” I shout as I’m getting ready to fly out to Western Siberia to look over a recent well fire, “Where are my damned socks?!”
Zima’s looking at me from underneath our bed; tongue lolling happily, tail wagging ferociously. She knows she’s safe, there’s no way I can get under the bed to grab her by the scruff of the neck and drag her and my socks out. Olga goes under the bed two or three times a week to recover my socks from Zima’s horde.
Remember the Disney movie “Bolt
?” Yep, Zima is the female version of Bolt, right down to the coat color; but without the lightning tattoo. Strong, stocky, and sneaky. Smart as a whip. Devious, clever and sly. She’s a perfect fit for the Rocknocker family.
There’s a lake on the compound; rather it’s a wide spot in a river that the developers dammed up allowing only a trickle as opposed to its rather copious flow. It has formed an impoundment in which both local people and several species of fish swim.
Since it’s only a 150 meter walk from our back door, virtually every weekend, you’d find one or more family members down by the river, dangling a worm, angling for one of the finny inhabitants of the impoundment. They’re not for eating, just for sport; it’s all catch, annoy and release. There’s quite the piscivariety in the lake. OK, let’s call it what they call it: Lake Rosinka, even though it’s just a wide spot on the fluvial highway.
Inhabitants include grass carp, pike of several species, whitefish, ice fish, muksun, sturgeon, trout, trench, rudd, pelyad, belchir, bream, roach, gusteria, crucian, perch, burbot, nelma, and unfortunately, catfish.
It seems that some of the folks that are residents hereabouts, but not fisherfolk, have taken to feeding the catfish. They find it hilarious that these nuclear-submarine, Akula-class, sized fish will come up to and actually eat from one’s hand.
So they feed them. And feed them. And feed them to the point where they attain huge, unnatural sizes.
Zima, of course, accompanies us when we go down to the river to dangle a worm for a while. She likes to bark at the catfish and carp that hang around in the shallows begging for handouts.
Then, some neighbors came down on a bright, sunny day with a loaf of stout Russian bread.
Zima watched in fascination as they broke off chunks and tossed them to the slurping fish. The fish wallowed and flalloped around in the shallows, trying to best each other for the bread being offered.
The neighbors, too easily bored, left abruptly and just tossed a couple of remaining kilo of torn-up bread on the shore. They figured ‘let the local Chernobyl ravens have some as well’.
Zima would have none of this. She would grab a chunk of bread, trot it over to the shallows and toss it to the catfish and carp so she could have something splashy to bark at.
We all found it uproariously funny that she should come up with such a funny little diversion all on her own. Khris and Tash always brought bread down to the river for Zima to feed to the fish. It became a sort of a ritual with us. A family tradition was born.
Also born was another tradition: Zima fishing on her own. In the morning, we’d let her out back to do her pre-breakfast business. She was so smart and so slick, we really never had to teach her that housebreaking trick.
“Of course I need to go out. It’s morning.” She seemed to say standing by the back door, patiently waiting.
She discovered that the catfish would always be lolling around the shallows awaiting their sunrise snacks. Her appearance was so ingrained, they’d swim into water barely enough to keep them afloat to vie for dawn snacks.
That proved to be a mistake.
Zima loved to fish.
So much, in fact, we had to restrict her access to the river before she decimated the local catfish population.
The first time we found a catfish flopping on our back deck, we were perplexed. Sure, we had let Zima out back for her morning activities, but she never barked or appeared to run off. She’d always be right back after a quick jaunt to the nearby forest. She wasn’t wet or muddy and didn’t stink of fish.
It was Tash who did a bit of covert surveillance one Saturday morning. Up in her room, she used her binoculars to follow Zima on her AM rounds. I’d let her out the back door, she’d saunter over to the nearby forest, do her daily duties, and then return by way of the lakeshore.
A minute or so later, she’d trot up with a flopping 2-3 kilo catfish in her mouth and deposit is as an early morning gift for us on the back deck. She then slipped out somewhere, evidently to wash up, to return via the front door.
We had to fence in the back yard and restrict her roaming until the lake froze. Zima was most disconsolate that we took that part of her piscatorial fun away. She instead had to content herself with feeding and chasing the local enormous Raven population with bread left lying around by the neighbors.
She was always a source of amusement. And an unrepentant sock thief. She’s quite the character.
