Tuesday, December 16, 2008

THAAD and Citi

There is an interesting news item out of Dubai. It is all over the Middle East news organizations but it is very difficult to find any mention of it on CNN, Fox or the US media.

The US is planning to sell a new missile defense system, called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, to Dubai. The cost is about $7 billion. The story in Gulf News is here.

This system will be different from other missile defense system installed in foreign countries in that it will not be manned and operated by US soldiers. It will be sold outright to the United Arab Emirates and operated by them. This essentially places classified technology in the hands of a foreign nation. A nation, that although it is friendly to the US and an ally in the war on terror, has a steady stream of dhows sailing between Dubai and Iran with almost no customs control. Can you say “smugglers paradise”?

The stated objective of the missile defense system is to protect UAE assets, but it’s difficult to figure out just what those assets are. Their oil reserves are in decline. That’s why they have embarked on the mega building campaign. They need to replace the money from the sale of oil with other commerce. The “Navy Base” is only a concrete dock and few trailers. Is it needed to protect the world’s tallest building and the world’s biggest shopping mall?

My guess is that it is placed there to protect other GCC (Gulf Cooperative Council) countries such as Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which do have large energy assets and would be embarrassed by the need to have US military installations within their borders.

Oh, yeah. Your Congress Critters approved this. Do you remember seeing that news?

And in other news that you won’t see in the US media; Citibank has loaned Dubai about $8 billion dollars. Yup, the bank that was just bailed out with $45 billion is loaning money to one of the richest little countries in the world. With Abu Dhabi Investment Authority owning 4.9% of Citi and a Saudi Prince owning 5%, doesn’t this loan have a little odor to it? Especially given the recent concern about property investments in the UAE.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New Offshore Subsea Record

Shell has set a new oil industry record by drilling and completing a subsea well in 9,356’ of water. This is the deepest well ever drilled. The location is 200 miles offshore. The well is part of the Perdido field development that will start production in 2010 at a rate of 130,000 barrels per day. The graphic will give you a chronology of the progression to deep water oil developments.

In case you wondered, this oil is brought to you courtesy of deep water royalty relief. That’s one of the domestic oil incentives that the Dems want to eliminate.

And for those of you who think the oil industry isn’t high tech, take another look. We don’t just send a little vehicle out to scoop a few samples of dirt and take a few pictures. This is like trying to thread a needle from a height of 10 feet. And we do real work down there. We set equipment weighing tons from miles away using remote tools and we set it within a few inches. That equipment then has to operate for years without being touched by human hands once it’s installed. In no other industry can you find a similar mix of brute strength, reliability and precision.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Whale Scratching Post

Is your subsea manifold a little bent out of shape? This may be why.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Another Friend Gone

I just heard of the untimely death of a friend of mine. I worked with him for over 20 years. And he was younger than me. You expect the old timers to pass but not us “young” guys.

He was great to be with on a construction site. He had that laid back, shit kicking, slow talking Texan manner with a dry wit and well developed sense of irony. He could always be counted on for a humorous country analogy that described any situation you might be in.

My favorite story about him happened when he was being considered for a position in the Princeton, NJ engineering office. He was probably the first guy to interview in cowboy boots. I think you can visualize the image here. At the end of a day of interviews, the HR folks are describing the housing options available in the area. He learned that housing cost was much higher and living space was much less that what he was used to in Texas. He looks them in the eye and drawls, “Now tell me again why I would want to lower my standard of livin’ to work here?”

That was Dave. You’ll be missed.

Turkey Day

My wife decided to host Thanksgiving Dinner at our house this year. As the oldest of nine, the family gatherings can be fairly large. She spent two days cooking in preparation for 25 guests with the assistance of the two oldest grandsons as sous chefs. The oldest, J, has shown an early interest in cooking and likes to get in the kitchen with Grandma at every opportunity. The middle one, D, hates to be outdone by his older brother. She never thought that it would be her grandsons helping her out in the kitchen. It’s all the more unusual because, as a baby, J was a very picky eater. He survived his early years on a diet of chicken nuggets and french fries.

The youngest grandson, P, was looking forward to Thanksgiving as he heard his second cousin, Josh, would be among the guests. The two formed a strong bond a few months ago when they discovered a shared love of Transformers. And at four years old, they like the mechanical ones, not Megan Fox.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the turkey gumbo that we make from the leftovers. Use the turkey carcass to make a stock Make your roux as normal, throw in the holy trinity, add the turkey stock and water to the desired consistency and toss in the leftover turkey, andouille sausage and oysters if you got ‘em. Finish off with green onion and parsley. We use three kinds of pepper for heat – white, black and red.

My Yankee Cousin arrives tomorrow for a few days. He’s coming down for a convention. His favorite meal, barbecue shrimp, will be on the menu sometime this week. They don’t make that in Rhode Island. And if the fishing gods smile, he may be carrying some fresh haddock.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dubai Builds Worlds Biggest Cess Pit

The Gulf News brings us a story of the solution to illegal dumping by vacuum truck operators. It seems that the truck drivers have been dumping their loads in storm drains becasue they didn't want to wait in line to unload at the sewage treatment plant. This has had a negative impact on the beaches in the expensive areas of Jumeirah Beach and the Duabi Marina where the brown turdfish have been found swimming free.

The solution is to dig a giant pit in the desert. The pit will serve 500 trucks per day. We are told that: "This is what mother nature does over the long term... some of the water will seep into the ground and some will evaporate. The lagoon will have four areas and eventually the water will get clearer," Najim told Gulf News. He said this technology is commonly used in countries that cannot afford proper facilities or infrastructure.

See, its all perfectly natural and "the site would be aerated naturally with only preliminary treatment. Reeds and bamboo will also be planted there to transfer oxygen to the sewage and help break it down." And, not to worry, "it is not just a hole in the desert, it has been engineered."

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Christmas Carol, Updated

I cannot count the number of times I have received emails from Nigerian 419 scammers. I thought I had seen all of the permutations of the letter designed to hook unwary victims, but today I saw one with a new spin.

It seems a Mr. Shu Ya Huo is rich and is dying from esophageal cancer that has “defiled all forms of medicine”. He now regrets that he has lived his life as a selfish man. He says, “I was always hostile to people and only focus on my business as that is the only thing I cared for.” He has given most of his wealth to friends, family and charities in the UK, Ireland and Brazil. Alas, he has now lost his power of speech and due to his failing health cannot do this by himself anymore. However, he still has a few dollars lying around and he wants to give that away as well. He had asked a family member to help in his philanthropic endeavors, but the greedy SOB kept the money for himself. Therefore, Mr. Shu does not trust them with this, his final transaction. He has a sum of money in his “Bank in London” and he is asking me to “collect this deposit and dispatched it to charity organizations”.

The letter doesn’t mention the amount of money or what my take of the loot may be. That is the interesting twist. Evidently, the curiosity and humanity of the recipient will be the bait that lures him into the trap. And coming at Christmas, it is timed to appeal to the charity minded. After all, who could resist this chance to help a stranger in need when he wants to do such good works during the season of giving? The only thing missing in this updated version of a Charles Dickens classic is Tiny Tim.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hurricane Shut in Statistics

According to the MMS, as of November 19, 58 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are still shut in. That's down from 81 one month ago. These platforms account for about 212,000 barrels per day of oil and 1,800,000,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas. That's about 16% of the oil and 24% of the gas produced in the GOM.

Things are improving slowly, but we are coming up on the winter months when the weather makes offshore construction work difficult.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gun Sales and the Dems

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the party that espouses gun control is the leading cause for gun sales? I hope someone will tally up the number of "assault weapons" sold recently due to the election of a Democrat controlled government.

Don't forget the BUYcott on ammo on November 19.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Throw Me Something, Mister

Nancy and Harry are like two people who are taking their first ride on a Mardi Gras float.

Anyone who has ridden in a Mardi Gras parade knows the feeling. You are standing above the crowd looking out over the adoring throng. Their arms are uplifted and they are all screaming, “Throw me something, Mister.” You get carried away by the excitement and start throwing beads as fast as you can. You try to saturate the crowd with beads. By the half way point of the parade, your beads are gone and all you can do is stand there and shrug your shoulders at those people still clamoring for beads.

Experienced riders know to ration their beads. They set aside some beads for use in the latter half of the parade. They don’t throw beads to just anyone but single out cute kids, good looking women or grandmas. Maybe they entice young hotties to flash their tits. But they have a system and they stick with it. And they finish the parade with beads to spare. These beads form the basis of next year’s parade. A little lagniappe as it were.

