A Destin dispatch from the oil fields

Rachelle Roubique, Speaking Out
The view from the “metal box” 4,500 feet above water is one of the things that make life in the oil fields bearable, according to Destin’s Rachelle Roubique.

In the weeks following the Macondo incident of 2010 and all of the sanctimonious hype that followed, I became interested in what was going on offshore.

Like many Destinites, I was indignant, “How could this have happened? Where was the oversight? Is this a common occurrence?” Nobody had answers.

I searched for ways to participate, to help, to be active in what we were all sure was going to be the end of our sugar white beaches and emerald colored coastlines. Many weeks of daily calls with BP about claims, days spent in the HAZWOPER training courses with derelicts and ex-cons, and a few frustrating meetings with the head of the TDC broke me — words on deaf ears, nothing I could do would matter.

After running away from Destin to Manhattan, I mindfully chose a job where I could use my skills as a chef and my interest in psychology to live amongst the oil field workers, to see what was really happening in the waters just south of where I grew up.

Now I work on a deepwater drilling platform, 150-plus miles south of Houma, Louisiana. I am a site manager for a remote site catering company, kind of like a general manager at a restaurant.

A drilling platform is distinguished from an oil rig; the platform handles production, the rig handles drilling. This is somewhat a bone of contention amongst those that work on each. The platform is similar to a 90-person hostel: you share a room and shower with three others, have communal meals, small gym, smoke room, and very little privacy.

It is clean compared to some of the cheaper hotels I’ve had to endure but a far cry from the Algonquin.

The “hitch” begins at 5 a.m. with an hour and half helicopter ride. We work a two-week on/two-week off rotation of 12-hour days. You receive breakfast, lunch and dinner and two snacks. When you’re done with your shift, or “off tower” you can go to bed, go to the TV room where you share one of eight couches and one remote with the other 30 people onboard, fight for one of the two treadmills in the gym, hang out in the smoke shack, or if you’re really creative, work on your golf swing on the upper deck.

The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking and watching whale sharks and dolphin play during your lunch break makes the knowledge that you’re living in a metal box 4,500 feet above water bearable.

There is no drilling going on, which means it is quiet right now. There are about 30 people living here on any given day. I hear that I should enjoy the “downtime” because once drilling starts it will be a “nightmare.”

Many times in my life I’ve had to pause and ask myself “What am I doing here?” and this experience has led to the question being asked several times a day by many enquiring minds. Right now, I’m going to close the “privacy” curtain around my bunk and ponder how I went from Ivy League to oil fields… and more importantly, why?

Rachelle Roubique is a Destin business owner who has lived in the Panhandle for many years, taking brief escapes to islands and cities to maintain sanity but always returning to the Gulf.