Finally nestled into an IL-76 headed generally eastward, I had found a pair of unslobbered socks, and geared up. I was heading east to Western Siberia, stay with me here, to take a look at a kyst
, kust or pad, of oil wells that had caught fire and basically burned to the ground.
In fact, one or two were still burning. Since the reservoir pressure was fairly low and there was a lot of produced water, the flares here were black, smoky, and not at all that terrifying.
That would remain until later.
OK, Western Siberia is basically one huge swamp. Or bog. Whatever you want to call it. It’s either frozen solid or its soggy muck up to your eyebrows. There are myriad lakes, creeks, rivers, slews, sloughs, swamps, and other forms of soggy geomorphology that make up its 2.5 million square kilometers.
Which makes travel difficult.
In the winter is when the work gets done. So, its -600C
and your nose is froze. Better that than trying to wander around a new drill site on swamp skis and have the rig dog founder, clamber onto your skis, and sink you both down into the bog.
So, they build hexagonal or octagonal kysts
, or drilling pads.
These are timber rimmed and filled with sand transported in from who-knows-where. They are basically small islands built out where the seismic and logs say to drill, surface conditions be damned.
In a nice, rare forest? Fine. In the middle of an impenetrable tumac taiga? Terrific. In the middle of a West Siberian wetland? Wonderful.
Knock down the local vegetation, bulldoze some access, built some ‘roads’ by dumping in local after load of sand and keep going until you reach a terminus. Then, build yourself a wooden-ring structure, typically hexagonal or octagonal, some 350-400 meters in diameter (or greatest axis), and dump forth the sand.
Eventually, your machinery will stop sinking and you’ll actually end up with an artificial drilling island out in the midst of the great Siberian swamps.
This has been going on for decades, so that travel across the oilfields of Western Siberia is accomplished by hopping from kyst to kyst. It’s always a jagged, ziggy-zaggy itinerary to travel from one field to another, but it sure as hell beats trying to muck yourself across in a Sherp
(the ancestral pre-2012 version), Uaz 4WD van, or panje wagon.
Then you set three pairs of railroad tracks parallel on the kyst. The rig will sit on these tracks and be rolled from one drilling location to another, sequentially. Few wells will be drilled vertically, most are angled, inclined and deviated. A cross-section under a drilled-up kyst looks like an upside-down version of a total eclipse of the sun on a stick.
Or a frightened mop.
I was first flying into Tomsk as there were no direct flights to my destination at the time. Besides, I wanted to drop in on Dima while he was working; which was convenient as he was my field engineer for this little excursion.
We flopped down into Tomsk and waited until we taxied the requisite 15 km to the terminal. It’s probably not that long, but on these rumpety-bumpety airstrips, it sure feels like it’s at least that long. Good thing beverage service continues right up to the arrivals terminal; especially since I had the forethought to bring my own supplies; like the 2-liter vodka bottle.
What the hell were they going to do? Send me to Siberia?
We get to the terminal and here, they just drag everything in the cargo hold off the plane and dump it on the tarmac. You collect your gear here and then traipse into the terminal an onto ground transportation. Of course, I’m known around these parts and soon a porter with a luggage cart appears.
“Doctor Rock”, he says, “Welcome back to Tomsk. I trust you had a pleasant flight. Shall I gather your gear?”
“Orlov Kusma!”, I exclaim, “As I live and breathe. How are you? Yes. Please gather up the shiny boxes and let’s get out of this wind. It’s blowing my cigar ash everywhere.”
So, Orlov gathers up my 4 flying boxes and we hightail it into the terminal. It’s not that it’s that cold out, as I’m impervious to cold anyways; but it was blowing a gale and I could barely keep a cigar lit.
“Doctor”, Orlov continues as we walk down the aisle toward the lounge, “To the lounge?”
“Unless they’ve repealed the tradition of toasting a living landing in Tomsk airport.” I smiled back.
Orlov parks his cart with my luggage outside the lounge entrance. He knows no one in their right mind would mess with the shiny aluminum travel boxes, but he keeps an eye on them nonetheless.
“So, Or”, I say, “The usual?”
“Oh, yes, Doctor; if you please.” Orlov smiles in reply.