But Harry and Nancy are riding the lead float in the Krewe of Dems and they are going to be throwing beads to the locals as fast as they can while singing “Laissez le bon temps roule”. And they won’t be the cheap beads, no. They will be throwing the long stands of pearls. And they will run out before the parade ends. And there will be no beads for next year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Marlin Fishing

This is a cool video of a marlin stuck in a BOP (Blow Out Preventer) . Watch the skill of the ROV operator.

This is an example of the things that make the offshore oil industry fun.

Veterans Day

If your veteran was at Omaha Beach, remember them by adding their photo to the web site of my friend, Laurent.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Euphoria Overseas

The evening news recently had a short piece about Americans living and traveling overseas. It seems that since the election, they are no longer ashamed to be seen as Americans and are once again proudly claiming their nationality. They have taken to wearing clothes with American symbols and are hanging out at American establishments.

As someone who has traveled to areas of the globe that are less than friendly to Americans, PE urges expats to exercise caution.

The people who would do harm to Americans have not changed their attitudes because of the results of the recent election. They still hold tightly to their anti-American agenda and nothing short of death will cause them to change their minds. It is not the shop owner who complains to you about America’s foreign policy that you have to worry about, but the radical militant that you never see coming. To think otherwise is naive. And it would be no surprise to me if some radicals decided to test the Obama presidency by pulling off an attack on Americans overseas.

If you tire of complaints from foreigners about America, I suggest you visit Normandy, France or Seoul, South Korea. There you will find many people who will openly thank you for the assistance America gave to them.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Funny

First-year students at Texas A&M's Vet school were receiving their first anatomy class, with a real dead cow. They all gathered around the surgery table with the body covered with a white sheet.

The professor started the class by telling them, 'In Veterinary Medicine it is necessary to have two important qualities as a doctor: The first is that you not be disgusted by anything involving the animal body.' For an example, the Professor pulled back the sheet, stuck his finger in the butt of the dead cow, withdrew it and stuck his finger in his mouth. 'Go ahead and do the same thing,' he told his students.

The students freaked out, hesitated for several minutes, but eventually took turns sticking a finger in the anal opening of the dead cow and sucking on it.

When everyone finished, the Professor looked at them and said, 'The second most important quality is observation. I stuck in my middle finger and sucked on my index finger. Now learn to pay attention. Life's tough; it's even tougher if you're stupid.'

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day 2008

Now that we’re back on standard time, it is darker than normal during my morning drive to work. This morning, a coyote ran across the road in front of me. He was almost road kill. He was coming from a residential area and running to a small wooded section near the river. I wonder if the folks living in the nearby developments are missing any pets. I sure hope his running in front of me was a good omen for the election today.

In case you ever wondered why we vote on Tuesdays in the month of November, it was because we used to be a nation of farmers. November was selected because the crops were in and there was a lull in farm work. Tuesday was selected because it usually took a day to travel to the polling place. (We rode horses, remember?) Therefore, Monday and Wednesday were travel days and you didn’t have to violate the Sabbath.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Look, Ma, I'm Driving!

Grandson at the controls of the USS Albacore.

and driving a DUKW at Boston Ducks.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Share the Wealth

Found in my email:

Yesterday on my way to lunch at Doe's, I passed one of the homeless guys in that area
with a sign that read "Vote Obama, I need the money."

Once in the Doe's my waiter had on a "Obama 08" tee shirt.

When the bill came, I decided not to tip the waiter and explained to him while he had given me exceptional service, that his tee shirt made me feel he obviously believes in Senator Obama's plan to redistribute the wealth. I told him I was going to redistribute his tip to someone that I deemed more in need--the homeless guy outside. He stood there in disbelief and angrily stormed away.

I went outside, gave the homeless guy $3 and told him to thank the waiter inside, as I had decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy looked at me in disbelief but seemed grateful.

As I got in my truck, I realized this rather unscientific redistribution experiment had left the homeless guy quite happy for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn.

Well, I guess this redistribution of wealth is going to take a while to catch on with those doing the work.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Battle off Samar

By all accounts, Thomas Lupo was a wild kid in his youth. Growing up Italian in New Orleans could do that. After all, the lynching of eleven Italians for the murder of Police Chief David Hennessey was still in the memory of the older members of the population.

He enlisted as soon as he heard the news of Pearl Harbor. The Navy taught him to fly TBM Avengers and in October 1944 he was part of VC-68 on board the USS Fanshaw Bay (CVE-70). They were part of Task Unit 77.4.3, known as Taffy 3, providing air cover and ground support for the invasion of Leyte in the Phillipines. Things had been active since 20 October when MacArthur staged his return and the Navy had been particularly busy in decimating the Japanese Naval Forces in several historic actions, including the last classic naval gun duel, during the week. But on 25 October, the action was going to involve Lt (jg) “Lucky Loop” Lupo.

The Japanese had devised a typically complicated attack plan which involved splitting their forces and using decoys. The US Navy had decimated the Japanese fleet but had lost track one group of Japanese ships. It was also about this time that Admiral Halsey, with his attack carriers, was lured out of position by the Japanese decoy operation. That left the landing beach on Leyte Island exposed when Adm. Kurita’s fleet led by the Yamato came through the San Bernadino Strait from north side of the island of Samar. The only thing between him and the almost defenseless landing operation was Task Unit 77.4.3 which consisted of a 3 destroyers, 4 destroyer escorts and 6 escort carriers commanded by Adm. Clifton “Ziggy’ Sprague. The Japanese brought 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers to the party. The US Navy was heavily outgunned.

If the Japanese fleet reached the landing beaches they could decimate the troops and spoil MacArthur’s great return. The only option was to attack to try to gain some time until help arrived. Adm Sprague ordered the DDs and DEs to attack, launched all his planes and then turned the CVEs around and tried to escape.

It was a target rich environment for the pilots and they quickly expended their ordinance. “Lucky Loop” Lupo was one of the first to empty his bomb racks and his guns. Then, in keeping with his wild boy persona, he buzzed at the Japanese ships and threw loose items from his cockpit at them. Other pilots did the same or fired their pistols at the ships. By all accounts, the Japanese were dumbstruck at the sight of pilots firing their handguns at battleships. The image would be comical if the circumstances weren’t so deadly. But the tactic proved useful. When faced with an aircraft lining up for a bombing run, the captain had no choice but to take evasive maneuvers and this prevented them, at least for a little while, from pressing their attack on the landing beach.

Now some 400 planes (while the only the ships of Taffy 3 had direct contact, the aircraft from all “Taffy” groups attacked the Japanese) had the problem of where to go. They couldn’t return to their ships as they were under fire and steaming away from the big Japanese ships as fast as they could. Lupo headed for the only place he could land – the newly captured landing strip at Tacloban. When he arrived, the Army was still bulldozing the strip to fill in bomb craters. Nevertheless, Lupo was able to land successfully and alert the Army that more Navy planes would be arriving soon. He then spotted a neat stack of bombs and “asked” to talk to the person in charge of it because he wanted to re-arm his plane. A US Army colonel then informed him that those bombs were for the use of the US Marines that would be arriving in a few days. Lupo’s response was an extreme example of “argumentum ad baculum”. He pulled his service revolver, pointed it at the Army officer and informed the Colonel that if he didn’t load those bombs, the Japanese were going come and take his precious bombs away from him. This bit of “upward management” was soon cooled off by a couple of junior officers who organized an impromptu air traffic control and re-arming system for the Navy planes. It was rough and definitely not by the book. In some cases, planes on their take off run played chicken with planes that landed behind them going in the opposite direction. But it worked. Planes were re-armed and they returned to harass the Japanese.

And at the height of the battle, when the DDs and DEs were dead in the water or sinking and everything seemed to be lost, Adm. Kurita inexplicably turned around and retreated. Perhaps he thought he was engaging a larger force. Perhaps he was a little gun shy after having his flagship torpedoed out from under him the day before. (It seems he made a habit of having ships sunk out from underneath him. The same thing happened to him at Midway) Perhaps he thought Halsey and the big carriers were going to arrive soon. No one knows, but leave he did, thereby saving the Yamato for another day. (When he was in his eighties, he finally admitted that he retreated because he did not see the sense in wasting more lives since he knew the war the lost.) He died in 1977.

Taffy 3 sank 2 heavy cruisers and knocked a third out of action. Taffy 3 lost 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers and 1 destroyer escort.

Halsey never got a chance to join the battle and spent the rest of his life trying to explain his absence that day. That one action tainted his entire career. But that’s another story.

Thomas Lupo was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He returned to New Orleans and lived there until his death in 2004. The Italian Navy named the LUPO class frigates after him. And that’s a little bit of Italian history from New Orleans.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Josephine's Rose Garden

My wife and I made the trip out to Chateau de Malmaison during our last trip to France. Chateau de Malmaison was the home of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine. She bought it in 1799 while he was away in Egypt (probably having learned that the best way for a wife to get what she wants is to do it while hubby is away) and proceeded to renovate the house and build one of the finest gardens in Europe. It was also the headquarters of the French government from 1800 to 1802. After Napoleon divorced Josephine in 1810, he gave the house to her and she lived there until her death in 1814.

