SONATRACH in ALGERIEN, Roberto Gourlay, INDUSTRIELLER ELEKTRIKER in den ÖL-FELDERN der SAHARA WÜSTE:
SONATRACH ALGERIA - Roberto Gourlay - ELECTRICISTA INDUSTRIAL en los POZOS DE PETROLEO en el DESIERTO DEL SAHARA:
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SONATRACH - CLEM CORPORATION HOUSTON: NEW PHOTOS and INFORMATION ADDED on the:
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It was a hot Mallorcan summer evening in AUGUST of 1976 when talking over a nice cold drink at around 2 AM with some chaps from a company called CLEM CORPORTATION of HOUSTON TEXAS, who had an office based in the HOTEL UTO in CALA MAYOR.
They explained to me that CLEM CORPORATION has a huge contract with the ALGERIAN OIL MONOPOLY called SONATRACH which is doing some important drilling in the SAHARA DESERT in the HASSI MESSAOUD area as well as GHARDIA...its a relatively NEW region where MASSIVE DEPOSITS OF OIL AND GAS can be found.These deposits were found in the early 1960´s. Now, in the 1970´s, SONATRACH have been doing some serious drilling to bring this valuable resource on line. So they hired some American Companies, one of them CLEM CORPORATION to provide experts to run the drilling rigs, and they purchased several CABOT MODEL 1200 DRILLING RIGS and ALL ACCESSORIES, as well as modern new TRAILERS-MOBILE CABINS for the specialized workers.
The CLEM CORPORTATION contract with SONATRACH was to provide TOOL PUSHERS (DRILLERS), MECHANICS, and INDUSTRIAL ELECTRICIANS as well as MUD ENGINEERS (Not your normal mud, its a special petroleum based complex chemical liquid that is injected into the drilling pipes to allow the REMOVAL of the rock, sand and earth that the drilling bit chews up. It is injected into the pipes at TREMENDOUS PRESSURE in order to help the drilling bit chew more deeply and efficiently into the deep earth.) Some of these wells go more than 4,000 meters - FOUR KILOMETERS deep below the SAND of the SAHARA.
Drilling for OIL in HASSI MESSAOUD.
So, these gentlemen explained that they need qualified people and if I knew of anyone. Then the asked me if I had any experience in construction or any field that might apply to their needs. I told them of my Royal Canadian Air Force training that included extensive classes on elecronics, electricity, radar, radio, as well as work I did in Germany with selling electronic equipment to NATO forces in Germany, and finally the fact that I was the first person to introduce QUADRAPHONIC DISCO sound into Germany...I had opened the FIRST Quadraphonic disco on the Kaiserhof Strasse nº 6, FRANKFURT in 1973.
They asked me if I knew anything about electric GENERATORS, MOTORS and THYRISTOR CONTROL.. I said not on an industrial level , but yes I knew in priciple their function and Tyhristor control is basically a transistorized system to control the speed of rotation of an electric motor, or also it can be used to control a MAGNETIC BRAKE to slow down an electric motor SMOOTHLY without JERKS or sudden stops - this is important in REEL TO REEL TAPE DECKS like TEAK , AKAI and REVOX, machines that I have here at home and that I have been working with for YEARS....the men laughed...the explained that the motors they work with are HUGE, and in some cases, 18 cylinder CATERPILLAR DIESEL motors are used, for example, for the MUD PUMPS, and very large generators are needed as well as VERY large electric motors with THYRISTOR CONTROLLED magnetic BRAKES.....I was not fazed...I said the only difference here we are talking about is SIZE!
The PRINCIPALS of THYRISTOR CONTROL.