I’ve known Orlov Kusma for years ever since I first sound my way into Tomsk. He helped me out the initial time I landed here and stood out on the runway looking perplexed. He speaks fair English and helped me get where I was headed, even with my lousy Russian. I insisted on buying him a drink at the rundown and fairly decrepit airport lounge. In fact, he thinks that our patronage has helped restore it to its former glory that we’re enjoying today.
I opt for a hot espresso and 100 mls. of frozen Russkaya vodka. It’s a wintertime combination that’s tough to beat.
Orlov opts for a Baltica #7 and 100 mls. of frozen Russkaya vodka. It’s another wintertime combination that’s tough to beat.
Over a series of sunrisers, which is a bit of a sad pun as we’re so far north, we get no sun at all during the day. We’ll make up for it come summer when its 24-hour sun during White Nights.
I explain that I’m here to take a look at a couple of kysts that had appeared to have burned down. I’ll be meeting with Dima a bit later and we’ll drive out to the field office where we’ll bivouac for a couple of weeks until we can sort out the field mess.
“Doctor”, Orlov cautions, “Most people believe this to be a series of unfortunate accidents. But there are rumors of bandits afoot. They’re staging sabotage to extort money from the oil operating companies. ’Плати или умри’
‘Pay or die’, has been seen at some of the ‘accident’ sites.”
“Orlov”, I reply between sips of my drink, “Most of this equipment is Soviet era. Hell, it’s all you can do to keep it from exploding on its own. It surely doesn’t need any external help. I think people have overactive imaginations around here. Especially in winter.”
“Perhaps, Doctor, perhaps”, Orlov cautions, “But still, it does pay to be on your guard. There are some Khanti here [local indigenous people] that hate oil companies. They might want to make retaliations.”
“Thank, Or, for the head’s up”, I reply, “I know a lot of the local Khantis, even a couple of tribal chiefs. I’ll grab a few cases of giggle water, go out, and make nice. We’ll have no such problems here on my watch.”
“Ah, yes. The famed Dr. Rocknocker Peace Protocol.”, Orlov laughs, “They get so happy when you arrive, they forget everything by the time you leave.”
“That’s the main idea.”, I reply, “Make them happy, then give them a hell of a headache once I’m gone. It makes an impact.”
Orlov laughs and shakes his head. There’s just no way to argue with logic like that.
Orlov secures a rental vehicle for me, an inevitable Uaz four-wheel drive van. It has sufficient room for all my gear, Dima’s gear and several cases of vodka and cognac. Plus room for the explosives I intend to draw from the local Army armory.
After loading up and tipping Orlov, I drive over to the oil company engineer’s shop. Dima is there today supervising the reconstruction and rehabilitation of several ESPs or Electronic Submersible Pumps. Looks like we’ll be dragging a couple of them along out to the field with us as well.
Dima greets me warmly and before long, we’re sitting in his office in the machine shop, feet up on the desk, smoking cigars and have celebratory greeting shots.
“So, Dima”, I smile, “Working hard, as usual, I see. Y’know, you let me bring the in the taper bearing races from Houston and you would be able to keep these things in the hole longer than a week.”
“Yeah, Doc, maybe”, Dima agrees, “But this way, it’s just job security. They hold together too long, and I’m out of a job.”
“Dima, the devout commie-capitalist.”, I snicker.
“’ Wherever and whenever for a buck’. That’s what a certain Doctor of Geology told me years ago.” Dima smiles back.
I thump the side of my neck in that age-old Russian gesture meaning “I need a new drink”, and tell Dima “Bless your memory”, as he pours me another potato juice and sok
Dima has a beautiful wife and three charming children back at his surprisingly nice house on the western outskirts of Moscow.
He works rotation for the oil company we’re both currently under contract to so that he’s 28 days in-country and 28 days back home. I have done a similar ‘rotation’, but since it turned into 45/14, and I was flying between Moscow, West Siberia, London, Amsterdam, Vladivostok, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Houston; I just had to stop.
I was away from family too long and decided to drag them with on my next little global excursion. One thing leads to another and here we are again, out in Western Siberia in winter and having drinks.
There is a circle of life hiding somewhere in all this.
Dima tells me we can go to the Rus Hostel where he’s staying on this tour.
