National Geographic : 1976 Oct
the barge and out a short distance on the ice, and ate him. At noon sunrise, a search party found the remains and the bear. Only Eski mos are issued permits to kill these animals; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police flew in an Eskimo hunter for the job. Watching for polar bears, I proceeded to the site of the future drilling island. "Explora tion is hard, hard, costly, dangerous work," reflected an Imperial construction technolo gist standing beside me. "These guys are fan tastic. They're here to do a job." This job was prodigious. Heavy equipment labored to slice seven-ton blocks of ice from the sea and carry them away, leaving an ever growing hole of open water, here only five feet deep. Into it gravel fill was being poured. In less than two months a two-acre island would stand ten feet above the surrounding ice, with 57,000 sandbags girdling it against erosion. And on it a rig would be drilling. Imperial hoped to strike oil and gas beneath the island. Later I learned that the hole cost six million dollars, and proved dry. But energy companies-Shell Canada, Gulf Canada, and Sun Oil, as well as Imperial have found gas and some oil in the Mackenzie River Delta. Imperial also has discovered gas and oil at sea; it has built nine islands thus far. I traveled to several of them one day in a Hovercraft as it shuttled crews. Touches of Beauty Everywhere A Hovercraft at rest squats on the beach like a bloated frog washed up by the tide, low, wide, and ugly. A collapsed rubber skirt wraps it. When the pilot throws a switch, the hulk's turbine engine roars, and a miracle happens. The rubber skirt hangs straight to the ground as the ship majestically rises four feet. Turning to sea, she glides daintily away on fan-driven air held in by the skirt. At fifty miles an hour she skims the ocean, hauling up to 33 passengers or 12,000 pounds.