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  Field Notes From
End of Cheap Oil

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From Author

Tim Appenzeller

End of Cheap Oil On Assignment

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From Photographer

Sarah Leen

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Mark Thiessen (top) and Jésus Lopez


End of Cheap Oil On Assignment End of Cheap Oil On Assignment
End of Cheap Oil

Field Notes From Author
Tim Appenzeller

Best Worst Quirkiest
    While photographer Sarah Leen and I were at the top of an oil rig, the safety officer regaled us with stories of his days working in oil fields all over the world, including West Texas and Africa. He was a very interesting guy. He told us how it was much more dangerous back then than it is now. He even recommended some Texas oil field reading for us, a funny and sort of raunchy novel called Chocolate Lizards, by Cole Thompson. The name comes from the dark brown lizard-skin boots that are apparently quite prized among Texas oilmen.

    Some experiences tapped into my claustrophobia and my fear of heights. I went to a dry dock in Corpus Christi to see an oil platform that was being prepared to go out to sea. These things are huge. This one was probably 150 feet (46 meters) high. It was already floating in fairly
shallow water. I was taken down into the pontoons, which was like being in a grimy submarine. You go through these narrow passages and you have to watch out for banging your head. Then there's the tremendous noise of machinery, the heat, the smell of fresh paint, and lots of watertight doors. By the time I got out of there, I was sweating from more than just the heat.
        Later I was out in the Gulf on a drill ship. It's a very big ship, about 830 feet (250 meters) long. The top of the derrick is 400 feet (122 meters) above the water. That's higher than a redwood tree. I went up in a rickety elevator with Sarah and the rig safety officer. We stood up there in this open metal latticework way above the Gulf and looked down on the drilling floor and the ship's deck. Yeah, I was a little queasy for a bit.

    National Geographic arranged a rental car for me when I went to Canada to report on the oil sands. But the rental car company at the airport gave me a Mustang GT. It had hood scoops, rumbling exhausts, and chrome wheels. It looked like a car for a 17 year old (and I'm 44).
    While in Edmonton I had an appointment with Shell Canada Senior Vice
President Neil Camarta at a facility that converts tar from the oil sands into oil. I rumbled up in this gas-hog Mustang, and this high-ranking oil company official showed up in a fuel-efficient Honda Civic. That was really embarrassing.


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