“Excuse me?” I ask, “Hostel? Sorry, buddy. I don’t do camping rough or with backpackers since that unfortunate incident at Devil’s Tower all those years ago. Do you have a local phone book?”
I pull out my Osmiridium satellite phone and dial-up a local number.
. Yes. It’s me again. How are you? Great. OK, I need a couple of rooms, suites if you have them. Right. A couple of nights should do. Yes, two. No, no need to be adjoined. Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh, hell, yes. No, I’m already in town and will be driving over in what?” I look to Dima…” a couple of hours. When? You’ll start Happy Hour early? All righty, then. We’ll be there by five. Yes, I have a spare box. See you soon Timoshkin. Cheers.”
“There, done”, I said, “We have two suites at the Hotel Siberia.”
“Whoa”, Dima exclaims, “You really went all out…”
Dima was being heavily sarcastic.
“Hell, Dima”, I said, “They know us there. We get great rates as we probably saved them from going under when the wall fell. Everyone knows us there and we are treated like royalty. Besides, they’ve really ramped the place up in the last few years. You’re not going to recognize the old place.”
Dima remained skeptical.
We went to the hostel after work and collected Dima’s kit, then we motored the 5 minutes over to the Hotel Siberia.
The hotel was old. Very old. Like the 1880s old.
“Doctor Rock!”, Yakimov Aleksandr, the proprietor of the hotel shouts, “Dima! It is so good to have you back. We have your rooms ready, here are your keys. Happy Hour can now begin!”
We go to grab our bags, but they’re already gone. Yakimov ushers us into the newly renovated lounge and bids us to sit. It’s all done in tasteful woodgrain and teal, with slightly fruity overtones of orange and brass thrown in for good measure. At least all the beer pumps are freshly polished and cheerily Western-looking with their Cyrillic placards boasting what each has to offer.
We partake of some Anchor drafts from St. Petersburg and the inevitable Baikal #1-9; each getting darker as you go. Speaking of dark, it’s pitch black outside and probably all of 1630 in the afternoon. White nights are tough to deal with, but 24 hours of dark send one’s Circadian rhythms into a real tailspin. Best have another couple of beers and shots, just to ensure slumber during this vexatious period.
The next morning, if one can call it that, Dima and I are having a hearty breakfast of powdered eggs omelets with freeze-dried shallots, mushrooms and dried ham and or bacon; at least I think it’s meat and I guess it might be pork. Over coffee and cigars, as we’re now on field time, and not punching any timeclocks; we make our day’s plans.
First. Read the paper. Then coffee and cigars.
Then, we make certain our gear is either properly stored in the van. We make a quick inventory to see what we’ve forgotten.
Logistics run in town to fill up on our necessities. Water, food, beer, vodka. The absolute necessities. It’s amazing how dry it is out here in the wintertime. Humidity is down to less than 10% and it’s like being in a cold, arid desert. Staying hydrated is a must. That’s no joke.
We jam a couple of ESPs into the van that we’ll deliver once we get to the field. Good thing the Uaz has a lot of open room. Few creature comforts, but one hell of a lot of open space. It’s the perfect vehicular symbol for Siberia.
Then, drop by the local Army base. We have our papers for taking delivery of various forms of explosives, but that will have to wait until our return from our initial reconnaissance. Best to first drop by, and let them know what we’re up to and what they’re in for.
Gas up the Uaz, and point it generally north by north-east. Head out to the field.
So, that’s where we’re headed now. Bouncing our way merrily down the energetic end-to-end sheets of concrete that make up a road out in these parts. Sort of like the automotive version of a railroad track. Instead of metal rails laid end to end, it’s 3x4 meter sheets of concrete laid on a typically poorly-prepared roadbed.
Each sheet of concrete gets its own orientation, so it makes for an enthusiastic, but nowhere near a relaxing drive. I take the first shift and drive until I can no longer feel what’s left of my hands. Dima takes over and we switch off every couple of hours. Good thing there’s not much traffic so it’s, jocularly, smooth sailing.
We arrive in the field area and it’s still another 8-kilometer drive down the rig road. The kyst here was just finishing up drilling, as it still had the rig on location. Once drilled up, the rig is literally cut into sections, dismantled, trucked to the next location, and rebuilt.
