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Business Week: The Future of Work: Peter Spencer, a senior tool pusher for Seadrill, a contractor for Royal Dutch Shell

August 9, 2007, 7:59PM EST

Peter Spencer

 At 46, he’s a senior tool pusher for Seadrill, a contractor for Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) in the South China Sea off Brunei. He lives in Whitby, North Yorkshire, Britain, with his wife and two daughters, and works a four-weeks-on, four-weeks-off schedule.

I started working in 1984 in the North Sea. I was [in] the lowest position, like a general laborer, mostly painting and cleaning. I’ve done every position in the drilling trade. I have been senior tool pusher [working in Brunei] since 2004. We don’t have a safety officer on my rig, so I deal with all safety issues as well. That is the No. 1 priority these days. I get up at 5 in the morning. If it has been a good day, I get to my room at 8 or 9. I am on call for any problems at night.

We are right in the forefront of technology for Shell. Everything is more electronic now. I had never heard of fiber-optic cables when I started—just dials, no digital readouts, no computer systems. Now it’s all computerized. What the guys have on the rig floor is transmitted to the office [on the rig] and to town [onshore]. There are a lot more people watching what the driller is doing.

Another thing that has changed is the way they treat people. In the old days they used to scream and shout. If they saw anyone in the gym, they would say: “If you have the energy to go the gym, you aren’t working hard enough.” Today’s attitude change is one of more understanding, more patience with people and certainly more respect for each other. There was also a lack of information, almost secrecy, from management. My style is to share information.

What worries is the 120 or so rigs coming out now, between now and 2010. Where are they getting people from to man these rigs? Health and safety may suffer as a consequence. But in 10 years there will be more automation. A lot of rigs have that. It keeps people’s hands and fingers out of the way. The industry would also like platforms to be unmanned. A facility producing 100,000 thousand barrels a day, if she goes up, that’s it. The other big thing is environmental considerations. We worry about engine emissions, sulfur in the fuel.

I like working four weeks on and four weeks off because it gives you time to get into the job. [And] pay took a great upturn in the past 12 months. That’s because of the shortage of people.

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/aug2007/db2007089_039523.htm

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