Life in the PBOC

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Hello from the furthest North I ever blogged.  I am 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle for a week on the slope (aka The North Slope, aka Greater Prudhoe Bay, aka the BP operations in the Alaskan Arctic).  I am sitting in a “camp” called the Prudhoe Bay Operations Center (PBOC).  This is one of many camps that act as living and working quarters for the people who come to the slope, and is one of the most recommended locations.  This is the second time I’ve been to the slope, but the first time was just a day trip and this time I am staying over.  But don’t think to mistake it as a vacation destination.

There’s the obvious reasons, like the cold.  It’s -10°F today for a high temperature, and eventhough the winds are fairly slow (3-5 mph), its still enough to push the wind chill down to -22°F.  Snow is everywhere you can see, not that snow is falling much here, it’s just that when it falls it stays.  This time of year, noone goes outside unless they are heading from one building to another, and even the shortest of drives requires you to warm up the truck first.  Not to mention … its dark out there.  I took a picture today at 1:30pm and the sun maybe was up beyond the clouds but I doubt it. 

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Even if you wanted to vacation here, you couldn’t.  PBOC is on the BP Lease, and used strictly for the buisness of producing oil on the slope.  The residents are either employees working at facilities or those in offices or buisnesses supporting the work here.  Most work  for two weeks straight before getting two weeks off straight.  But when they here, they work 12 hour shifts, either 6AM-6PM or 6PM-6AM.  When people are at BPOC, it’s about eating, sleeping, and recovering for the next day.

PBOC itself wouldn’t be mistaken for a hotel either.  From the outside, PBOC looks as temporary as a high-tech trailer park.  It (and nearly every building on the slope) was built up from modules that would fit on the back of a semi.  It also sits up on risers (I’m not really sure why, but it look slike it can be pulled alway by sled dogs).  The layout on the outside appears like a space station, with a central pod going one direction and a series of wings extending out from the center. 

The rooms are very small, enough room for a single bed, a small desk, a closet, and a half a walkway to get to the door.  You share the bathroom with the room next door, and it comes with a TV hanging over the bed.  It’s not really “my room” anyway.  Nearly every room is assigned to one worker that is here in one of those swings.  When people like me come along, we fit into one of those gaps when the person in the room is offslope.  My guy is named Skip.

The place feels a bit old, a collegue describes it as going back to the 70’s (complete with an electric wurlitzer organ, wood panelling, and those plastic signs where the lettering relief … I don’t know what they are called … but I think 70s when I see them).  But it has some interesting twists.  There is a basketball court, a commesary, and even a movie theature.  The real highlight is the dining hall — because somehow they put out some great meals three times a day, with fresh veggies/fruit, fresh fish, good quality meats, and a well used ice cream machine. 

The point of PBOC isn’t to replace home, or make you feel like you are back where you come from.  It’s there to take care of your needs while you’re at work.  A bed, a bath, a warm meal.  It helps people get through the long days and long nights.  It’s the lifeboat of the Eastern Prudhoe Bay operating area.

And it will be my home until Tuesday.

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