A shrill ring invades the quiet of our bedroom. Just barely on the edge of sleep, I hear one side of a mumbled conversation, and then my husband says to me, “A rig is down.” A fairly common phrase from him, I know what it means. An oil rig engine needs a part. Rigs can’t run without engines, and just one hour down costs tens of thousands of dollars. Despite the seduction of sleep, he’ll go save the day like an oilfield superhero. I think of him like that at times like these.
I see oil rigs every day. Similar to the Eiffel tower, they are a massive construction of steel beams, cables, and our country’s flag fluttering at the top as if they represent something inherently American. Perhaps they do. After all, the oil rig has a reputation. The rig, whipping boy of environmentalists everywhere, has become something more than just a means to get oil; it embodies many things: greed, abuse, capitalism, rape of the earth, pillaging of natural resources, money, power, inequality, pollution.
But to some of us saving a rig is a big deal. Like saving Freddie-Mac. Or Lehman Brothers before its crash in ‘08. Or the auto industry. Like saving the California Grey whales in Barrow, Alaska in 1988. How ironic.
I’m no stranger to irony. When I drive by an oil rig at night, and the thing is lit up like some kind of heavenly beacon of hope, I inevitably measure the angles of my reasoning and find them incongruent. The uninvited feeling of pride I get when seeing a rig still hangs decidedly under ‘need to reconcile’ in the orderly convictions of my mind.
Many times I’ve examined the conflicted feelings whose origins belong to the oil rig. Aside from its sheer size, the oil rig is not so amazing in-and-of itself. However, the bright lights and heavenly luminescence only make the feeling that much stronger like dramatic music does for movies. Oil rigs are dirty and dangerous up-close.
I often wonder if I’m the only one that sees a rig this way, but I realize the irony has nothing to do with how others see a rig. The paradox lies with me, the avid proponent of clean energy and technology, who admonishes her children to never neglect the sanctity of life, even if such life resides in a caterpillar or housefly. “We respect the earth. We respect all God’s creations,” I tell them. My son stepped mercilessly on a beetle once, and I nearly lost it. How do I remain in awe of the oil rig yet stand so avidly on the side of my earthly home?
I suppose, in my mind, hope trumps the realities of oil. The hope inspired by a rig is bigger than anything the rig may mechanically do. The rig saved us: my husband, my children, and me. Even that wouldn’t be enough for me to revere the rig this way, but it didn’t just save us. The rig saved that dirt and grease-clad man in front of me at the post office whose hands bear the evidence of manual drudgery. He’s mailing his son a Transformer toy for his birthday because he can’t be there. He’s here, in North American Siberia to save his family.
The rig saved the guy and his daughter who slept in the church parking lot under some bushes while they looked for jobs to save the rest of their family back in Washington. It saved the man lugging his meager belongings in a backpack down the side of the road on his way to find the well-springs of hope promised by the rig. His rolled-up sleeping bag slaps the back of his legs as he walks, urging him onward toward his goal.
The artist from Arizona, who custom designed welded architecture, came here too. The housing bubble devoured his dream and his livelihood as if they never were. But the rig saved him and his family.
The rig saved the guy who lost his job—there are so many of those guys. Hundreds of thousands the rig has saved. Perhaps millions. The rig has the power to save every person that comes here.
So when a rig is down, we have to fix it. The rig has lives to save.
Oil Rig outside of Williston, ND