That usually leaves 18 pump jacks nodding merrily along, as there’s typically not enough reservoir energy to flow these wells. There’s also a plumber’s wet-dream of surface gathering piping and manifolds, along with a selection of oil storage tanks. The oil will be hooked up to pipeline sometime in the future, but for now, it’s trucked out by the semi-tanker load on a thrice-weekly basis.
Here, as best as we can reconstruct the situation, is what happened. Due to human error, there was a fire in one of the flow streams of oil. A flowline got cut, or a fitting broke, or something of that sort occurred. Siberian crude is light, sweet, i.e., low sulfur, and full of volatiles. Oil pooled around the kyst and a spark from a welder’s torch, it appears, ignited the conflagration. The entire 17 pump jacks were a total loss as was the rig and all storage facilities.
The pumping or sometimes flowing wells all have what’s called an SSSV or SubSea Safety Valve immediately below the pumping machinations of the completions tubing. It’s a fancy-dancy oilfield name for a check valve. Something goes crazy topsides, the valve shuts the well in, preventing any further flow of oil, gas, or water to surface. That way, if there is a fire, only the topside produced oil is consumed and the fire will more or less quickly burn itself out.
Unfortunately, there were also three 50,000 barrel oil tanks on site. These were 3 production-days full of oil and waiting to be milked by the resident oil haulage trucking firm. Seems the driver was suffering a bad case of Bottle Fatigue and sort of missed this location for a week or so. That means the tanks were as full as possible and the kyst was automatically shut-in as there was nowhere to put any more produced oil. It was supposed to be a fail-safe system, but as most automatic systems, it tends to work sort of well, most of the time. Here, it shut in the field when the storage tanks registered 110% full; ostensibly to account for shrinkage.
The result? Live oil gushed out of the tanks and everywhere on the ground.
But that didn’t stop the rig haulers. Even with oil slopped all over the ground, in some places multiple centimeters deep, they had a job to do. Cut down the drilling rig, load it up, and truck it over to the next location.
Cut the rig apart? Yep. With oxy-acetylene cutting torches. Arky-sparky oxy-acetylene cutting torches.
Well, no one was killed but the kyst, the separators, the flowline, the storage tanks, a drilling rig, and 17 pump jacks were a total loss.
Plus, there were about probably 100,000 barrels of heavily contaminated oil pooled around the kyst on the solidly frozen ground.
Here’s a neat little side note: back in the ‘bad old days’ of Soviet oil production, they actually both believed and relied upon automated systems. They would string shitty, low-carbon, easily corrasible and corrodible line pipe across the frozen lakes, marshes and swamps of the area. Through these would flow oil, gas, and water from many, many kysts to a centralized collection and treatment facility.
The Soviets were just nutty about centralized collectivization.
Many times due to metallurgical crystallization of the pipe due to the extreme cold weather, a flowline pipe would break way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere; usually in the middle of the night. Field engineers would sober up, eventually note the loss of line pressure, typically after a week or two, and shut that line in.
In the meantime, hundreds of thousands upon thousands of barrels of light, volatile crude would have flowed out onto the landscape. As a fluid, it would flow to occupy the lowest point, typically that atop a frozen body of water. Remember, it was -450C
out here for the most part.
The oil would pool on top of the lake, swamp or slough, and pile up as it got colder and more viscous. It would then sit there until the spring thaw.
As the weather warmed, the water ice under the oil would thaw. Now the oil, being less dense than water, would still sit atop the now liquid waters of the ponds, lake or swamp. As the weather warmed, more water ice would melt and it would be forced out by the overlying less dense, but still rather heavy, oil.
In this way, Soviet science had perfected a way of building lakes of crude oil at the surface.
Yes, it was, and still is, an environmental nightmare.
And we had a smaller version surrounding our kyst.
OK, so here’s the deal. We needed to get rid of all that oily, burned-out iron. One rig, 17 pump jacks, flowlines, choke manifolds, remains of storage tanks…it was one hell of a lot of shitty scrap steel.
Plus, we had to try and conserve the wellheads. They appeared to be in good nick, as they had shear-zones built-in for just such emergencies. The pump jacks would fall over in windstorms, thunderstorms, accidents, fires, earthquakes, and the like. A piece of specially prepared pipe would shear off and seal in the well, retaining the wellhead. This bit of engineering forethought prevented the re-drilling of countless oil wells over the decades.
