Traveller in time
16/10/2006 The first well on the NCS was spudded by Esso 40 years ago from the Ocean Traveler rig. In 1966, specialists had to be fetched from abroad to teach the Norwegians about oil. Tom Pogue was one of them.
Text: Pål Espen M. Kilstad. Photo: Emile Ashley.
Tom Pogue alongside his old friend Roy Bridges (with cigar) who worked as engineers on Ocean Traveler. The picture of Mr Bridges is part of an exhibition at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum in Stavanger.
Most of the foreigners on the rig had five to 10 years of experience, recalls the 67-year-old Texan. "The Norwegians were totally green, which was a fairly big problem for the rest of us. "We suddenly found ourselves with a team of unskilled drillers and 'floor hands' who didn't know much English, either. That created difficult working conditions." The first well turned out to be a duster (dry), and it took another 30 before a commercial discovery was made. Many people, including Tom Pogue, began to lose faith: "A lot of us doubted whether we'd find oil. I think that, in our heart of hearts, we wanted to be on the flight home after we'd finished drilling the second well. "Because Norway was such an attractive and pleasant country, we didn't really think there would be any oil there. We probably regarded the job as an adventure, an experience and chance to see the world. "It wasn't until we encountered the right sediments and thick deposits of salt that we began to believe this might nevertheless pay off. "Now, of course, we naturally think it's something special to have been involved from the start. At that time, though, we didn't regard it as historic. It was just a job."
Mr Pogue was a newly-graduated geologist with just a few years of work experience when he arrived in Norway to work for Baroid, a company which later became part of Halliburton. He had never heard of Stavanger, and only took the job after checking that it was not on Svalbard. He has seen most aspects of Norway's oil adventure, but not all his memories are pleasant. "Little attention was paid to safety in the early days," he says. "People had fingers cut off or crushed, or suffered burns and other injuries. "A lot of them came from the countryside, after all, and had no experience. They wanted to earn good money, but had little training in using the equipment on board."
The relaxed Texan's 40-year career has not been short of dramatic moments. He particularly remembers one morning in November 1966, when supply ship Smit-Lloyd 8 collided with Ocean Traveler and holed one of its columns so that the rig almost capsized. "We'd just logged a discovery and had prepared to change out the core barrel, and I'd gone to my cabin to rest while this was being done," says Mr Pogue. "We suddenly heard a lot of noise, and then the alarm sounded. At first we thought it had been triggered in error, which happened sometimes, but we realised it was serious when the table slid across the deck and hit the wall. "Apart from a few crew members, everyone was ordered to abandon the rig and were later picked up by the supply ship. Some were also winched up by helicopter from the lifeboats. "The helicopters made a lot of extra flights that day - and we didn't get back offshore until the following spring." When Mr Pogue, who still works for Halliburton, is asked whether he misses anything from those pioneering days, he gives a hearty laugh:
- "Yes, I miss being 27 and newly in love."
This article was first published in Norwegian Continental Shelf no. 2-2006