Finally we agreed that I should meet their boss and we see what happens. Well, a few weeks later, I got news that my FIVE MINUTE INTERVIEW with MR. FRANK APP, PRESIDENT of CLEM CORPORATION from HOUSTON was a success. He only asked me to explain what I knew about THYRISTOR control..and that was it. His secretary at the Hotel UTO in CALA MAYOR, ANN BECKETT, a lovely lady who treated all of us really well, looking after our interests and solving may small problems....informed me that I was ACCEPTED for the job as INDUSTRIAL ELECTRICIAN on the CABOT Model 1200 OIL RIG at HASSI MESSAOUD in ALGERIA.
A week later I was on the plane! The work system was VERY GOOD... I was to work for 14 days - TWO WEEKS in the desert, 12 HOURS EACH DAY, and then they would fly me back to MALLORCA for ONE WEEK OFF for rest. Two weeks ON, one week OFF, and all expenses paid, air fare, lodging, food, transport, equipment, health insurance,
.....private trailer with all amenities, and VERY GOOD MONEY transferred to my bank account in MALLORCA in US DOLLARS. It was terrific.
Here is a note from the company on the work schedule...two weeks in the desert, one week on Mallorca.
ON THE PLANE:
The above fotos, taken with a cheap camera - I was told NOT to bring any "FANCY" CAMERAS, RADIOS or SOUND EQUIPMENT there. The quality of the photos is NOT GOOD, but it does give you the ATMOSPHERE of what this very unusual place and job was like.
The foto of me in the Plane clealy shows how TIRED I WAS, it was 4AM...hardly any sleep over the excitement of a whole new set of life experiences..and it WAS a fascinating and incredible experience.
We had to take off in a BOEING plane at 04:30 am from PALMA for the direct flight to HASSI MESSAOUD - it was a LONG ride, the views of the desert from the air was incredible...NO WATER, NO PLANTS, NO CITIES...NO ROADS...oh yes you could see the odd OASIS, and I think one or two DIRT TRACKS, but NO PAVED ROADS until we got near HASSI MESSAOUD.
LANDING AT HASSI MESSAOUD AIRPORT:
Landing at Hassi Messaoud Airport.
It was difficult to say GOODBYE to my fun job with BORSALINO DISCOTHEQUE club in MAGALLUF MALLORCA - Manolo Belmonte, the Director, Paco Piccornell the owner and my friends there all gave me a reluctant farewell but also mentioned that they would like me to do shows there when am back in Mallorca during my one week "rest" period...and I did just that - fotos below shows what promotion they made for a "comeback" show there several times.
WHERE IS HASSI MESSAOUD - It was a TINY dirt down, a village with no life, no "action" like I was used to in Mallorca, a very sandy, dusty town that reminded me a LOT of some scenes from old CLINT EASTWOOD MOVIES: All the people there were connected to the oil drilling work. IT was NOT a village for POST CARDS!
This video shows a proposed NEW Hassi Messaoud built with the co-operation of SONATRACH: Compare this video with the REAL pictures of Hassi Messaoud as it was in 1976:
Projected city of the FUTURE for HASSI MESSAOUD with the co-operation of SONATRACH.
Above is the Hassi Messaoud airfield - at the end you can see the type of Boeing aircraft that took us directly to Palma.
HASSI MESSAOUD THE OIL FIELDS:
Here you have Hassi Messaoud at the beginning of oil and gas exploration...such an enormous WASTE of energy being burned off in huge flames...it was like this in 1962 and still burining in 1977! Here you also see a close up of one of the oil rigs.
Gas burn - off at HASSI MESSAOUD - oil rigs from SONATRACH.
Here are some pictures taken by me of the oil fields surrounding Hassi Messaoud, others were taken by friends.
Gas burn - off at HASSI MESSAOUD - oil rigs from SONATRACH.
From the oil rig that I worked at, "Shantier" SH-179 in Hassi Messaoud, I would work 12 hour shifts, sometimes all night long, other times all day long. The night shifts were beautful in a certain way, you could look over the horizon and see the buring oil fields fires, and at night it looked like SHIPS ON THE HORIZON...on a sea of sand.
