Monday, July 28, 2008

Trip to the North Slope

On Saturday the 26th I was one of 110 people fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to the North Slope to visit ConocoPhillips' Kuparuk River Unit. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, because the tickets for this trip are drawn lottery-style. Matt didn't actually win the tickets, but his friend Maria did. Both Matt and Maria were going to be on the Slope over the weekend, so Maria gave one of her tickets to her husband and the other one to me. I wasn't really sure what to expect out of this trip, but I'll say that I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

I had an early check-in at the Shared Services desk (the airline that services BP and ConocoPhillips). To be parked at the airport and checking in at 7:30 was brutal for me, but I managed to do it. I snagged a Starbucks before boarding the plane, but little did I know that unlike today's commercial flights, I'd be treated like royalty on this plane. Shortly after takeoff, the super-friendly stewardesses came by and gave us all cinnamon rolls that were the size of my HAND. I kid you not. Yes, I scarfed it down in record time. We also had coffee. Yum.

About 45 minutes into the flight, the captain came on and informed us that we were about to pass Denali. Sure enough, I looked out the plane and saw THE mountain to my left. The pilot did a fly-by for each side of the plane so we could all see it. It was an absolutely incredible sight. Only the top 2000 ft. or so were visible, but it was stunning nonetheless.

Denali from my seat in the plane

I was content to doze off after our mountain sighting. Another half-hour later, the pilot let us know that the pipeline and the Dalton Highway were visible below us, and we descended to about 3000 ft. to fly over them and sight-see. Incredible! We were near Galbraith at the time.

Pretty soon we were on the ground and were deplaning and loading a bus to ride to the camp. When we entered the camp, I saw Matt's friend Maria greeting passengers. I poked my head to the right of the line and saw Matt waiting for me. Score! I had a tour guide. After a short safety meeting, the rest of the passengers went with an official ConocoPhillips tour guide but Maria's husband (Matt) and I went with Maria and my Matt for our own personal tours.

The first order of business was to grab a hard hat, some goggles, ear protection, and to be fitted with a Nomex suit. Dead sexy, I tell you. Then we headed out to one of the drilling rig camps to grab some lunch. All free, of course. After we stuffed ourselves, we drove to the drilling rig and watched as some of the workers pulled pipe. The rig foreman gave us a tour of the drilling rig from top to bottom. I saw where the drilling mud is made, mixed, and distributed. We ventured onto the platform where work was going on. Scary!! Huge equipment and very heavy, loud, and quick-moving. A dangerous job, for sure, if you're not light on your feet.

Standing on the rig looking upward at the pipe

Coming down off the rig. Look at the tundra behind me - how pristine! They are SUPER careful and there are so many regulations......the area looks virtually untouched.

Under the rig. The thing is moveable!! HUGE tires. Supporting 11.75 MILLION pounds!

After we finished visiting the rig, we headed over to the Seawater Treatment Plant (known as STP.) As we pulled up, Maria warned us that polar bears were frequently seen in the vicinity. In fact, the STP has a CAGE in front of the door to the building. The cage stays shut and when you walk out of the building, you're supposed to check for bears before opening the cage. I kid you not. There was actually a polar bear at STP shortly after we left!!

We toured the annals of the STP and learned how the water is treated and is used in oil recovery. It's as cold as 28 degrees when it enters the plant in the winter time! Of course, there is always driftwood and debris present, so the water has to be filtered. Some funny little prehistoric-looking critters called amphipods also get screened out. I picked one up to snack on. Yes, it was alive. No, I didn't really eat it. It was just my own "Man vs. Wild" moment.

Mmm, tasty snack. Lots of valuable protein.

Matt and Me in front of the Arctic Ocean

After the STP tour, we headed back to camp for a snack and a tour of the camp. Working there would be a pretty sweet deal if you could stand the hours!!

We boarded the plane at 4:30 and headed back to Anchorage. I didn't take any photos on the way back. In fact, I slept most of the way. But ConocoPhillips was generous enough to provide an evening snack and free adult beverages on the flight. I did wake up enough to fix myself (and drink) a Crown and Coke. Yum.

All in all, it was a delightful day! I was so very impressed with Conoco. The wildlife is alive and well. Caribou are abundant. Geese are everywhere. Wildlife has the right-of-way and cannot be harrassed (or hazed, as they call it). Yes, we did have to sit in the truck to wait for a gaggle of geese to cross the road. Annoying but necessary.

I say THUMBS UP for the Gas line!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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