The first time we tried to get there, we got lost and spent a couple of hours wandering around the small Paris suburb of Rueil on a Sunday. Being a Sunday in France, taxis were non-existent, so we gave up and went back to Paris. This time with the aid of our trusty guidebook, we found it with no trouble.

We both enjoy roses. We also enjoy visiting rose gardens in our travels. We knew that Napoleon brought rose bushes back for Josephine from all over the world. (The little guy was such a romantic underneath it all) and we were excited to see this one. We were expecting to see a fabulous rose garden, hopefully with rose bushes that had been imported by Napoleon himself. The chateau, after all, was famous for its rose garden. Pierre-Joseph Redouté, the botanical artist, used the roses in Josephine’s garden as models for his illustrations. The foreword to “Jardin de la Malmaison” (1803), which featured his paintings, read:

You have gathered around you the rarest plants growing on French soil....as we inspect them in the beautiful gardens of Malmaison, an impressive reminder of the conquests of your illustrious husband...

We arrived at the chateau a little after the hour of noon to find that the staff, every last one of them, had taken off for lunch. We were told they would return at 1:00. We cooled our heels until the lone gatekeeper finally allowed us inside to stroll the grounds until the staff returned to open the house. We wandered off to the rose garden and couldn’t believe our eyes. At one time it must have been a beautiful rose garden laid out in a formal design. Now it is overgrown with grass and weeds and it is only because France has a relatively dry climate that any rose bushes survive at all.

Chateau de Malmaison is a national museum and you would think it would be a matter of national pride to have a rose garden there that would rival Queen Mary’s Gardens in London. But, sadly, the legacy of Napoleon and Josephine and their roses has turned to weeds.

Trivia Alert: Josephine’s name was Rose but Napoleon hated it and refused to call her by that name.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hurricane Shut in Statistics

According to the MMS, as of yesterday, 81 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are still shut in. These platforms account for about 506,000 barrels per day of oil and 2,700,000,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas. That's about 39% of the oil and 37% of the gas produced in the GOM.

With hurricanes shutting in a significant portion of the Gulf of Mexico every couple of years, wouldn't it be a good idea to get some oil from a different geographical area?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Misinformation from the Dems

This is about the best summary I have seen regarding the statements the Dimmocrats are making about oil and gas leases going unused. This issue is a key plank in Obama's platform and this new report chews it up like a termite going after new pine boards.

The point is that leases have a fixed life. If they aren't used, the lease expires. No company wants to throw money away paying for leases that they don't use. Lets apply some common sense to the issue.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Hmmmm. Lets see……

Our Presidential candidates say our dependence of foreign oil is an issue of national security. I’m sure I heard that during the debates. I thought I heard them both say that drilling, at least in the near term was the best solution. (At least McCain did)

So, it appears that the path to reducing the need for foreign oil is to drilling the USA, especially offshore.

But Obama wants to tax the oil companies. Didn’t I hear him chastise John McCain because McCain’s tax plan gave the oil companies a tax break? And didn’t Obama want to penalize for oil companies for sitting on oil leases? (He’s wrong but that’s another story)

But didn’t HR 6899 limit drilling to those areas more than 100 miles offshore? Didn’t HR 6899 remove the royalty relief (that’s part of law) given to oil companies for deep water and deep gas? Didn’t HR 6899 penalize oil companies for not developing leases they own? Aren’t the issues above a big plank in Obama’s platform?

So, the way to encourage oil companies to drill in the USA, which Obama supports, is to (1) eliminate incentives, (2) remove offshore areas the pool of available leases, (3) increase taxes on them and (4) generally us them as a whipping dog for the Dimmocrat Party.

Somehow I’m not connecting the dots here.

I’m reminded of the story about the farmer who in talking about his neighbor said, “I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a liar, but every time he wants his cows to come in from pasture, he has to get someone else to call them.”

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hurricane Shut In Statistics

The latest MMS figures show 123 platforms still evacuated from the two storms. There is currently 764,000 Barrels per day of oil shut in (about 60% of normal production) and 3,500,000,000 cubic feet per day of gas shut in (about 50%).

What's the hold up, you say?

All that oil and gas has to find its way to shore via pipelines. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to verify that these pipelines have not been damaged. In some cases, they need to pressure test the entire length again. Pipelines gather production from several platforms into a single pipeline. If the pipeline is down, everything upstream is down.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hockey Stick Thinking

In the late 70’s, the oil industry used an optimistic oil price forecast when calculating the economics of a new oil development. They assumed the price of oil, then a little over $10 per barrel, would show a slight increase for several years, but after that, the price would increase dramatically, maybe 4 or 5 times. This pricing scenario was to become known as “The Hockey Stick” because the shape of the curve over time looked like that particular sporting implement. The hockey stick price projection, which everyone thought was the absolute truth, made even dog projects look good.

Of course, we now know that the price of oil did not increase dramatically in the 80’s. There was a period in the early 80’s where the price seemed to follow the prediction (there was that little problem with Iran), but by the mid 80’s, there was an oil glut and the price had fallen. The result was that oil companies became less and less profitable as their predictions of riches failed to come true. This resulted in a severe contraction of the industry. Lay offs and “early retirement packages” followed as companies downsized. Small service companies went out of business. Young people saw their parents out of work and did not follow them into the oil industry. Enrollments in reservoir engineering and geology curriculums dwindled to almost nothing at some universities.

Oil companies adjusted and revised their oil price predictions to be more of a flat line. In other words, they no longer assumed that the price of oil was predestined to increase every year. This made their economic evaluations much more conservative. The result was that only a worthy few projects made it through to the annual budget. But these projects made money and lived up to their economic predictions. Oil company profits increased. And it was a good thing because the industry was beginning to venture out into deeper water and the technology for that deeper water was not going to be cheap. The development costs were going to be much higher and mistakes made during project economic evaluation could have disastrous effects. Conservatism was the best way to proceed unless you wanted to break the company.

Even with today’s oil price over $100 per barrel, I doubt that you can find an oil company executive that would use those figures in his economic evaluation. He knows from past history that the price will not hold at those levels.

It looks as if the housing and mortgage industry got caught in their own version of Hockey Stick thinking. They assumed that housing would always increase in price. No one, it seems, took a step back and considered “What if?” Had they done so, or had they taken a lesson from the oil industry, we might not be in this situation today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ike Damage Report

The MMS reports the following:

Minerals Management Service (MMS) reports that as of September 17, 2008, 49 of the 3,800 offshore oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been destroyed by Hurricane Ike. Currently, MMS has no information on whether any of the destroyed platforms will be rebuilt by any operator. Oil and gas operators are also reporting damage to offshore infrastructure other than destruction. These reports are being analyzed by MMS and damage statistics will be released next week.

Initial estimates are that the 49 destroyed production platforms produced a total of 13,000 barrels of oil per day and 84 million cubic feet of gas per day.

Additional damage reported includes three jack-up and one platform drilling rigs destroyed and one jack-up drilling rig with extensive damage.

On-going reports indicate that there are five gas transmission pipeline systems with damage. The full extent of damage will not be available until operators are able to test the systems. MMS is analyzing the impact that this may have on resuming production.

Production Statistics are here


The Old Ways

Like most people of my generation, my parents grew up during the Great Depression. Grandpa was a farmer up in Maine and NH until Grandma put her foot down. I have a picture of my father and his siblings on the old farm. They were dressed in burlap sack cloth - literally. Playtime for them was jumping on cow flops in the field. (If you don't know what those are, you've got to get more fresh air) Dad joined the Navy (before the war) and some of the money he sent home built an indoor flush toilet in my grandparents house. It was tucked away under the stairway. When I got older, I had to duck my head to take a pee. When we would visit my cousins in Maine for Thanksgiving, we had to walk out back to the privy. It was cold in Maine in November and you didn't linger over the morning paper. To say they hard a hard childhood followed by war is an understatement.

Dad never had a credit card. He paid cash for everything. If you wanted something, you saved your money until you had the purchase price. Or you developed some skills and built it yourself. He built three houses during his lifetime. Credit was something you just didn't do. He finally got a credit card in his old age when he found he needed one to get a hotel room or a rental car. The balance was always paid off immediately. He was a Yankee's Yankee. He had no patience for idiots. The best reliance was self-reliance. I suspect his experience during the Depression was the cause of this philosophy.