It was VERY HOT during the DAY - over 50 degrees heat or more, but you never had any sweat - it was SO DRY, your body never had any - it evaporated almost immediately. Yet at night it would get VERY COLD...15 degrees..because the SAND does not retain the heat. Almost always I wore a long sleeved shirt - I never felt hot, but the shirt prevented the sand from the wind getting into your pores. A very difficult climate to live with.
This video below shows the bus from OUARGLA to HASSI MESSAOUD (2005) so you can see some of the oil fields, the smoke and the countryside. When I was there, the road was a dirt track.
BUS from OUORGLA airport to HASSIE MESSAOUD - here you see the typical scenery of this area. It has not changed much since 1977.
HASSI MESSAOUD THE TOWN:
I used to into the town about once a week with my CAMP BOSS to buy TOOLS for my job, COCA COLA, or other things we needed at the camp. We were about a half hour LAND ROVER drive from our oil rig SH-179.
ABOVE FOTO: I used to always buy COCA COLA by the CASE - as you can see it on the hood.
When you could not find Coca Cola, I had to conform with buying a case of PEPSI.
This (above) is what the TAXIS looked like. Terrible picture but you get the idea.
The photo ABOVE shows a bill that I paid for the purchase of specal ELECTRICAL TOOLS and a TOOL BOX that I needed in order to do the work I had to do...it seemed that the electricians before me never left hardly even a SCREWDRIVER...so I bought my own tools and electrical testers...it made the job so much more safer and easier.
Above is the Hassi Messaoud POST OFFICE where I Mailed this letter BELOW:
THE BASE CAMP - LIVING ACCOMODATION of OIL RIG CREW OF SH-179:
The base camp was made up of well built modern TRAILERS that featured hot and cold water...the water actually came from TWO KILOMETERS below the sand...it was ICE COLD, and ABSOLUTELY CRYSTAL CLEAR, CLEAN and DRINKABLE. I used to drink liters and litres of it during hot days after my 12 hour shift on the oil rig. There was air conditioning, bathroom with sink and shower, clothes closet, a very comfortable bed, and an office style desk.
Since in ALGERIA the ARABS there speak FRENCH, I made good friends there, especially the CAMP BOSS Mr. DJAMAL BOUZIDI - we played a lot of CHESS together, and he helped me learn some ARABIC as well as he did a lot of translating for me to the Arabs who could not speak French. He turned out to be a very good friend, always soft spoken, never angry at the Arab crew who looked after the camp.
Video of the same types of CABINS or TRAILERS we lived in:
HASSI MESSAOUD Base Camp Trailers-Cabins.
The above picture is the poster I put up in my trailer after spending one of my weeks "CONGIE´S" or LEAVE in Palma de Mallorca where I was invited to do a special Disco Show at Borsalino´s in Magalluf.
When you have worked for two weeks solid, 12 hours a day, you really welcome your "CONGE" leave, but before you go, you need this authorization below from SONATRACH, otherwise you cannot leave the country.
THE FOOD AND DINING AT THE BASE CAMP, HASSI MESSAOUD:
I only have these two photos, but it gives you an idea what dining was like there. The dining room was a in a trailer larger of course than our cabins, and often I had to fix the ICE MACHINE, it would break down because of the heat, and the FLIES in the place..wow.. ...but it was TOLERABLE and the food was really not that bad. The arabs, as you can see in the foto, really like their TEA.
When I arrived for my FIRST TWO weeks on the job, everything went very well. The American Industrial electrician I was replacing was a great help in getting me acquainted with all the machinery and technical details, as well as giving me the workshop manuals of a lot of the machines and electrical installations there, so it was really a FAST learning curve in order to know how to do the job right. I was studying these manuals and books every night for 2 weeks.
Then after each two weeks, SONATRACH issues you a CONGE TRAVEL FORM, which gives you official permission to leave the rig and go home, in my case back to Mallorca, for a one week rest. Well, being new there, the central office made a big mistake. I WAS NOT ON THE LIST!
