Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Relationship Problems

Drilling is my least favorite activity in consulting. It is also the one activity that generally requires a geologist, as opposed to an engineer or other type of scientist.

I do enjoy sampling. You never know what you'll find when you open a split spoon, and in some situations it's really exciting. Once, we punched through some old newspapers, and were able to date them based on the sports stats, and they were over 50 years old.

I dislike drilling for several reasons, but number 1 is working with drillers. The problem is that I want wells to be installed in a specific way. I need to not drag down potential contamination from above, I need representative soil samples, and I need to produce a well that will give good data over the long term. A driller wants to finish the job on schedule and without breaking anything. The way I want to do things is generally slower and more of a PITA for the driller. All the requirements I should be insisting on are in the contract between us. However, this contract is usually hammered out between us and some sort of manager at the drilling company, and the guy who goes out and does the work usually doesn't give a rat's ass about the contract. Especially where it contradicts his standard practice (which happened on every job - my company and I were picky).

Human nature is to test limits. Every single driller I have ever worked with has tested me. I am unfortunately a conflict-avoiding type, and when I started, I was shy and nervous about asserting myself. Also, drilling is complicated - most rigs have been modified, and each driller has his own way of doing things. The universe of things that are ok to do is large, and the universe of things that are unacceptable is larger. When I first started, I had some (minimal) training, but 2 days of having someone shadow you doesn't prepare you for the millions of ways drillers will try to take shortcuts that you have to catch. You look stupid and petty if you keep the driller from doing something that is fine, and you get poor results (and lose respect) if you don't stop the driller from doing something that is bad.

And here is where my appearance comes in. As I mentioned, I am short and female. I am incapable of hiding my feelings, and I flush at the drop of a hat. In grad school, I've been told that I look 16 or 17...I didn't look any older when I first started working! The only way I can assert my authority is to not let drillers get away with things (I do tend to bend on some stuff that isn't critical; otherwise I'd be nagging all day). I have to prove with each new job and each new driller that I am not a doormat and that I know my stuff. It has gotten easier as I gained knowledge and experience. I have honed my "cut the shit" stare. I can relax a little and not feel like I'm exposing myself if I ask a question.

But I still start every new job dreading what the new driller will do and desperately hoping I catch whatever it is.

Note that I have referred to the driller as "him". I have only met one female driller, and I did not work with her personally.


Anonymous said...

I think in every profession when people have not dealt with each other before the human instinct is to test the waters and see what you can get away with. Whether its negotiating a contract or watching drillers like a hawk, the temptation is to see what the other side will catch. Though issues of stature, age and gender can affect things, in the end respect has to be earned. If you let people know that you know your job without being a pain in their ass, then chances are they will come around and tow the line. This is not to say that you wont run into an unreasonable SOB every now and then, because we all do. I am just speaking generally.

azalia rahman said...

hello there. I'm Azalia, from Malaysia. and currently still studying in my 2nd year, Geology. Just wanna let u know that I've linked your blog to mine. Love to read on your experiences on working.thanks!