I wonder what he would think about the latest economic debacle. I can't imagine he'd be too pleased about having to bail out a bunch of people who mortgaged themselves to the hilt or granting a pass to the fat cats who got rich off the situation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Comprehensive American Energy Security and Taxpayer Protection Act

It was overshadowed by the recent problems on Wall Street, but your congress critters passed the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Taxpayer Protection Act last week. It’s now on its way to the Senate. The Dims want you to believe that it provides a basis for an energy policy. Lets take a look.....

It purports to open more offshore areas to drilling. The gotcha is that these areas must be 100 miles or more offshore. There is still no drilling allowed within 50 miles of the shore and permission from the coastal State is required to drill between 50 and 100 miles offshore. And the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which has the best potential, is still entirely off limits (thank you, Florida). The areas opened up will be in deep water and will be expensive to develop. They won’t be attractive to oil companies. And the states have no incentive to allow drilling off their coast because they will not get a share of any oil revenues.

It eliminates a royalty relief provision that was enacted several years ago to provide incentive to develop deep water and drilling for deep gas. It means the government is reneging on an agreement they made with industry several years ago. If there is one thing oil companies do not like, it’s a country that changes their agreements on a whim. It puts the USA on the same level as a third world dictatorship. Eliminating royalty relief will stifle high-risk, high cost developments in the Gulf of Mexico.

It mandates that 15% of electricity must be generated by renewable means by 2020. This sounds like a good idea, but who is going to pay if the electricity you get from wind farms costs more. Ummmmm, you!

It requires selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to reduce the price of gasoline. Those of us who sat in gas lines in the 70’s remember that the SPR was built to provide a reserve of oil that could be used in times of national emergency (say, a war, for example) when certain foreign producers may not want to sell oil to us. It was not to be used to manipulate the price at the pump. The word “Strategic” should be a clue.

Oil companies have a choice where they explore for oil. They can easily shift their money to overseas opportunities where they will be welcomed. If you like the idea of more jobs going overseas, increasing our dependence on foreign oil and higher cost electricity, then urge your Senator to vote for this bill. If you want energy independence from foreign imports, tell them to vote against this bill.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ike Damage Report

Early overflights after Ike indicate that 28 platforms in the GOM have been totally destroyed. (That's 28 out of 3,800,folks). These platforms account for about 11,000 BOPD and 82 MMSCFD of natural gas.

More information will be forthcoming as platform inspections take place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Hurricane Ike shuts in production in the Gulf of Mexico and refineries across Texas and Louisiana. Nigerian rebels attack Shell facilities. Major business failures on Wall Street.

The price of oil is $93.

Go figure.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

GOM Production Statistics

Ike evacuation is underway and the GOM is shutting in.


Where I Was Then

I was working in the 50 story building owned by a major oil company in New Orleans. I had dropped my wife off at the airport that morning. She was going to Connecticut via Atlanta for a meeting. I first heard about the towers when I went downstairs to the coffee shop. I came back to my office but was unable to get into CNN to get the news. I had to go through BBC to find out what had happened. Shortly after that, the major oil company decided to evacuate the building feeling they may be a target as well so I left the office and walked to my car. While I was walking, my wife called me. She had finally gotten to a phone and was stuck at the Atlanta airport. I told her I was on my way and would find her - somehow. As I left NOLa, I saw that the Superdome was surrounded by State Police. I wasn't sure what I would find on the highway, whether it would be roadblocks or crazy people, but I headed for Atlanta some 8 hours away with the clothes on my back and no side arm.

It turned out that all the police were on duty guarding buildings so I had a free run on the interstate. I put the hammer down, set the cruise control on 80, and went to get my wife. She eventually called me and told me she was in a Holiday Inn. It seems the mayor had asked local hotels with empty rooms to send vans to pick up people at the airport and take people out. My wife got a ride and a room. Thank you Mayor of Atlanta and Holiday Inn.

My wife told me that the airline had told them very little - only that they had to land as a problem in the northeast had grounded all air traffic. The passengers soon learned what happened when they started making phone calls about their changed plans. She sat on the runway for a few hours before getting to a gate. Then all passengers were told to get out of the gate area and go to the main lobby of the Atlanta airport.

We spent the night at the hotel and then drove home the next day.

Monday, September 8, 2008

GOM Production Stats

Here are the production stats as of Sunday.

Production is recovering but bet on Ike to cause another shut in, even if it doesn't hit New Orleans.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Back Home

Arrved back home Frday evening. Did some grocery shopping in Alabama. Stuck in Sldell for over an hour because of some idiot causing an accident on the twin span bridge. House damage is slight and power was not out long enough to defrost the fridge. Almost back to normal but we are not unpacking the bug out bag until we see what Ike is going to do.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Production Statistics

Here is a link to the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production statistics on the MMS web site. Damage assessments will occur soon and I'll post that as soon as it becomes available. Note that "rigs" means drilling rigs and MMCF/D means Million cubic feet per day. The districts are named for the location of the MMS office that handles that area of the Gulf.


I will be returning home today. Reports are that the local grocery and gas stores are open along with some of the fast food emporiums.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The NOLa Evacuees Return - The Real Story

I mentioned the rumor the other day about the return policy for evacuees. Here is a link for the full story.


Gustav Thursday

Still in Alabama. My son made the run back yesterday. Traffic wasn't as bad as expected. However, he reports that the grocery stores and gas stations are still closed. Not enough employees have returned to allow them to open. He spent the night at my house as I had power and he didn't. Life could still be a little on the basic side so we are going to hang here until tomorrow.

The government did a good job on the evacuation plans but leave the return up to chance.

Oldest grandson baked a cake yesterday afternoon in honor of our 30th anniversary. Yeah, it was a mix but its the thought that counts. He has discovered an interest in the culinary arts at the age of 11. His sense of taste is amazing. He can dissect the ingredients in a dish by smelling and tasting. When we went to Boston, he was able to tell the difference between Cod and Haddock after it was all mixed up together in Fish and Chips. All in all, pretty amazing for a kid who only ate chicken nuggets as a young'un.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In Temporary Exile

We finally heard last night that Plaquemines Parish would open the north end on Wednesday at 0600. BUT, many homes had no power, there was no gas and no groceries. Be prepared to camp out for a few days. Feeder bands from Gustav were still causing tornados on Tuesday.

PE heard through a reliable source that the politicos wanted to keep the parishes (Orleans, Jeffeson and Plaquemines) closed for a few more days but public pressure was building to allow residents to return. The State Police were turning people back but many of those people had run out of money and had no place to go. They were forming Hoovervilles along the interstate. St Charles Parish was the first to open and the others followed suit soon after.

My son is heading back today and will camp out at his office if necessary. PE will stay put with the rest of the group until the weekend. We do not want to be in the middle of the return traffic. They evacuated using contraflow but they will only have the normal side of the intestate when they return.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cabin Fever Sets In

It's Tuesday and we await word on when we will be allowed to return home. Based upon the reported damage, we should be able to return soon but the politicos seem to be holding off for some reason. My son is anxious to get his staff for his advertising agency back to work and finishing outstanding contracts. My wife has decided to re-open her employment office on Monday and I am waiting to hear what the Great Yellow Pectin wants to do. If they don't open up for returns tomorrow, there will be 2 million pissed off people. I know I have power at my house (Call the answering machine. If it picks up, you have power.) Reports from Bro-in-law is that damage is very slight and NO FLOODING! For comparison, we were allowed to return to Plaquemines Parish on September 11 after Katrina. Damage was much worse then. I don't know why they haven't given the word already.

The boys are getting antsy and the Rents have taken them out to the outlet mall. If we don't get back soon, There Will be Blood.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Thoughts on Gustav and Hurricane Evacuations

We're now waiting for the all clear so we can return and put our house back in order. Ground truth report says no flooding but they will keep us out in order to let Entergy fix the power and to clean up any downed trees. Traffic on the way back will be a bitch. Bobby Jindal said 2,000,000 people evacuated in the face of Gustav - the largest evac in Louisiana history.

Bobby was impressive. He would reel of facts and figures giving the general impression that he had a plan, they were following the plan and that he had a handle on everything that was going on. Great inter-state cooperation with medical needs people being evacuated by C 130 to neighbor states. Hundreds of buses were standing by along with Amtrack trains to evacuate those with no transportation. Homeland Security and FEMA were there next to him lending pro-active support but following his lead. Mayor Nagin stood by with a look that he was relieved not to have to worry about the details. Bobby will make a great President one day.

The one political glitch is Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard ranting that Mississippi wouldn't allow evacuees to travel east on I-10 because it would have caused an inconvenience to the Biloxi casinos. Of course, his family was in the traffic jam forced to go north so he probably had a personal dog in the fight.