So, I asked for advice and I was told to catch a plane - at my expense to be later reimbursed - to ALGERIA and from there, a plane to MALLORCA, then we will sort out the expenses when I come back. OK, fine, no problem.
Here below you have one of the CONGE forms that I used on other weeks I had off:
When I got to Algiers, I had to stay overnight in a hotel because there were no flights to Palma until the next day.
The next day, I had to get to the airport, asked directions for the direct bus - I was told there was a good bus service there, so unfortunately I went to the WRONG bus stop. Oh yes, this bus stop also had a bus that goes to the airport, but its the CIVILIAN bus and not the express tourist bus that I should have used. While waiting for this bus, one of the conductors there at this station started talking to me, and said I should note down his name in my WALLET ("Port Monai") so I could contact him next time I was in Algiers. Well, I pull out the pouch from my bag, note down the number of this guy, and put it back in my bag. The bus comes, and when I try to get on board, a HOARD of young kids, no more than 10 to 12 years old "attacked" my bag and watch...I was able to save the watch from being stolen, but they got my "Port Monai" and other things I had in my travel bag!
Here is the declaration to the police.
With my passsport and all papers, drivers licence and more, stolen, I had to get a TAXI to the CANADIAN EMBASSY in ALGIERS, where the ambassador there actually allowed me to stay the night while he organised a document that MIGHT allow me to go to Mallorca without a passport. Here is the passport foto I had to get done:
Here is the document that Vice Consul Michel de Salaberry was so kind to draw up in the hopes that it would be accepted at the Algiers Airport so I could get back to Mallorca and get organised for the next two weeks of work in Hassi Messaoud. Unfortunately, it was NOT accepted and I had to wait until the 7th of June in Algiers for a new passport.
Naturally, I had to stay in a hotel to wait for a new passport - SONATRACH was very kind enough to help and even paid for the hotel stay.
THE JOB - THE WORK - THE RIG - THE MACHINERY:
Cabot Oil Rig in HASSI MESSAOUD.
Here is an EXCELLENT video showing how the TOOLPUSHERS job is REALLY done - its AMAZING:
This is how its done..TOOLPUSHERS in action.
The above foto shows that climbing up to the top of the Cabot Oil Rig Tower was easy but with NO safety devices, in those days there were no harnesses, straps or cables to hang on to...all you needed was good balance and try NOT to look down. To change a neon tube - bulb - in the oil rig tower lamps was a real job. You had to physically remove the ENTIRE LIGHT FIXTURE, disconnect it, bring it DOWN THE LONG LADDER to the workshop, and carefully chip away at the CEMENT that held the glass cover over the bulbs.
The REASON for the cement over the bulbs was that these lights are directly above the drilling pipes and hole.
There is a LOT of natural GAS that comes up through these pipes when they get near the main oil field 3,000 meters or much more even , below the sand. This gas is under TERRIFIC PRESSURE, and shoots up in full force. IF these lights were to give off ONE SPARK, the entire rig would BLOW UP. This also applies to ALL plugs and junction boxes- they had to be extremely TIGHTLY SEALED so there was no danger of any GAS catching FIRE. Here are, below, some pictures I took from the tower looking below at the installations and pipes being ready for attachment to the main pipe "stream" or "train".
This foto above was taken from the tower about halfway up. You can see here the three most important buildings of the rig SH-179. On the left was my WORKSHOP...here I repaired motors, cables, lights and other machines. In the Middle is the MAIN GENERATOR ROOM, and boy was it NOISY! 24 hours a day running non stop. There were TWO large generators in that workshop. The RIGHT hand side is the DIESEL FUEL TANK that fed fuel to the huge MUD PUMPS and the DRILL and ROTATE engine.
Look closely at this foto above - you can see MY SHOES at the BOTTOM of the PHOTO - this gives you an idea of the SIZE of those MUD PUMP PISTONS - enormous power here at work.