It would all have to be done before the spring thaw, so we had to move quickly. It’s going to require the assembly and activation of hundreds of workers, trucks, bulldozers, containers for the scrapped iron, and dragging it out of here to a yard for recycling. It’s not an Augean Task; as Hercules would have looked at this burned out, oily mess shrugged his substantial shoulders and hauled ass to another tale.
First, though, the oil had to be dealt with. We start scrapping iron out here, one good spark, and WHOOSH!
, instant Siberian bar-be-que. But how to accomplish this? It had to be moved away from the work area and disposed of, one way or another. It was a time for a deep ponder.
However, it was getting late and we needed to get over to the oil company headquarters. That’s where we’d be spending our nights and conference times. Right now, we needed both.
It was probably 250 kilometers back to Tomsk, but only 35 to the oil company HQ and their barracks for visiting dignitaries. It would just have to do for us as well.
We wheel into the company HQ lot and immediately a security guard rousts us and thinks that he can, by dint of his office, either intimidate us or push us around. It’s been a long fucking day, full of oil, burnt steel and -450C
weather with a lot of wind. I don’t mind the cold, but the wind plays hod with eyesight and tends to lower the temperature effectively that everything semi-solid turns total solid, with icicles.
We needed strong drink, fine cigars, and a well-lit place to plan our strategy. Dima, being near 2 meters tall and all of 75 kilos needed warmth as well. Hell, at this point, I was so tired, I could have curled up in a snowbank and slept happily until morning.
But Comrade Toerag, the ex-KGB agent turned Siberian security guard was having none of this.
“Who are you? Why are you here? What are you doing? Where are your papers?” he shouted in machine-gun cadence Russian.
I looked at Dima.
“You want to handle this wiggler or should we just put him into low Earth orbit?” I asked.
“I’ll handle this!” Dima shouted, filled with righteous indignation.
«Разве вы не знаете, кто это? Это доктор Рокнокер, очень уважаемый и известный западный ученый. Этот человек – THE MOTHERFUCKING PRO FROM DOVER
, и у вас есть смелость остановить нас и помешать нашему входу?»” Dima shouted.
I tried to follow, but once he hit the Pro from Dover
section, I knew he was on a roll.
The guard visibly shrank and began his apologies. He should have politely asked for our papers. But he didn’t, Dima was cold, cranky and in a mood; so he took the brunt of that attack.
We were allowed entrance and found our way to Dr. Bolotistyy, the General Director’s office.
The receptionist there was not impressed with Dima’s irritability, nor my Hawaiian shirt, shorts, cigar, and field boots in the dead of winter. But then she does glimpse enough of our costumes to take a full look, and her reaction indicates clearly that she is not prepared for such unkempt, unprofessional-looking men.
“Hey, you can't go in there! Who are you?” she insists.
“I'm the Pro from Dover
and this is my favorite caddie.” I calmly reply.
“Well, you can't go in. Not till you tell me your business and I check with Dr. Bolotistyy’s office.” She continues to insist.
“Well, if you must know...” I say.
Dima adds: “Hold it. If this personal assistant enforces her own orders. I'm ready to take her on. Anxious. Single combat.”
He moves toward the girl, who holds her ground staunchly until they are almost in contact. Then she takes a step back and continues to take one step backward for each one of his in her direction. When they get close to the door, her resistance collapses entirely and she scurries back to her seat at the desk, where she grabs the phone as Dima and I march through the door.
“Well”, I say, “At least now they know we’re here.”
We’re in Dr. Bolotistyy’s office, feet up on the desk, reading last month’s Oilman Magazine and smoking cigars; Dima enjoying the steam heat of the good Doctor’s office.
Dr. Bolotistyy finally arrives, harrumphs at out pedal placement yet is very pleased to see both of us.
“Dr. Rock, Dima”, he says, after shaking hands, “We are glad you are here. We are so short of support people, we’d never get to that fire. It’d be summer and even more of a mess. We are so glad you have arrived.”
“You said that.”, I remarked, “There’s something else here besides just cleaning up the mess isn’t there?”
“Ah, well, yes,”, Dr. Bolotistyy remarks, “The Western method of not allowing for boltovnya
, [chit-chat]. Very good. Very well. Yes, as you surmised. We are in deep with the local indigenous population. They are most unhappy with us. They can raise enough rancor to shut us down in certain areas; thanks to the reforms we’ve ‘enjoyed’ since the change.”
