I was sitting in an airport lounge yesterday and got to chatting with a member of the self-described “oilfield trash” who was bound for Lagos, and then for an FPSO in the Gulf of Guinea. These are rough and ready guys who lead the sort of perilous commercial-adventurer lifestyle that one has the mistaken tendency to think went extinct with the age of empires. Thus it’s always an interesting conversation when you run into them…and invariably, an intoxicated one. To form, I was soon quite drunk.
He’d been working the West Africa coastal oilfields for over ten years and gave a rich commentary on the scene, coupled with brutal criticism of the Nigerian government as incompetent, corrupt and capricious, the undesirability of local prostitutes, and the troubles a dangerous and distant career held for maintaining enduring relationships back home.
I noted it appeared pirate attacks in the Gulf were on the rise and he confirmed that, saying we back home had little idea. The supposed invulnerability of the FPSO platform to African political instability has been largely exposed by experience. To drive the severity of the point home, he asked how I’d like to repel a gunboat with a firehose. All the weapons are on one side in this new quasi-war. On that matter he also took the opportunity to mock the opportunistic duality of the coastal states, which insist on ownership of vast areas in international waters, but simultaneously deny responsibility for defending the firms they sell the exploitation rights to from armed attack.
Toward the end of our chat he said that his company had been scouting for oil further out, beyond the parceled quadrants in the Gulf, and so I asked him how much oil he thought was actually down there off the relatively unexploited western coast of Africa. Everyone seems to have a rather vague idea of the potential reserves, but he smiled and said “running out of the stuff is a problem for your grandchildren’s grandchildren.”
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