Apart from installing electric motors, especially the violent motors used for the SHALE SHAKER tanks - the Shale Shakers "clean" the MUD that is pumped up from 4,000 meters below the sand - I saw during one large period of time a WHITE substance, that when I touched some of it, it felt like BONE...not ROCK...it was BONE that could crumble in your hands...I thought it MIGHT be from DINOSUARS buried kilometers deep below the sand of the Sahara.
A lot of my electrical work was organising the SPAGHETTI CHAOS that was in almost ALL the electrical boxes there at the rig site.
One of the FIRST things I did when I arrived was to carry out TOTAL GROUNDING of the ENTIRE RIG SITE, and I had to do a DIAGRAM by hand for presentation to the BOSSES at SONATRACH.
Here below you can see that original diagram:
CAMELS IN THE DESERT: You have no idea what a CAMEL is like until you SMELL ONE....Uuuhhff. These Nomads, I believe they were Nomads...Desert Wanderers, who passed by our camp looking for WATER. It was a tradition that you always gave strangers and travellers water when in the Desert. The appearance of the men and even their children showed faces very worn from the burning sun, the scars from frequent desert dust storms, the hot hot days and very cold nights. It was a pleasure to meet these unusual people...they did not speak French so there was no way I could communicate with them, all I know is that they were very quiet, polite, took their water...and wandered off with their Camels and their families. I often thought about them during my stay in the Sahara Desert...what their life must be like.
Rig "SHANTIER" SH-179 drilling finally finished. It was time to DISMANTLE the PORTABLE CABOT Model 1200 DRILLING RIG and bring it to the NEXT drilling project - in GHARDIA.
Taking down this huge rig was no fun. It was VERY complicated work, and brute FORCE was needed more than BRAINS. We had it well organised though - everything had to go according to the book...step by step...and my job was to remove ALL and I mean ALL the electrical equipment, lights, cables, plugs, junction boxes, and ground connections. I was the ONLY electrician on the Rig, and it took literally DAYS working 12 hour shifts to get the job done. It was a real challenge...and these pictures give you an idea of the immense work that was involved in "LAYING DOWN" Rig SH 179.
The above photo shows me getting on the "DOWNED" rig and now begins the work of removing all the electrical cables and lights as well as junction boxes.
ALL of the oil drilling equipment here is brought in by GIANT TRUCKS such as KENWORTHS or MAC Trucks..these large American machines that could handle the heat of the desert, the sand, the hills and the tremendous WEIGHT of the machinery with NO problems. This is a sight I saw many times a DAY during the many many months I worked here:
Precious Photos of the Desert and this world of Oil Drilling.
In the above photo have you noticed I am the only one wearing gloves? The amount of workers who got fingers and hands cut doing this work was amazing...and hardly anyone wears gloves or any helmets for protection in case of a fall or similar.
SO...we move the huge Cabot Rig away from the completed drilling hole of SH-179 - When I left they were bleeding off the immense GAS that was trapped above the oil at almost 4 KILOMETERS below the Sahara Desert. Large amounts of crude oil direcly from below came out as well and made black puddles in the sand. I was able to fill a BOTTLE with this natural crude oil..here is a picture of that crude oil. When I first had it, it smelled just like gasoline. Now, ther lighter elements of the crude has evaporated and there is hardly any trace of that gasoline smell. There is really nothing to photograph...its pitch black. The crude oil is actually quite "thin", almost like WATER, I thought normally crude oil was heavy and thick...this is more like water than heavy crude oil. The bottle was from an aftershave lotion bought in Mallorca that I had at the camp. I had to be very careful that no one saw me take this sample crude oil..apparently it was against the rules for anyone to remove ANY samples of crude oil from the field.
Here it is:
Images of the OCEAN DESERT - simply incredible.
OUR NEXT STOP - THE SAHARA VILLAGE OF GHARDIA:
GHARDAIA from the air - I was based there for a year.
