I started 2020 with six challenges to all of you to make it a phenomenal year. First, I challenged you to continue to improve your company’s safety program. Next, I encouraged you to promote not only your company and its local impact, but also your expertise on hot-button topics in groundwater and drilling that you find important. Finally, I asked you to find time to develop professionally, train a new generation of drillers, and embrace both the science and technology of the industry.
So, how many of the challenges did you make progress on in the past 11 months? What? This crazy virus sidelined our best intentions of improving our companies?
When December draws to an end, at 11:59 p.m. on the 31st, we will count down the last 60 seconds of the year, bang pots and pans, shoot off fireworks, and punch that reset button. We’ll have a new year, a fresh start and another 12 months to become better than we were a year ago. Sadly, that reset button does not wipe out the abnormal operating conditions of working in a pandemic. As I write this, all reports say a proven Covid-19 vaccine will not be widely available until the fall of 2021. The situation moves quickly, but even if that’s the case, I have an optimistic outlook for the start of 2021 and what we as an industry can accomplish.
As an industry, we are brilliant at operating in the unknown. We prepare for unforeseeable drilling conditions every day. That preparation allows our teams to prevent or stop catastrophic incidents before they have significant impact. Covid-19 is now another impact that, with proper preparation, our men and women in the field can prevent from becoming impactful. We have learned a lot about Covid-19 in 10 months. Heck, I was vacationing at Disney World when the park ordered a complete shutdown in March. In the first four months of the year, we were still learning and determining the severity and impacts of the virus.
Responsibilities of Essential Workers Providing Water
As essential workers providing water, we have a responsibility to operate smartly and safely — not only for our customers, but also for our colleagues and families. The first responsibility of an essential worker is to understand and identify Covid-19 symptoms. A primary identifier is a fever of 100.4 or greater. Every day our teams should monitor their body temperature before arriving to work. Beyond a fever, the CDC lists the following symptoms: chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, a new loss of sense of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. Follow the CDC and local health department guidelines for the latest Covid-19 symptoms and safeguards.
Yes, we have all had drill and pump crews that enjoy 75-cent Busch Light bottles at the local sports bar, and could chalk up each of those symptoms to bad life choices on a Thursday night. That leads me into the second major responsibility.
In these abnormal operating conditions, social responsibility is critical to slowing this virus’s spread and allowing our company to stay in operation. In drilling and pumps, we understand that one poor choice can derail the successful outcome of a project. In recent months, I’ve heard hundreds of stories about good companies creating smart safety and health programs to prevent their teams from catching Covid-19, only to be thwarted by 75-cent Busch Light bottle night.
The social responsibility clause of your company must be a top-down directive. We are all in this together, and we need to recognize that our teams work hard to play hard — and this year it’s been tough to play hard socially. As leaders, we have a responsibility to inspire our teams to make good social choices, whether that be meeting at the local dock for socially distanced fishing and sharing a cold drink or other outdoor activities that allow comradery. To beat this crazy virus, we have to recognize that we have our family to protect and our work family to protect. To mitigate exposure, our work family is now our safest bubble to interact with outside of work.
One More Thing …
The final responsibility we have as essential workers is to wear a mask. Yes, it seems that even 9 months into these abnormal operating conditions, our industry can find endless reasons not to wear a mask. My question to you is, why not? In the drilling world, we implement hundreds of precautions to situations that we may only encounter once or twice a year. As a driller, I always had my five-gas meter with me as I drilled, and in 25 years of drilling, I can count on one hand the times it alerted me to a real danger.
I know many great drillers who use thread lock on their bits or strap them, while many others do not. Why take the extra precaution? The ones who take the precaution have likely lost a bit, and the ones who do not just haven’t lost a bit yet.
Wearing a mask is a noble responsibility, no different from acting environmentally responsible with all aspects of your drilling. I expect teams I work with to complete a well using every precaution necessary to protect our environment and groundwater. We, as an industry, follow the best practices and local regulations to create a safe water supply —for that system, and all future water wells utilizing that same aquifer. I follow guidelines and best practices to protect your water system, and you do the same to protect other water systems.
See what I just did right there? WEAR A DAMN MASK!
Appreciate the Little Things
After this year, I refuse to say, “Hindsight is 2020.” The phrase has lost all usefulness. I, too, am ready to hit that reset button and get back to regular haircuts, substantial social events, ball games, concerts, date nights, movies and, especially, talking to strangers who sat next to me at the airport bar. With that said, I will remember this as the year nature forced us all to slow down a little bit. The crazy virus caused us to spend time within our germ bubbles with the people we love the most. This wild virus made me appreciate the importance of hugging my parents and saying, “I love you.” It made me value a virtual happy hour with my best friends from college who, somewhere along the way to becoming adults, had slowly drifted apart.
The best part of 2020 for me was cooking dinner with my family regularly. If you had asked me last year this time how often I cooked for or with my family, I would have said, “I grill,” and, “I cook the holiday turkey or ham.” Social conveniences had tricked me into forgetting how vital these bonding moments are. Finally, 2020 is almost done, and we have to be at least halfway through dealing with this dang virus. Looking ahead, we have the opportunity to have a great 2021 by operating smart and valuing all the lessons of 2020.
Randy Pausch, a professor whose presentation at Carnegie Mellon University after a terminal cancer diagnosis became the book “The Last Lecture,” has three great quotes that help me get through this virus:
- “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”
- “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
- “Never lose the childlike wonder. Show gratitude. Don’t complain; just work harder. … Never give up.”
Pausch gave his talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” in September 2007. He passed away in July 2008 at 47 years old, leaving a wife and three young children, and a legacy of advice like these quotes.
Enjoy the upcoming holidays, and we will hit the ground running on Jan.1, 2021. Cheers, industry.