Saudi Aramco recently released Khurais: Against All Odds, the book I wrote for the company. Initial reaction has been rewarding – emails to the company from readers express appreciation for the true life stories that set the book apart from other corporate publications. The book is unique because it tells the dramatic efforts and sacrifices needed to complete the largest oil production expansion in history. To capture what happened over the life of the project, from 2005 to its 2009 start-up, was a unique opportunity for which I’m grateful.
A Writer’s Perfect Storm
For me, it was the perfect storm: the chance to write not a technical manual, not a corporate fluff piece, but a dramatic narrative of the seemingly impossible. With my background in oil and gas, engineering and construction project management, and a just completed novel, I thought I was on my way into quiet retirement. Instead, I found myself pulling on years of writing and editing experience, video production, interview skills, story development, reporting, travel, international perspectives, human frailties, and the will to succeed.
Thrust into a mysterious kingdom that requires an invitation to enter, I arrived in Saudi Arabia in early April 2009. The Khurais field lies about 200 kilometers inland from the Arabian Gulf, which puts it roughly in the middle of the Arabian Desert. Jet lag was difficult to shake after the 30-hour trip from the U.S., but there was no time to waste. My first interviews were conducted the morning after I arrived with top executives in Dhahran. Corporate policies disallowed video equipment in the executive offices, so I relied on notes, tough questions and the art of digging to get to the heart of the story from those at the crux of the project’s beginnings. Later that afternoon, I dozed on and off in the front seat of a company car as I was driven on a three-hour, nonstop trip to the Khurais site itself.
Khurais: Isolated and Remote
At the project site, the scene shifted from executives to project managers, project engineers and an almost around-the-clock interview schedule – with me as the cameraman, set designer, and reporter. I worked 10-hour days, six days a week, and had no car nor contact with anyone outside the confines of the remote and isolated – and monstrous – project known as Khurais.
Over the next five weeks, the interviews revealed an amazing account of how the company went literally against all odds to plan, construct and start-up a plant that adds 1.2 million barrels a day of oil to Saudi Arabia’s capacity – already the largest in the world. Harrowing tales of international intrigue, scant interest from already busy contractors to bid on the project, contract strategies to attract bidders, hardships brought about by long stays in foreign countries to plan the project, promotions to young and seemingly inexperienced engineers to take a leap of faith and increase their responsibilities ten-fold: these were only some of the impressions made from those who sat down in front of the camera and related their roles in the pressure-packed effort to construct the Khurais facility.
The Book is Released
Saudi Aramco has just issued the first copies of the book. Those who helped tell the story and others have begun to respond to my writing, and I’m grateful for that perfect storm: being in the right place at the right time to help bring their efforts onto the pages of Khurais: Against All Odds. Now the world can learn how they built this world-class facility in record time, with help from the 28,000 international workers who came, worked hard to see Khurais completed and brought online, and left – with zero injuries. They were key in making sure Khurais became a reality.
After Clay and Seamus cleared out the high weeds – and it did take the young men all day – I walked down to take a look at their work. Sure enough, the rocks were now visible, the knee-high weeds had been whacked, and the sun was already down. Just another quiet evening about to unfold in the Texas Hill Country.
Something caught my eye near the five-foot high pile of giant limestone rocks we had bulldozed into the pasture. Small animals, about three of them at first count, were running and chasing each other in the rock pile and among the agarita and small cedar shoots near the rocks. I thought they were squirrels, since that’s about the only thing other than cotton-tail rabbits that are the size of what I had spotted. I stopped dead still. “No, those are…oh, man, those are little fox pups.” They were playing with one another, chasing, ambushing, climbing up the rocks to get a better angle, then going down a hole in the rocks above and coming out of the apparent entrance to their den.
I watched them for a good long time, just because it was so amazing to see. One, they played silently. No noise. Regardless of the jolt of the jump on top of a brother or sister, there wasn’t a peep out of any of them. And two, their mother must’ve been out hunting. She was nowhere in sight.
They looked to be about six or seven weeks old. Three of them having the best time of their lives in the fading light of day. I went back this evening, thinking maybe I’d see them again. No luck. I’ve got an idea, however, that they’re still around. Playing silently. Running free.
Women have known about it for, well, a long time. Now it’s time for men to wake up to the 21st Century and all that it has to offer in the way of pampering: the pedicure. No, you say, as you reach for your col’ brew?
Put that thing down and step up to first class. It’s the most relaxing thing you can do. Take along your significant other if you feel intimidated. There’s really nothing to it. And don’t just get the basic. Go that extra step and get a little extra thrown in: scrubs, towel wraps, foot massage and more.
For one thing, go to a place that’s got the massage chair. With your own remote control unit, you can adjust any number of features for kneading, pulsing, hammering. Yeah, hammering. And the pedicurist will do a little of that too – on your calves. More about that later.
While you’re getting the chair to massage you, and while you’re watching the 55-inch flat screen TV (probably tuned to the 25 Greatest Moments in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Photoshoots or something similar), the pedicurist will ask you to lift one of your feet out of the swirling warm water. Then she’ll trim your nails and cuticles. Then that foot goes back in the whirlpool and she does the other foot.
Then the extras start: a cooling mud-like gel is applied to your calves, she massages that in nicely, wraps your calves with hot towels and places your feet into plastic baggies filled with an even hotter wax. Meanwhile you’re sipping bottled water and enjoying the Sports Illustrated TV show. Finally, she takes the towels off, removes the baggies and the wax, hammers on your calves, massages your feet, smiles beautifully and walks away.
Is this so bad?