Personally, I left about 24 hours before my mental deadline (when the hurricane crosses an imaginary line between the Yucatan and Cuba) but I had to in order to avoid the rush. Going to the FloraBama area was the next best option to going north since we had no hotel reservations. I was glad to see the thing stay to the west. The bottom line is the homestead seems to have survived and the family is safe. That's the best result. Other aggravations are minor in comparison.

30th Anniversary and Max

Today is the 30th anniversary of my marriage to the wonderful woman who became my mate. It is the second time we have spent it on a hurricane evacuation. Katrina was the first. Not very romantic but I hope the recent trip to France made up for it.

We often suspected that Max the Shih Tsu was abandoned during Katrina. His behavior last night confirmed it. We had tropical storm conditions in Alabama with wind and rain. Max was not happy and wouldn't stay in one place. He was upstairs and downstairs. He was scratching on all the bedroom doors. If you let him into the room, after a few minutes, he wanted to get out. When he laid down, he did it in a corner. It was like he needed to verify that he was not alone and didn't want his back exposed. It's daylight now and calmer. He will get to sleep. His humans won't.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav Sunday

We're at the Fish Camp watching the progress of Gustav. It looks like it might not make Cat 5 again and the track is still the same. This place is 25 feet above mean low water and was built to post Andrew Miami building codes. We opted to stay even though we are under a Hurricane Warning because of the risk of getting on the road with all the other idiots. Looks like the closest approach will be tomorrow at 0800 hours. Fingers are crossed and hope we have a home to return to.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hunkered Down in the Red Neck Riviera

I spent the third anniversary of Katrina packing up the family pictures, valuables and my guns in preparation for evacuation. I must have climbed the stairs 50 times as I hauled stuff up out of the reach of a potential flood. Gustav is aimed to send water onto the West Bank, flooding areas that stayed dry in Katrina and I hope the extra elevation of the second story will be some protection. Then we jumped into the car and headed to Alabama and hope that the storm keeps to the west of NOLa.

I fear this storm may be the final straw for some folks. The fear in the air is evident everywhere. I suspect some people will move away from the area even if they have no damage because living with the fear is just too draining.

Right now we are hunkered down with the son, daughter in law and the three grandsons and watching the news over the internet. We've done all we can do and now its a wait and see. And I'm wondering what Hanna will do.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gustav's Comin'

It seems I got back from vacation just in time to get ready for Gustav. I, and many other people from South Louisiana, will be heading out this weekend for another hurricane evacuation. The good news is that we have Bobby Jindal as our governor and he didn't need to think about calling for federal help like his predecessor, "Maw Maw" Blanco. And the federal boys learned their lesson so Homeland Security and FEMA are standing tall with the Gov and our incompetent Mayor during press conferences.

So far, there have been no references to Gustav as being God's punishment for the Southern Decadence Festival.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Paris

The Marie de Paris (That's city government y'all) has installed racks of bicycles all over the city. For a nominal fee, you can rent them with a credit card, pedal them to your destination and then put them back in a rack. I wonder how long such a scheme would last in the USA before all the bikes were stolen, busted up or painted over by taggers.

Today starts the anniversary of the liberation of Paris. Take a moment and thank Gen Dietrich von Choltitz for not putting Paris to torch as Hitler ordered.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I'm coming to you from Paris. I'm using up some of the frequent flier miles and hotel points I've earned in the past couple of years.

As you walk around Paris, you may find small signs indicating the remains of someone buried in the wall. They usually have a date between August 19 and August 25, 1944, and the epitaf, "Mort pour la France". These are the guys that were killed in the uprising just before the liberation of Paris. DeGaulle wanted to send the Germans, and the world, a message and these patriots paid the price.

The current street scam in paris seems to be the "lost ring" game. Some street kid "finds" a gold ring, and, as there is no owner close by, offers to sell it to you. It's happened to me twice. Once on the Champs d'Elysee and again today on the Quai d'Orsay. Its a stale gag, sorta like the "I know where you got dem shoes" on Bourbon Street.

An observation of the police shows that they patrol in threes. Two guys will interview the subject while a third stands back 20 feet or so on overwatch. It's very unobtrusive but if you know what is happening, it looks very effective. They won't be caught by surprise. I noticed the Army doing the same thing at the Eiffel Tower. Patrol by fire team with full automatic weapons.

More later.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Massachusetts Concealed Carry

The above picture should be proof that Massachusetts did, at one time, allow the carrying of concealed weapons. And its a good thing they did because where would we be now if Paul Revere wasn't allowed to carry this pistol.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Nuclear Troika

I have been so busy lately that I almost forgot that today was August 6.

I used to live in Hiroshima back in 1975 and 1976. My first job out of college was working for an offshore drilling contractor. They were having two drilling rigs (the “Ocean Ranger” and “Ocean Bounty”) built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Hiroshima, Japan. I was on the owner’s site team for the “Bounty”. I was single and had a small apartment just north of the center of the city. I passed the “Hiroshima Dome” and Peace Park every day on my way to work. I walked in the park during the memorial ceremonies on the 30th anniversary and saw the river filled with thousands of paper lanterns floating downstream. These lanterns represented the souls of the dead.

Hiroshima was a bustling city back then. It held many attractions for a single twenty-something. But at no time did I feel any animosity from the Japanese except for the occasional hard stare from one of the older residents of the city. In fact, I was often mistaken for one of the American players on the Hiroshima Carps, the local baseball team. (I guess we Americans all look alike) This was good for getting more than a few free drinks on a Saturday night.

About 20 years later I happened to be in Washington, DC at the same time that the Smithsonian had the controversial “Enola Gay” exhibit. I had time to kill before my flight, so I stashed my luggage and caught a taxi to see that famous aircraft.

Then, a few years ago, Col. Tibbets was doing a book signing at the D Day Museum in New Orleans. I was almost the last person in line but I finally got to spend a few seconds with him and his wife. He had been signing books for several hours and yet he was as gracious as if he had just started. You always think about what you should have said after the fact and this was no different. I should have thanked him for ending the war, thereby sparing the life of my future father-in-law who would return to the US, get married and produce my future wife.

So that’s my nuclear troika: Hiroshima – Enola Gay – Paul Tibbets

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Strange Waters

There are strange things in the deep ocean. You never know what you will find. A few years ago they found a missing German U Boat and solved a WW II mystery. The link below will take you to a clip of a fairly rare squid that was seen at Shell's Perdido prospect in the Gulf of Mexico.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympic Pollution

If you haven’t heard about the pollution in Beijing by now, you must have just come from a cave. The high levels of pollution in China are beginning to cause concern about the health, welfare and performance of the Olympic athletes. I haven’t heard this much concern about breathing since the Mexico City Olympics. It’s a lucky thing for China that they are still a totalitarian society because the leaders are able to institute draconian measures to cut air pollution. They have cut the numbers of cars allowed on the street in half and shut down industry in an attempt to clear the air. In short, they are willing to cripple their economy and cause untold disruption to business in order to present a pretty façade to the world.

The pollution in China should strike home the point that soccer moms driving hybrid cars and T. Boone Pickens building windmills in Texas is not the solution to the world greenhouse gas problem (if you believe there is such a thing). About ¾ of the worlds population lives in China and India. And as you can see from the recent boom in automobile buying in China, they have money and they all want modern conveniences. Now, this is not a bad thing. The bad thing is that they are following in the tracks of the same old hydrocarbon paradigm that the west did.

The hybrid automakers should be selling their cars in China and India. They should be building houses with roofs made of solar cell. They should be erecting windmill farms as fast as they can. If the population of those countries were directed toward hybrids and alternative energy, their purchasing power would fuel demand for those products. With a high demand, the price will drop. It will also help the balance of payments.

So the next time some Green Party hack chastises you for driving an SUV, ask him why he isn’t proselytizing in Beijing or Bombay.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I think I mentioned the extra screening we received upon departing Boston. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was inherently wrong for a government pseudo-policeman to place his hands upon a minor child. So, I fired off an email to them via the TSA website. This is their response:

Thank you for your email message.

Every person, regardless of age, must undergo screening to proceed beyond the security checkpoint. Even babies must be individually screened. However, a passenger should not be asked to do anything that would separate the passenger from his or her child. Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are taught to explain what they are doing during the screening process. They should also ask permission when doing something that might cause concern.

Please keep in mind that a TSA is required to check the source of all alarms and to follow all screening requirements. While a passenger or guardian may decline to permit a search, a passenger will not be permitted to board an aircraft unless the screening is properly completed.

With that said, your complaint is regarding screening at Boston Logan International Airport. We have forwarded a copy of your email to the Customer Service Manager at that airport. The Customer Service Manager is responsible for ensuring that the screener workforce adheres to TSA principles for professional processing.