“Reforms” meaning giving the locals some say in how their native lands are being raped.
“Rancor” meaning raising a big enough stink that the Ministries back in Moscow just shut down operations until they get a chance to review the grievances, which could literally take years.
I’m seen as a mediator as I know the heads of all the local tribes of indigenous peoples. I’ve always dealt with them fairly and tried to get them what they deserved. They knew I wasn’t in the pocket of the drillers, service companies, producers or ministries. I was an independent adjudicator, beholden to none, so my pronouncements and judgments were considered fair and impartial.
If there were some that were taking the law into their own hands, I’d ferret them out as well and deliver them to the proper authorities. I may be Dr. Nice Guy, but fucking around and blowing up oil facilities is slightly beyond the pale. You’re off to the Gulag, or the modern equivalent, Sonny Ivan.
If that meant the local oil company had to drill a couple of water wells for the locals, well, so be it. If it meant they had to buy a couple of tractors or pay for a bunch of dead reindeer, so be that as well.
The oil company knew I’d be able to fix the situation, even though it might cost a few rubles. The locals knew I was fair and wasn’t out to screw them, but I wasn’t out to hose the oil company either. I attempted to be scrupulously fair, and both sides respected that.
“So, Dr. Bolotistyy”, I asked, “Where do we go from here?”
Dr. Bolotistyy asks if we’d meet with the two sore afflicted tribal chiefs, Yoshchkigi, and Vashchkigi. They would redress their grievances, then I’d be expected to appease them and get the oil company back on track.
I knew Yoshchkigi and Vashchkigi from years back, right after the fall of the wall. A father and son team that were the respective heads of tribes in and around the immediate oil field area. They were pushed around by the Soviet Machine pre-1991, but things have improved markedly for them since.
As a bit of history, the Khanty are a Ugrian indigenous people living in Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug, a region historically known as "Yugra" in Russia, together with the Mansi. In the autonomous okrug, the Khanty and Mansi languages are given co-official status with Russian. In the latest Census, 31,000 persons identified themselves as Khanty in the Tyumen Oblast, who were living in Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug and in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. There were member residents of neighboring Tomsk Oblast, and the Komi Republic.
They were semi-nomadic reindeer herders and farmers, who have given over to a more sedentary life, often still living in traditional chum
, or teepee-style tents. They subsist off the land; hunting, fishing, gathering and such.
As such, they are keenly aware of environmental concerns and raise a lot of grief anytime an oil producer, or any sort of industrialized local concern starts tearing up their neighborhood.
It was decided that Dima and I would meet with the Chiefs out on location as this was the place where there existed the greatest potential for environmental despoilment. It would be the place I’d assuage their fears and make nice between both concerned parties.
Dr. Bolotistyy said he’d make the arrangements and called for his personal assistant. She came into the office expecting to see us eviscerated for having acted as we did previously. She was more than a little surprised to see me lean over to Dr. Bolotistyy’s humidor and extract several of his precious cigars. She was even more amazed that Dr. Bolotistyy allowed me to do so.
We stayed and chatted with Dr. Bolotistyy about our plans with the tribal chiefs. I told him on no uncertain terms that this was my sole matter and he should just concern himself with the other operational aspects of running a large, semi-national oil company. Besides, it was getting late and Dima and I had neither dinner nor drinks since we’ve arrived.
Dr. Bolotistyy readily agreed and called to the “Red Room”, which was the Executive Dining Room created for this classless society way back in the early days of oil extraction in Western Siberia, back in the 1950’s. They were alerted to our imminent arrival and Dr. Bolotistyy asked if several lower-echelon managers and other time-servers could join us for dinner. Evidently, they had expressed interest in meeting me and Dima; and besides, it’s not often one gets invited to dinner in the company “Red Room”.
It was a fixed menu sort of catering affair, I was told on our way to the lounge. Our bags had already been taken from the Uaz, which itself had been moved underground to parking in the steam-heated garage. They also removed the ESPs we were carrying, sending them out already to their field addresses. Our luggage was already in our “Executive Rooms” on the top floor of the 16 story oil company building.
I could get used to this ‘classless society’ treatment.
