield which lies on the edge of town anyway.

I have seen onshore fields before but never anything like this. Its heavy oil, shallow, no pressure and a very old field. One of the guys at lunch had said it was 4 billion barrels in place and they have produced 2 already. Lots of steam injection and all sorts of potential for environmental fuckups, especially next to a river when the top-seal is the water table. I had tried to ask about this, but he hadn't understood the question, so the conversation had degnerated to bashing that "socialist Obama". Yes it really was like being back in Houston.

On a more useful note, Matey-boy had told me that the wells are on a half acres spacing. That might not tell you a lot until you think that means you would get 6 on a soccer field, they are about 30 m apart. But even that implies a degree of order that just didn't exist. It was chaos, nodding donkeys everywhere, big ones, small ones, pipes, cables, compressors, well heads, jostling for space on a dusty hillside and as it dark, it got more menacing.

Took some pics and headed back into town. Didn't get the call for dinner until 7.30 by which point I had decided to bail anyway, so I grabbed a bite and headed to bed early with the goal of using the remnants of the jet lag to help me get up at 4.30 for my flight to Colorado.

1 comment:

Ethan Smith said...
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