National Geographic : 1976 Oct
and padded down the hall in stocking feet toward my quarters-boots are always re moved and left at the entrances to these inter connected buildings. A coffee urn and some oven treats rested on a table outside the dining room, and a cook stood alongside. "Try some cupcakes," he invited. How nice, I thought. Another man spoke up. "If they're like the last ones, you could use 'em for hockey pucks." Frozen Ocean Supports a Gas Rig Of all the camps I visited, I liked best Pan arctic's Rea Point staging base, more than 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Melville Island. The activity never ceased; up to 150 men were being accommodated, some of them Eskimos working as laborers, carpenters, electricians. The airstrip was handling as many as 150 movements daily. Most of those flights carried men and sup plies to drilling sites and exploration camps as far as 350 miles away. I landed one morn ing on the frozen ocean eight miles off the Sabine Peninsula. Panarctic here was flood ing the ice, approximately doubling its thick ness to 16 feet, to support the 500-ton weight of a drilling rig. While the pump spewed water over the ice, I turned to Don Connelly, Arctic foreman, a bluff veteran of polar work. The tremendous task intimidated me. To him it was routine. He nodded confidently. "Oh, the gas is here. We know it's here. We're just beginning." He squinted at me. "You've got a white spot on your cheek. It's freezing." Another day, on a barren land frontier northeast of Rea Point named Cameron Is land, I climbed onto the platform of a derrick with drilling foreman John McGillicky. Pan arctic was probing for its first commercial oil well. Amid a constant roar, a tungsten-carbide bit with 45,000 pounds of weight on it turned at 40 revolutions a minute; grinding through hard rock, it sank only a foot every eight or nine minutes. Gas and oil prospectors rank high as opti mists. John McGillicky said: "This is our sec ond hole on Cameron Island. We think we just missed a good strike with our first-it produced 500 barrels a day, not enough to be economical. Now, 2,000 or 3,000 barrels a day - that would be a big strike." Then, fieldwork over, I flew back to Rea Point, packed my bag, and caught the work ers' commuter plane back to Edmonton.