News

TV show drills into local man

KINGSTON — Kingston resident John Welsh’s commute to work makes the Poulsbo-Bainbridge-Seattle rush seem like child’s play — though he would rather make the seemingly daunting trip than brave the daily grind.

Every two weeks, Welsh makes the long journey north to his job on the Arctic coast of Alaska. He starts out driving to Sea-Tac, making the three and a half hour flight to Anchorage, Alaska where he hops on a one-and-a-half-hour private charter flight to Dead Horse Airport. From there he takes another 20-minute trip to a site just east of Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States.

To him, it’s just another day at the office, but the Discovery Channel is about to reveal just how challenging his career can be.

As the supervisor of a Doyon Drilling, Inc. oil rig, which drills wells for ConocoPhillips, he and his crew will be at the center of the new series, “Oil, Sweat & Rigs.” The series illustrates the unique and potentially perilous job Welsh does every day in a desolate landscape, where he regularly works in -40 degree weather with wind chill factors of up to -70 degrees.

“(Discovery Channel crews) decided they would come up when the rig is moving and and doing exploration for wells,” he said. “Basically, we have three months to explore for oil, a real short timeline. It’s got to be about 40 below so we can build an ice road to move the rig.”

The rig Welsh operates is unique in that it rolls along the ice of the Northern Slope of Alaska, the first in the world to be self propelled. The show follows Welsh and his crew in the frigid North and and another group of workers in the sunny Gulf of Mexico, where they are piecing together an offshore, water-based rig.

“Oil, Sweat & Rigs” provides viewers a look at the other side of our reliance on fossil fuels, how they are gathered, and the efforts that go into drilling, progressive technology and the environmental caution taken.

“The primary focus is the safety, the environment and precaution,” Welsh said. “We use all three in the same sentence. If we spill one drop of oil, we have to report it to the state and federal organizations. We are by far one of the cleanest operations.”

“I think it’s great. There’s a lot more to exploring oil and maintaining wells than people picture it,” said Poulsbo resident and British Petroleum operations engineer Bill Stock. He and Welsh commute together and play golf on their off weeks. “There’s constantly new technology coming out, and these guys are right on the cutting edge.”

During the Discovery Channel filming, Welsh ran into a problem he usually doesn’t have to deal with. While crossing a frozen channel his crew built an ice road above — with water still moving far below the surface — two of the rig’s wheels broke through the ice.

“That was the fifth time we moved over the ice road,” he said. “As soon as Discovery Channel shows up, the ice gave. That’s when the pressure’s on me.”

Welsh and Stock are hoping the show will educate others about their jobs, and start a public forum.

“I’ve noticed this has opened up more discussion with the people I interface with in Poulsbo,” Stock said. “Up there, it’s a way of life. Down here, there’s a wonderment about it, they don’t quite understand how it works.”

“Oil, Sweat & Rigs” will join the Discovery Channel lineup at 8 p.m. Monday, and Welsh hopes the program will be as successful as “Deadliest Catch,” a popular show that follows king crab fishermen in the Atlantic Ocean.

“I don’t think I’ll be getting a pay raise though,” he said with a laugh.

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