Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A New Spin on Global Outsourcing

One of America's supposed defenses against globalization seemed to be that there were certain jobs foreign companies couldn't take away. Steel manufacturing, textiles, furniture, electronics, automobiles, okay, even the help desk for my cable provider. But other jobs seem insulated by language, culture, creativity or distance. Marketing, say, doctoring or bus driving. What executive in his right mind mind would outsource his Sarbanes-Oxley defense to a legal team in Singapore? What're they going to do, make blockbuster movies in New Zealand? (OK, bad example.) Coal mining ought to be safe, at least as long as the seams hold out. Likewise, drilling for domestic oil and gas...

Well, my hometown paper reports that Chinese crews and drilling rigs are arriving in Western Colorado to drill for gas in the Piceance Creek basin, the very place I spent several college summers on rigs drilling exploratory wells to find oil shale deposits, back before the oil shale boom went bust for the second time. Unocal Corp., the same company being bid for by the Chinese, was one of the major energy companies that tried to drill and process oil shale, but pulled out and sold all its properties.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel says:

Western Energy Advisors worked with federal agencies to arrange for visas for the Chinese crews, said Bill Croyle, a partner in Western Energy.

One hurdle the company [the Chinese national Petroleum Corp.] had to clear was to show that the jobs couldn’t be done by American citizens or legal residents.

That wasn’t difficult to show, Croyle said, citing the loss of “a million” domestic jobs among major oil companies over recent years, as well as reductions among smaller employers.

Much of the domestic exploration and production industry is “just gone,” he said. Rigs have been trucked in from Canada and elsewhere for drilling in the United States.

One supposed advantage the Chinese have is that they treat drilling as a profession, and "many of the crew members hold master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees or the equivalent of associate’s degrees" from petroleum-focused universities.

"These people know what they’re doing,” Croyle said. “It’s all about the crews.”

Over time, Chinese crew members will train Americans to work on the Chinese-made rigs, he said, and the number of Chinese workers will gradually shrink as Americans take over.

The drillers I worked for generally were well short of a GED, and most had learned the trade by working their way up the ranks. Others on the crew, in addition to college kids, ranged from dedicated roughnecks to alkies who tended to disappear when the rig moved. Geologists and tool pushers (the site foreman) had technical educations, but no one on my rigs considered them a real part of the crew.

These were tough old birds from Texas and Oklahoma. I wonder what they'd think of this. I know what I think.

China and oil. It won't be pretty.

Thanks to a comment by tee on James Howard Kunstler's blog, where you can read much more on China, the environment and other current events. Kunstler is the author of "The Geography of Nowhere," "Home From Nowhere," "The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition," and "The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century."


Blogger bob said...

"China and oil, it won't be pretty."

I agree. I think I said this before, but, I fear for our children.

4:29 AM  

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