We monitor the number and nature of complaints we receive to track trends and spot areas of concern that may require special attention. This ongoing process will enable us to ensure prompt, corrective action whenever we determine that security-screening policies need modification or specific employees or screener teams are the subjects of repeated complaints.

Again, the TSA offers sincere apologies for the discomfort you experienced while traveling and encourage you to check the latest information at

We hope that this information is helpful.
TSA Contact Center

Basically, you are at the mercy of the TSA when you travel.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lies the Greens Tell You

The one thing you hear repeatedly these days is that it will take 10 years or more to see the benefits from the removal of the executive order against offshore drilling. The unstated conclusion is, why bother drilling (and causing untold environmental damage!) because it won’t help the immediate gasoline price crisis. Well, its not exactly true that it will take 10 years to see any benefits from offshore drilling but the Greens don’t want you to know that.

Exploring for oil is an expensive business. You have to spend a lot of money on a high-risk venture. It may take years before you start seeing any cash flow and longer before you recover your initial investment and start to make a profit. The oil companies know this and they do everything they can to shorten the period between their first expenditure and selling oil. They also hire some of the smartest engineers in the country to help them.

In the old days, wells were drilled vertically. Sure, they could take off at a slight angle, but the bore was still essentially a vertical hole. That meant that you could only expose an amount of the oil-bearing formation to the well bore that was equal to its thickness. (Y’all know that oil is found only in certain layers of rock that were laid down as sedimentary deposits way back when, right?) If the thickness of the layer was 30 feet, that was all you got use of the well. It should be no surprise that the production rate of a well is proportional to the thickness of the formation exposed to the well bore. The more formation exposed, the higher the production rate.

But today, technology improvements allow something called “horizontal drilling”. That means a well can be drilled horizontally through the formation and you can expose as much of the formation to the well bore as you want. Instead of 30 feet you might get 100 feet or more. Production rates from individual wells have increased dramatically.

The down side is that these wells are expensive to drill and only get more so as water depths increase. Back in the days of shallow water vertical wells, it made economic sense to drill several test wells before committing to the cost of a full-scale development. These wells were needed to define the extent of the reservoir and provide economic justification for the development. This took time and, yes, many years could elapse between discovery and production. But now, with high priced deep-water wells, the oil companies want to start selling oil as soon as they can. Hence, they use a strategy called “Extended Well Test” using an “Early Production System”.

With this strategy, instead of drilling several wells to test the extent of a reservoir, they put ONE well on production for an extended period and use the data from that well to evaluate the size of the reservoir. The advantage is that while they are gathering data, they are selling oil and making money.

An “Early Production System” is a portable production system that can be hooked up to a well for a couple years and then disconnected and moved someplace else. Typically, they are FPSOs (Floating Production Storage and Offloading) that can be towed to location and moored at the site. They are big enough to allow for plenty of oil storage before being offloaded to another tanker if there is no oil pipeline nearby. The natural gas is used for fuel and the excess is either re-injected to the formation or sold to a nearby gas pipeline.

Mobil Oil did this in offshore Equatorial Guinea back in the 90’s. The reservoir was pretty risky and they didn’t want to spend the money to drill a bunch of test wells. They decided to do an Extended Well Test to see if the reservoir was worthy of full-scale development. They used an FPSO named the “Zafiro Producer” until they proved the size of the reservoir. Then they built and installed a fixed platform. Meanwhile, the ”Zafiro Producer” was selling oil. This went on for years. In fact, the “Zafiro Producer” is still on location and producing today. So you see, the technology for Early Production and Extended Well Test has been around for a while and is proven.

So don’t believe anyone when they tell you that the development time for offshore fields is 10 years. It just ain’t so anymore. An Early Production System can be used to start production in just a couple of years.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


My wife and I just returned from a two-week trip to New England and Boston with our oldest grandson, J. Somehow, this 11 year old boy of Cajun and Italian heritage developed a taste for New England clam chowder. He ate clam chowder everyday, and sometimes twice a day. He even had clam chowder for breakfast at the airport on the day we left. His rating of clam chowder restaurants is below:

Legal Seafood, Boston
Newicks, Dover Point, NH
Johnathon’s, N Conway, NH
The Black Pearl, Bowen’s Wharf, Newport, RI
Tia’s, North End, Boston

He also likes haddock and declares it his favorite fish. The problem is that haddock is hard to get and most restaurants will use haddock and cod interchangeably for fish and chips or “scrod” dishes. The amazing thing is that J can tell the difference between haddock and cod by smelling the cooked fish, even after its coated in batter and fried.

And I finally learned what they mean by “scrod”. I always thought it was a size classification of haddock, cod or pollock but the driver on the Duck Tour told us that it stands for Special Catch Right Off the Dock. It can be any white fleshed fish. So, be warned, scrod can be anything.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Your Friends, the TSA

I just got back from two weeks in NH and Boston with my wife and oldest grandson, J. More on that great vacation in later posts but I wanted to relate our experience with the TSA on the return trip.

Our Continental flight out of Boston had mechanical problems (a bad generator control module which takes 5 minutes to replace - if you have a spare!) so after the usual messing around we were re booked on a USAir flight to NOLa. We had to change terminals and go through security again. When we got there we were singled out for the whole search enchilada. The contents of our bags was gone through - in detail. They used the bomb sniffer machine on everything (thank God I hadn't used any of the bags for carrying ammo to the range) and gave us all a pat down - including my 11 year old grandson. (It took all of my self control when they said they wanted to pat down an 11 year old boy.) The biggest item of concern they found was not the butane lighters or book of matches in my wife's purse, but the 3" long cast metal choo choo train pencil sharpener my grandson bought at the Cog Railway on Mt Washington. What was he going to do? Stick the pilot's finger in the thing and twist it?

I thought the whole thing was related to my misfortune of having the same name as someone on the no fly list but the TSA agent told my wife that anytime someones flight is cancelled, for any reason, they are put through the full search. So, sleep well tonight, the TSA is protecting the USA from travelling grandparents and 11 year old boys!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dear Louisiana Legislature,


A Voter

(H/T to CB Forgotston)


I was in London a few ago representing a client at an engineering firm. I had spent several months there working closely with several of their key design people. We got to know each other quite well.

Their Environmental Engineer was a 30 something woman of Indian heritage. She was able to get cheap theater tickets and sometimes arranged for us culturally deprived Americans to see a show. She was the most outgoing of the lot and we enjoyed her company and her access to cheap tickets.

One day, the office conversation turned to guns. I don’t know why or how but that’s how things go sometimes. One topic blends into another and pretty soon you’re talking about guns. Our Environmental Engineer friend turned to me and another American on the team (A Texan) and said, “But you guys don’t own any guns, do you?” I guess she thought because we were both college educated family men who didn’t look like the Brit stereotype of The American Redneck Gun Lover, that we would eschew the ownership of firearms. We then proceeded to list the firearms we had at home. It included long guns, both high powered bolt action rifles and shotguns, several handguns of various calibers: both semi-automatic and revolver, and the odd Evil Black Rifle.

Her mouth hit the floor. She was speechless. Her concept of Genus Americanus Gun Owner was totally shattered. Even more so when I told her that I will sometimes carry a concealed weapon. I don’t think she ever thought about us in the same light ever again. Such is the status of the Hoplophobia epidemic in the UK.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Drill, Drill, Drill....And Then Drill Some More

PE has learned that the recent terrorism alert in Dubai resulted from nothing more than a conversation between two drunk Arabs. It made for an exiting couple of days in the Sandbox but it may have caused a few people to be a little more prepared should the real thing happen. As one of the evacuees from Katina, I can attest that it is good to have a plan before the emergency instead of making it up as you go along. The hard corps guys will even tell you how to pack a BOB, or Bug Out Bag. (Its the bag you grab when it's time to get out of Dodge and there is no time to pack.)

PE has been in some parts of the world where the company has had to devise Bug Out plans for their employees. If you go to Korea, the US military has elaborate plans for the evacuation of dependents - and they drill it once a year. I found it while browsing the military web sites for Korea. Good stuff to know in a country that 's still at war with the NKs (and withing 30 miles of the border).

In Nigeria, the company had a plan which involved getting to a boat and then evacuating to the sea where (hopefully) you will be picked up. IMHO, anytime you are in a country where travel involves armed guards, its a good idea to have an escape plan.

Hell, we even start engineering meetings with a summary of the location of fire escapes and muster areas. With the start of hurricane season, the local news has been filled with recommendations to prepare a personal hurricane plan. Its just good sense to take a few minutes and really note the location of those exits the next time you are on an airplane. Look for the fire exits the next time you are at the game and tell the family where you'll meet up if you get separated.

