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Shell's new digs in Barrow

  • Author: Kamala Kelkar
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 26, 2015

BARROW -- In Shell's Barrow camp on Wednesday hung a whiteboard with Inupiaq words including translations for ocean, sea shell (with an emphasis on "shell"), safe camp near the ocean, to be safe and to drill.

But the employees can't practice speaking Inupiaq in Barrow apart from chatting with locals inside the camp. In an attempt to stay discreet, nonlocals are prohibited from going outside or into town unless it's to exercise nearby, walk on the proximal beach or go to the airport on a contracted bus.

"We've done a lot of work with the community of Barrow to minimize our impacts," Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino wrote in an email before the company gave Alaska Dispatch News a tour.

The reasoning, she explained later, was so the employees don't strain the city's limited hotel space and transportation resources. Shell built a camp away from the main part of the city, next to the high school football field near the ocean. People here are pilots, cooks and mechanics mainly supporting crew changes from the rigs offshore, which rotate every 21 days.

The lounges, kitchen and dining area were shipped in from South Dakota in August 2014. The buildings look like trailers inside and out. They are wide but short, flat and sparse, with TVs and posters for emergency plans for events like polar bear sightings. In that case, there would be a siren with three loud tones, and anyone outside is supposed to run to a car -- they're kept unlocked for this purpose -- and honk the horn in sync until it's clear. They haven't encountered any yet.

There are 75 beds -- mostly two to a room, though they're rarely filled -- a laundry facility, bathrooms, a small gym, a few lounge areas, a nurse practitioner and a kitchen serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the lunch menu Wednesday: beef stew and grilled cheese and ham sandwiches. They also have soft serve ice cream and other snacks. The head chef on Wednesday said they ship in about 8,000 pounds of food a week.

"We have a rotating menu with lots of chicken and fish for protein," chef Bill Greene said.

It's flown in on Alaska Airlines, he said. However, employees use chartered planes from Anchorage to keep in line with the theme of remaining inconspicuous. Then they're taken to the rig on helicopters.

On Wednesday there were 43 employees checked in at the camp, some from as far as Boise, Idaho, and a dozen from Barrow.

When Brandon Kinney, the point person who accommodates newcomers, was asked if he watched football next door, he said no, they are prohibited, but he hears about it from the locals who work there, "which is just as good."

"When we're here, we're here to work," Kinney said.