Life On "The Slope"

There's a joke in Prudhoe Bay that "there's a woman behind every tree."  Of course, it's so far north that there are no trees at all.  There are, however, a few female workers which I'd estimate constitute less than 5% of the workforce there.  Most are found in engineering, administrative, or housekeeping occupations.

Virtually none of the 3,000 workers on the North Slope actually live there, except for a few Eskimos from the surrounding villages.  Workers are generally on either a week-on-week-off schedule, or 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off.  Employee transportation to and from Anchorage is provided at no cost by the oil companies, who operate a pair of Boeing 737s for that purpose.  They make between 3 and 5 flights a day, 6 days a week.  For safety, the aircraft have flight attendants, and they also offer snack and beverage service, just like a regular airline (although alcohol is served only on the flight home, never on the way up.)

Most employees work 12 hour shifts every day for the duration of their 'hitch' (one or two week tour of duty.)  Some unfortunate employees have to work 16-18 hours a day (such as I did), and even then can be called out to an urgent job on a drilling rig in the middle of the night.  (When that happens, however, you're guaranteed six hours off before heading back out to the field again. Gee thanks, guys.)

For those lucky enough to have some free time, there is some recreation available, the quality of which depends on your employer.  For those that work directly for the oil companies, they can work out in a gym (with swimming pool), see a movie in a small theater, or play piano.  Contractors usually just have a TV room and possibly a smaller gym with some workout equipment.  In the summer, you can go running or hiking outside, and even fishing for char or Arctic grayling in one of the local rivers. Alcohol is not permitted in Prudhoe Bay, partly for safety reasons, and partly out of deference to the native Eskimos, most of whose villages are dry.

Sleeping arrangements are dormitory-style, with two to a room, and a common restroom/shower area for each sex. (Facilities for females are usually smaller, as there are simply fewer of them.)  Supervisors usually get their own private rooms.

The Halliburton camp in Prudhoe Bay. (Note that it is built on stilts to keep the underlying permafrost from thawing.)

The food services, however, are what makes life on the Slope truly bearable.  In most camps, restaurant-quality meals are served 4 times daily (to accommodate 24-hour operations) and it is all you can eat.  Friday is normally steak & shrimp day, and for special holidays, lobster tails are served.  In addition, the oil companies provide what are called "spike rooms"--these are large snack bars (almost like small convenience stores really) that include: sandwiches, soup, chips, hot dogs, nachos, fruit/veggies, small frozen pizzas, donuts/cookies, ice cream, and beverages among other things, available 24 hours a day.  And incredibly, it's all free--you can take whatever you like, as long as you're not obnoxious about it and abuse the privilege.  The spike rooms are open to all workers and business visitors to Prudhoe Bay.  Why do the oil companies do this?  Well, part of the reason is to make a bleak, remote place seem a little more like home; another reason is that doing hard physical labor in subzero temperatures for 100+ hours per week burns an astronomical amount of calories.  Still another reason is that field units are encouraged to keep stocked with food at all times in case a winter storm of unforeseen severity strands them for days, miles from the nearest camp (it's happened.) One might predict that all that pigging out on food would make all the workers fat, but although many are overweight, it's usually not by as much as you might think.

All that time away from home, though, often puts a heavy strain on family relationships.  For this reason, some contractors provide free long-distance calls, but most all contractors are very good about putting you on the next flight home if you have a family emergency.

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