One of the things we do as engineers is study failures. One thing we learn is that the really bad things are caused by a chain of failures - not just one thing. That chain is easily broken and disaster often can averted by the someone doing the smallest things. Hopefully, the recent alert in Dubai will make people more aware, at least for a few months, and maybe that awareness can help stop a more serious situation in the future.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Offshore Attack on Nigerian Oil Field

In a dangerous escalation of their activities, Nigerian militants attacked Royal Dutch Shell's Bonga FPSO (Floating Production, Storage and Offloading) vessel offshore Nigeria yesterday. Bonga is 75 miles offshore and is capable of producing 225,000 BOPD, or about 10% of Nigeria's production. While there has been militant activity for years in the Niger Delta region, this is the first time a major offshore oil facility has been attacked. Bonga is capable of offloading oil directly to tankers thereby eliminating any need to go into dangerous ports. It was thought that this type of development would be protected from attack by virtue of its distance from shore. Although several people were injured, the militants failed to gain access to the control room. They then kidnapped an American captain of a supply vessel on their return to shore.

Nigeria is a major oil supplier to the US. No matter what the Dimmocrats think, the price of oil will not decrease as long as stuff like this is going on. Not only do we need to start developing our own energy sources, but we will need to protect our interests in producing fields around the world.

PE spent some time in Lagos several years ago helping to set up the Bonga operations offices for Shell. I also went to Port Harcourt to check on facilities there. Everywhere you look, there were young men hanging out with nothing to do. Just the sort of guys that will follow anyone who will give them an AK and a meal. Folks, expect trouble from here soon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Arrividerce Venice!

I had reserved a spot for us on the hotel shuttle boat at 3:50 PM. That was the last boat and even though our plane didn't leave until 9:30, I thought it was better to wait in the airport and shop in duty free rather than remain in the clutches of the Westin Luxury Collection hotel mafia. We got back to the hotel after lunch with some time to spare and we sat in the beautiful marble lobby and allowed our body temperatures to return to near normal from their previous heat stroke levels.

All is going smoothly. We can see light at the end of the tunnel, even if the tunnel is a narrow Venice canal. And joy of joys, they have a van to meet the boat to carry us to the airport and a guy actually carries my bag from the boat to the van. Nothing is too good for a departing tourist!

Small European airports operate a little differently than in America. The airlines do not have any permanent check in counters. Each point has a TV screen that tells you what flight they are checking in. They change all the time. Therefore, EasyJet does not have a check in counter open when we arrive. In fact, they won't have one open until about 1-1/2 hours before the flight. This means we can't check in and also that we can't go to duty free heaven on the other side of security and immigration. And don't think that any new European airport, which Marco Polo is, is going to waste any money on seating and food concessions in the check in area. No, no, no. That would be a waste of money. So, we tough it out for several hours until we can check in. I keep my wife supplied with diet cokes and even a salami sandwich (and they aren't going to waste any money on extra salami and dressing, either)

Finally we are free to get to our gate. Having been through the cattle chutes of EasyJet in London, we are prepared. We stay close to the gate and when it looks like someone is even close to letting us through we charge to the front of the herd and squeeze ourselves into the bus. Being travel smart that we are, I tell my wife to stand close to the door of the bus because my engineering mind tells me that there will be no organization when they open the doors and the closer you are to the front, the better chance you have of getting a good seat. Sure enough, they open the doors of the bus and people literally run to the boarding stairs. If getting off the Titanic was like this, it was a wonder that any women and children survived at all. So much for "Women and children first" or "Be British, lads".

Anyway, we make the plane and a short time later we land. We have to undergo the insult of having to fill out a landing card as non EU persons and I have a short melt down at the people milling about (with those God Damn backpacks!!!) who can't figure out how to write their name in the space provided. But, finally we escape the crush and walk out to find our friendly driver ready and waiting. I was never so happy to see a black man.

If you ever need the name of a reliable chauffeur company in London, I will recommend these guys highly. They were the highlight of the trip for being friendly, on time, efficient and a relatively good value. As I was telling someone about the trip, he said, "So, the water taxi was about the same cost as the airline tickets." I realized he was right. The tickets were $125 each way per person! The water taxi was $100. Go figure. I guess I gotta join the Venice water taxi union. If you go to Venice, bring Vaseline.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Monopolies and Gondoliers

So we both are back safely in the hotel and my star is not shining real bright. But after a short rest and a cool down, creeping hunger drives us out into the maze again. Good luck trying to find a restaurant based upon their address. And there is no way we are going to the hotel or any other of the three Westin Luxury Collection hotels in Venice. We start walking in the direction we know (it's night and I no longer can use the sun as a navigation tool) which is the Rialto Bridge. We arrive there pretty quickly because (1) the crowds are smaller and (2) we're not shopping. Anyway, we found another restaurant on the Grand Canal and had an enjoyable meal at a reasonable price. We stroll back to the hotel. As we pass through the square there are two dueling string quartets playing on opposite sides. Several people who don't want to pay $20 for a drink for the privilege to sit at a cafe table are sitting on the stones that make up the pavement. A pavement which is covered in pigeon excrement! I is astounded but I guess some people are so enamored by the beauty of Venice that they don't mind sitting in pigeon shit. We return to the hotel and turn in only to find that we both have so many aches from walking all day that we can't sleep and the air conditioning in the room was definitely not designed for 100 degree ambient temperatures.

After a fitfull night my wife states that she wants to go home (meaning London). By now I am an experienced Venice tourist and I head out to find a cafe where I can buy coffee and by-pass the hotel mafia. They only serve take out coffee in thin plastic cups and I turn into a juggler trying to carry two cups of coffee and a cup of warm milk back to room. But I do it. We now decide to try to get an earlier flight out of town. There is no EasyJet telephone number on the travel information card. There is no phone book in the room. No problem. The concierge will help! I call. His "help" is to suggest I call the operator and they will give me the number. I do that. I get a recording in Italian that I figure is telling me that the office is closed and the office hours are.....Second attempt is to bring the damsel to the concierge, look worried and tell him we have a "situation" and need to get back earlier. He finally pulls up the EasyJet web site to scan the schedule and finds that there is only one flight. OK, we're stuck and we have to deal with it.

When in doubt, eat. Meanwhile, my wife has discovered the store in the hotel where at least the girl behind the counter is friendly and helpful. We decide to go back to our cafe at Rialto Bridge where we are welcomed with open arms and complimentary drinks and cookies for desert. OK, Venice may not be all bad. Some of the people are nice. While we are eating, My wife had a slight urge to take a gondola ride. On the walk back to the hotel we stopped to eavesdrop on a couple that were negotiating with one of the gondoliers. 118 euros for 30 minutes! These guys have a hell of a union. Hookers don't get paid as much! That quells the interest in the gondola. We got pictures and that's good enough.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lost in Venice

So we had breakfast and are now ready to explore beautiful Venice. The hotel told us to check with the concierge and he would give us a map and directions. He does..and he also offers a complimentary water taxi ride to the island of Murano where they make glass. My wife always wanted to go there so this is good. It also happens to be the Venice equivalent of the get a free meal and listen to a condo sales pitch game. But it was low pressure and enjoyable and my wife was able to buy some Christmas presents and we got to ride through the canals.

The water taxi drops us off in front of the Piazza San Marco. We look at the beautiful buildings. We see the bell tower. We see the Bridge of Sighs. We see the Doges Palace. We see the pigeons. We see the pigeon shit! People feed the birds so they make more shit. We look at the long lines waiting to get into the cathedral. We feel the heat. Even living in New Orleans doesn't prepare you for this kind of heat. It makes you want to change clothes after 5 minutes. Arid Extra Dry was never tested in Venice. Anyway, we wander off in the general direction of the Rialto Bridge. I say general because there are no straight routes to anywhere. Once you get out of the piazza, it's like walking in a maze. The buildings are 50' high and you can't see but 20' in front of you. You have to look for arrows painted on the buildings to guide you to a landmark. Then, if you are good, you get within hand grenade distance of where you want to be and can see it from the canal. You can't ask a taxi driver. There are none.

In addition, the maze has hazards along the way. These hazards take the form of every designer shop you would expect to see on Rodeo Drive. (Dolce and Gabbano, Bruno Magli, Versace, Prada......) So as we are trying to find our way, my wife is also ducking into these shops and disappearing on me. Thankfully she was wearing a big straw hat and she was easy to spot when she came out again.

So we get to Rialto Bridge. Beautiful! And look at all the shops! We found a nice little cafe at the foot of the bridge called "Al Busco". The food was very good, the prices reasonable, and they treated us very well. The only bad thing was that my wife got splashed on the leg (probably from a pigeon that was under our table near the water) and the water must have had some stinging critters in it because she developed an itchy rash that looked like a jelly fish sting. Lesson: don't dangle your hand in canals of Venice!