We had the options of poultry, fish or ‘meat’ for dinner. With the entrée, there would be some form of vegetables, potatoes, which are considered a necessity and not a vegetable, fresh bakery, a soup course, borscht of course. Finally. There would be some sort of insanely sweet collation for afters. Say what you will, but the Russians do love their sweets.
Drinks would include still and bubble water, coffee, tea, sok [juice] of several varieties, beer, vodka, cognac and sweet champagne as several of the middle-managers joining us were female.
No, that’s not
sexist. They prefer sweet champagne over the harder spirits, and that’s an observed fact. I couldn’t nor wouldn’t choke down that stuff even at gunpoint.
We arrive at the “Red Room”, and as distinguished guests, we were allowed, nay, ordered, to enter first. Dima and I knew our etiquette, so I took the head of the table on one end, and Dima did likewise on the other.
Protocol, my ass. I read your book, Conde Nast, you magnificent bastard.
I opted for ‘meat’, which was risky. It could have been beef, lamb, mutton, veal, pork, goat, reindeer, venison, moose, bear, or horse. Dima opted for fish and the rest did whatever struck there fancy. I think one ordered lasagna.
Our opulent, and huge table, was covered with a very handsome Khanty-Mansisk tablecloth; one of woven, dyed reindeer fur. It was indeed fetching and unusual. In front of everyone was a series of plates, glasses, flatware, and a ½ liter bottle each of mineral water, sparkling and still, vodka, cognac, and beer. The table was set with candelabra with fine sputtering beeswax candles, a couple of very nice, albeit fake given the time of year, floral arrangements, and multitudinous ashtrays, each with their own box of oil company branded matches.
Yeah, this was going to take a while.
Finally after everyone was arrived and settled, Dr. Bolotistyy to my immediate right, everyone was smoking and having surreptitious drinks as that would have violated decorum of done overtly. Water was fine, due to the low humidity, but alcohol waited for the Tamandar. And the Tamandar this evening was Dr. Bolotistyy.
I snuck out of that by complaining of fatigue and a sore throat after my long travels.
After all the bottles were returned to their pristine state, orders for dinner were taken.
Immediately after that, Dr. Bolotistyy cracked the first, of many, bottles of vodka and expected everyone else at the table to follow suit. Everyone did, most with vodka, some with cognac and a few with champagne.
Dr. Bolotistyy stood and began his first toast. He went on and on about mutual East-West relations and how the West was here to help and aid a “normal evolutionary pathway with something more revolutionary: explosives!”
Yeah, my reputation proceeds me. Dr. Bolotistyy was trying to garner brownie points all round by referencing evolution, revolution, and taking an off-handed jab at the character who flew some millions of miles to help them out in their time of need.
In other words, it was the usual setup.
If a Russian really liked and respected you, he’d unload upon you a whole series of left-handed compliments, jabs, oblique insults, and serial abuses on your behalf during the toast.
If he only barely tolerated you, he’d be as proper as Carrie Nation at a WCTU meeting.
It was a whole laughing series of snorts about violent Americans who fix things by blowing them up, who travel to do fieldwork in shorts and incredibly awful Hawaiian shirts in the dead of winter, smoke huge capitalistic cigars, wear John Wayne “Bang, Bang!” hats, [my field Stetson], and who don’t know enough to first remove their hand when someone is trying to make up a joint of pipe on the rig with a power tong.”
That last one was really sort of pushing the envelope. Russians don’t care for personal deformities any more than the next bunch, but Dr. Bolotistyy thought he knew me well enough as a person and oilman that I’d just laugh it off. At least, that’s what he hoped.
It was a full 100 milliliter bottoms-up toast. He was hoping that might dull the sneer he thought I might be forming. It didn’t hurt…
As per the usual procedure, it next fell to me to make a toast. We’d work around the mushroom, goat cheese, and green leafy something-or-other salad that had arrived during his tribute.
I stood up, and with a huge smile, uncorked my vodka bottle and emptied fully half into my glass. I would have gone whole-hog, but it was only a 250 ml. tumbler. I also made certain my cigar was lit and fully fuming.
By law, everyone else at the table had to copy my lead with their own personal favorite tipple, but not water, that’s taboo; and listen intently as I answer Dr. Bolotistyy’s toast.
Game on, motherfucker
. To be continued…