Several weeks ago, when the Deepwater Horizon explosion triggered an oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, those who live along the coast and around the country began praying for containment and clean-up of the oil. Many, like me, also began getting better educated about the oil industry and the specific ways this industry functions in the Gulf.
In the past two months, as I have read or listened to a variety of perspectives and scenarios from politicians, media commentators, BP executives and so-called expert analysts, I have been curious to hear the perspectives and opinions of those who work jobs related to the oil industry in the Gulf.
I wanted to hear from someone who works in the Gulf, someone who depends on the oil industry for their livelihood, and someone whom I could trust to give honest straightforward answers to my questions without being concerned about constituency or public image.
I contacted Adam, one of the young men in our church, who is a devoted father and husband, and who has a perspective that is based on firsthand experience. Adam is an experienced seaman who is away from his family and our church for weeks at a time to do his job. I asked Adam several questions, and he gave straight answers.
Barry: What are your primary job responsibilities and how do they relate to the oil Industry?
Adam: I work on a 285-foot supply boat. My job title is Able Body Seaman (AB). My job responsibilities are to keep the outside area of the boat in ship-shape, which entails painting, rust removal, handling of boat’s mooring lines (tying and untying the boat), and numerous other jobs. When at the rigs, I have to do the rigging of deck cargo. I work with the crane operator in getting the cargo from the boat to the rig’s floor. Sometimes it can be an easy job; at other times when the seas are rough, it can be scary and sometimes dangerous. Our boat carries everything that a rig needs to drill for oil and natural gas. We provide all supplies, from the food for the platform crew to the liquid mud used to hold the oil down when they strike it.
Barry: How much time do you spend in the Gulf and what is your typical work schedule?
Adam: It seems like sometimes this is my home. Normally I work 28 days on the boat and 14 off. Here recently the company has put us on a two week on / two week off schedule. It didn’t have anything to do with the spill in the Gulf. This was done before the spill. My company recently sent a lot of their boats down to work in Brazil. They are waiting on the arrival of three new boats being built before putting us back to our regular schedule. But I don’t know yet how the oil spill in the Gulf may affect us. We normally work 12-hour shifts, and our boat sleeps about 35 people.
Barry: How has your work changed since the Deepwater Horizon accident?
Adam: Since the accident, things for us haven’t changed much. It’s not to say that changes are not on the way. If things continue to go as they seem to be going, change will be here before we know it and I don’t think it will be good.
Barry: What is the atmosphere and mood among your co-workers?
Adam: Everyone around here is a little scared about the possibility of their jobs going away … even if they wouldn’t admit it. We are all trying to keep our heads up and praying that this huge mess we are in the middle of goes away.
Barry: What are your fears and concerns about public perceptions of the oil industry?
Adam: I know everyone is upset about the crisis in the Gulf. I believe the last thing they should want is for the oil companies to leave the Gulf and go overseas. I don’t think the public would really want this in the long run. We need to keep drilling in our waters and keep our dependence on other countries down.
Barry: Do you think the efforts to achieve containment and cleanup of the current spill are being managed well? Do you have ideas about how containment and clean-up efforts could be managed more effectively?
Adam: I don’t think it was handled right from the start – from the putting out of the fire to what we have going on today. From the start we had too much red tape and Homeland Security involvement. We should have gotten what we needed when we needed it. For example, the big filter boats should have been brought in at the beginning. At least we could have been sucking up the oil from the start. It was crazy to refuse help from abroad. I believe that the people overseeing these affairs should have acted quicker.
Barry: Do you believe that drilling in the Gulf can continue in a way that is safe for the environment? Why?
Adam: Of course, I believe drilling in the gulf waters is not as safe as it can be. We can definitely do more, even as individuals, to keep our gulf waters clean. I have seen dumping of soluble materials from the rigs. I’m pretty sure that somehow it has to have a negative effect on the Gulf, but what that effect is, I don’t know for sure. If they are putting this stuff in the Gulf, someone has told them it is okay to do so. What I do know is the company I work for is doing our part to help keep it clean. For example, we have a zero-pollution policy, which means zero discharge. We don’t put or discharge anything from the boat into the water. Everything is brought back to the dock for proper disposal.
Barry: Are there other things you want the public to know about your work, the oil industry, or oil drilling in the Gulf?
Adam: To do this job you have to be Coast Guard certified and hold a license for each position you hold on the boat. You must go through a rigorous government and law enforcement background check. During my career in this industry, I have experienced many things including two trips by boat to Africa, where piracy remains a serious threat. I do sacrifice time from my family, but my job provides a living for my family and a product for the public that is a consumer-driven need.
Among the many opinions about managing the oil spill crisis, the risks of the drilling in the Gulf, and the long-impact on the coastal economy, there are many good seamen like Adam who do their work with integrity, and whose lives and careers are uniquely impacted by this crisis. This conversation is too important for their voices not to be heard.
Barry Howard serves as senior minister at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. Adam Gafford is an Able Body Seaman who is employed by a family-based company out of Des Allemands, La.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.