So it's shop, shop , shop all afternoon. As we get back to the Piazza San Marco, I want to pop over and get a picture of the Bridge of Sighs. My wife doesn't want to make the walk and says she'll head down the side of the square and meet me at the corner. BIG MISTAKE. Never split up! If you do, designate a landmark to meet. The "end of the square" isn't specific enough. But I'm delerious in the heat and not thinking straight and I head off to the Bridge of Sighs. Stop, shoot, got it, and I'm back in 10 minutes. I expect to find my wife strolling along window shopping. And she's wearing that big straw hat and nobody in Venice wears hats so she'll be easy to spot. Wrong. Get to the corner and no wife. OK, I'm thinking she headed in the direction of the hotel so I go after her trail. Through the alleys, I come to a small square with a bridge over a canal. I stand at the top of the bridge and do the indian lookout thing trying to see that damn hat. No joy. I now figure she decided to go to the hotel and get a cold $10 diet coke. So, if I go there, I'll either find her or I can at least dump all the stuff I'm carrying and travel fast and light as I go on the hunt for my wife. The room is empty. Dumping the stuff, I now back track my route like a good boy scout. What's that? A hat! Oops. There is one other woman wearing a straw hat and it isn't my wife. I work my way back to the square and as I scan the square what do I see but my wife waving the hat over her head like a flag. She is not a happy camper and the only thing I can say is why aren't you wearing the hat?

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Special Anniversary Trip

I was on a project in London and I brought my wife along. She wanted to visit Venice, Italy and as it was close to our 25th anniversary, I organized a weekend trip to Venice. Here's how it went.

Friday started off good. Our driver was early and he was correct in his 90 minute estimate to get to Stansted Airport. We arrived in plenty of time and went to check in. First surprise. EasyJet only allow 5 kilos of carryon baggage. My wife's bag was 8. So off we go to another line for checked baggage. The line moved quickly and we checked our bags. We found a restaurant and had dinner while we waited for our 5:55 PM flight. EasyJet is the Southwest Airlines of the UK only they don't have the organization. Boarding was a free for all but we got two seats together and refused to give up the aisle seat. One hour and 40 minutes later (9:05 PM local) we land at Marco Polo Airport after flying over the Italian Alps. Nobody told us that we should now start thinking in terms of Mexico time as it takes 30 minutes for our bags to hit the belt. So now it's off to get some Euros and find a way to the hotel. We find that the dock for water taxis is about a mile from the airport. The water taxi is 80 euros and takes 20 minutes. The vaporetti is much cheaper but takes an hour. No decision there for us. Off we go to a $100 boat ride! Things are a little hectic so they ask us if we would mind sharing the boat. No problem because we are nice people and the other people looked nice to. Now you would think that they cut the fare in half. No way! We got a 20 euro discount for the privilege. (These guys have a monopoly!)

We arrive at our hotel after a scenic night time trip through the canals and into the Grand Canal. Check in was smooth. The lobby is stunning. All is good. We drop the bags in the room and head to the bar to relax. We sit outside with a view of the Church of the Salute and a glass of wine. An Italian gigolo tries to get my wife to join him in singing. About 11:30 it's time to back to the room. We were hungry. The restaurant wasn't serving but there's always room service. I call 'em up only to find that most of the room service menu is not available (although the menu clearly states it should be!) We settle for two ham and cheese sandwiches and two diet cokes. They promised it would be there in 10 minutes. It was. It was also 44 euros! OK, they got me. Won't happen again!

We get up the next morning. The sun is out. The view of the roof of the building next door is just wonderful. I go to the bar to try to get a cup of coffee to bring some back to the room. (four star hotel but no in room coffee pot) "I'm sorry sir, you will need to call room service." Oh no! I've been to that rodeo and I ain't paying $20 for coffee. I try to venture outside the hotel. All I see is an empty square and the alleys leading out of look like a good way to get lost and I don't have any breadcrumbs. I return empty handed and we go down to breakfast.

We have a wonderful view of the Grand Canal and the gondolas. Very nice buffet breakfast but nothing spectacular. They don't even have a guy making omelets. But we enjoy the view and drink coffee and try to protect our plates from the marauding flocks of sparrows. My wife goes back to the room and I call for the check. 100 euros for 2 people. That's $60 for a mediocre fritatta and some bacon!

They did it to me again! And they didn't even use Vaseline!

Friday, June 6, 2008

D Day and DD Tanks

It wasn’t until I was middle aged that I realized I had an uncle that was on Omaha Beach on D Day. I knew I had an uncle that had been killed in the war but nobody ever talked about him. The reasons might have been long lasting grief or that they just didn’t know any details of his service. I happened to be home for a visit and at the some time I was reading Stephen Ambrose’s book on D Day. Someone mentioned that Uncle Philip had been in the 743rd Tank Battalion. Stephen Ambrose’s book had a diagram that showed the landing order of the assault units. The 743rd Tank Battalion was the lead unit, 10 minutes ahead of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division, on the right hand side of Omaha Beach opposite Vierville sur Mer. The beach assigned to his company, Company B, was code named Dog Green.

As I started doing research, I was surprised to find that little was discussed in the popular literature about the 743rd Tank Battalion and their position in the assault on D Day. There was almost nothing about them in the exhibits in the World War II Museum in my own hometown of New Orleans. Yet they were a unique secret weapon that military planners relied upon very heavily for close infantry support. It seemed to me that more should be known about them.

The 743rd Tank Battalion was made up of modified Sherman tanks. The tanks were equipped with a double drive unit so that the engine could provide power to the tracks or to two propellers. The tank was also equipped with a canvass flotation shroud that was inflated using a small air compressor. Once erected, the canvass shroud would keep the tank afloat, barely. The idea was that the tanks would use their propellers to drive themselves on the beach. It was hoped that the tanks would look like innocuous rubber boats from the German perspective thereby giving them a big surprise when the tank was revealed. Their mission was to provide close in support to the infantry by engaging machine gun bunkers and other targets of opportunity.

There were two tank battalions on Omaha Beach that day: the 741st and the 743rd. Their orders were to launch from their LCT several miles out to sea and then proceed to the beach. The seas were still rough from the storm the day before. The 741st launched according to their orders and were quickly in a fight for survival against the sea. The tanks had about 1 foot of freeboard and the waves quickly overwhelmed the canvass shroud sending the 35 ton tanks to the bottom. This was observed by the LCT drivers carrying the 743rd. (How they learned of the situation of the 741st is not known. There may have been radio transmissions via tank radio alerting the 743rd to the problem.) The LCT driver made an on the spot decision to ignore orders and take the tanks all the way to the beach. His initiative may have saved many lives that day. (Recently declassified documents indicate that the decision to launch or not was up to the senior Army and Navy personnel on site)

My uncle survived D Day. Elements of his company went to Pont du Hoc to relieve the Rangers on June 9. I’m not sure, but I’d like to think he was part of that. Any letters he may have sent to the family regarding his experiences have been lost, if they ever existed. He was killed in Normandy on July 9 when his company was ambushed by tanks from the 2nd SS Panzer Division.

There is little documented about the independent tank battalions. There were approximately 37 of them in total including a couple of all black units. They were formed for the sole purpose of infantry support and were disbanded after the war. They were not stand alone units but were meant to be attached to infantry units as needed. Tank companies were split up and tanks were often out of contact with their company commander for weeks as they were shuttled between units. They could be fighting with different units on different days which gave them no time to develop coordination procedures with the unit they were fighting with. Ambrose discusses how unit cohesiveness was a key ingredient for building a soldier’s morale. Familiarity with the men you were fighting with gave the soldier a level of confidence as each man knew what the other would do. But Ambrose ignores how the combat vagabonds of the tank battalions coped with being separated from their command structure and shuttled between infantry units. They were dependent upon the kindness of the unit they were attached to for support. It must have been a lonely existence.

I have been to Normandy twice but could find no monument to either of the tank battalions that assaulted Omaha Beach that day, even though they were the first to land. There are almost no examples of DD tanks existing today even though it was considered to be an important secret weapon. (A couple of tanks from the 741st have been recovered and are on display at a museum in Port en Bessen, France. These still have the tubing for the inflation mechanism and pieces of the shroud on them.) And as I said earlier, the World War II Museum in New Orleans, our National WW II museum, has almost nothing about these unique units. Steel Victory: The Heroic Story of America's Independent Tank Battalions at War in Europe is a very good source of information regarding all the tank battalions. The View from the Turret: The 743rd Battalion During World War II is an excellent source for history about the 743rd. The 30th Division Association also has reprints of the unit history, Move Out, Verify.

The survivors of these units are passing from us quickly and a key piece of history will be lost with them. I hope this serves in some small way to keep their memory alive.