One day, my Camp Boss decided to go for a WALK From our BASE CAMP to the VIlLAGE of GHARDAIA...it was a LONG walk but well worth it - CAMP BOSS Mr. DJAMAL BOUZIDI - had FAMILY and FRIENDS in GHARDAIA and he was kind enough to have them welcome me into their homes. It was a very warm experience - even the teenage girls did a welcome "BELLY DANCE" for us when we arrived.
TIME TO SAY GOODBYE: Unfortunately, some of the workers sent by CLEM CORPORATION to HASSI MESSAOUD had a drinking alcohol problem. They showed up at the rig for work in a very bad state, and caused some serious damage to one of the drilling projects due to their mis-calculations during the cementing of a completed well. The cementing of an oil well is very complex and needs precise pressure and volume calculations, and someone there used the wrong configuration and the cement crushed some of the drill pipes in the hole, and poured out on to the sand. Not good.
The Bosses of SONATRACH flew down from Algiers and after a short investigation, they FIRED the CLEM CORPORATION, which meant that EVERYONE working for CLEM had to LEAVE the job almost immediately. This meant me too, even though I was working away from Hassi Messaoud in Ghardia.
I was extremely upset about it all, and felt that it was so unfair that a lot of very good people there lost their jobs because of the ignorance and incompetance of just one or two men who could not remain SOBER on the job. Here are some fotos of me saying goodbye to the people that made my stay and my work there actually a pleasant and rewarding experience. I will never forget them and I do hope that one or two of them might visit this website and enjoy these photos and memories.
I was still very interested in working for SONATRACH, so to erase the "STIGMA" of the sad events of CLEM CORPORATION, I asked my BOSSES at SONATRACH and at the SH-179 RIG site to give me, please, some letters of RECOMMENDATION that I could use as a reference to apply for a new job at SONATRACH. Here they are:
This was a fascinating, rich and rewarding experience. Living in the hottest areas of the Sahara Desert and working under extreme conditions, in an alien culture, and working with powerful technology was something that not everyone has a chance to see. I would like to publicly thank everyone whom I met there that enriched my life.
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1977: Industrial Electrician in the OIL FIELDS of the SAHARA DESERT at HASSI MESSAOUD and later GHARDIA en ALGERIA.
Enter into the fascinating world of LASERS and THREE DIMENSIONAL HOLOGRAPHIC "PHOTOGRAPHY"
READ The MAJORCA DAILY BULLETIN ARTICLES "The Stars at Night" by Roberto:
Plane crash of my rented Cessna 177 Cardinal due to GROUND EFFECT when I was taking off from Oliver Airport south of Penticton British Columbia Canada - It was a miracle I survived.
A CLASSIC CAR COLLECTION, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Porsche, AMG, Mercedes Benz, BMW:
This Lamborghini Espada GT 400, newly restored, is one of the world´s fastest street legal true FOUR seater cars. See more photos and information on the other cars.
Famous German Photographer Steffen Jagenburg has published a book of Car Photos called "You and Me", reflecting the thoughts and feelings of many a car owner. It is also published on the internet. See these photos taken in Mallorca.
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Visit the passion for music history while starting a new life on Mallorca.
A CANADIAN STAMP COLLECTION - A hobby since childhood:
Enjoy some samples of an interesting hobby - collecting Canadian Stamps. This one is the oldest in my collection- 1859 - It is OVER 150 YEARS OLD! See MORE stamps over 100 years old.
See a HISTORY in PHOTOS of Mallorca´s first division FOOTBALL TEAM - "Real Club Deportivo Mallorca".
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Roberto "Robbie" Gourlay Jr., Masters In Marketing Degree, Malaspina University, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Canada. He is now based in Palma De Mallorca and is Director for Internet Radio: www.cronicaradio.com, and Internet Television: www.cronicatelevision.com, with Studios in Palma De Mallorca Spain.
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